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The BULB  •  Issue #17  •  October 2019
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The Bulb – The Bi-monthly Utilities Literacy Bulletin

 

The BULB aims to inform and inspire - a platform for ongoing education and support to community services workers, volunteers and the wider community. This publication is from ConnectEd - Keeping people connected to energy, water and communications.
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IN THIS ISSUE:

 


 
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November 2-day Training for community workers

 

Do you have clients who struggle with electricity, gas or water bills? Would you like to help them more, but don’t know how? This 2-day workshop will provide some answers!                                             

Day 1: Monday 4 November 9:30 - 4:30
Day 2: Monday 11 November 9:30 - 4:30
at UCWB, 77 Gibson Street, Bowden.

ConnectEd's 2-day Utilities Literacy Training for Community Workers will teach you about:
- Electricity, Gas and Water in South Australia
- Reading and understanding meters and bills
- Using energy and water efficiently at home
- How to choose an energy retailer and get a good deal
- Concessions, complaints, disputes and hardship
- New technologies and tariff reform.

Register here

March 2-day Training for community workers

 

Do you have clients who struggle with electricity, gas or water bills? Would you like to help them more, but don’t know how? This 2-day workshop will provide some answers!                                             

Day 1: Thursday 19 March 2020 9:30 - 4:30
Day 2: Thursday 26 March 2020 9:30 - 4:30
at UCWB, 77 Gibson Street, Bowden.

ConnectEd's 2-day Utilities Literacy Training for Community Workers will teach you about:
- Electricity, Gas and Water in South Australia
- Reading and understanding meters and bills
- Using energy and water efficiently at home
- How to choose an energy retailer and get a good deal
- Concessions, complaints, disputes and hardship
- New technologies and tariff reform.

Register here

Information sessions open to everyone 

 

Offered once a month across four locations in metropolitan Adelaide: Christies Beach, Port Adelaide, Smithfield and Beulah Park.

Learn how to read your bills and use less electricity, gas and water to save you money. You can also qualify for a FREE home energy assessment.                                              

Come for a cuppa and informal chat to:

- find the best energy plan for you
- read your bills and how to pay them
- learn where your big energy use is and lower cost alternatives
- ask any questions or share your tips.

To get the most out of this time, bring your most recent utility bills with you.

Find out here when the next session is offered near you.

See the Events page on the ConnectEd website for more information.

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Observations on the DMO

 

As was reported in BULB #16, the Australian Energy Regulator, following a request from the Federal Minister for Energy, implemented a Default Market Offer (DMO) from 1 July 2019. These DMOs have replaced the retailer-determined standing offers previously available.


The Default Market Offer regime has been in place for 3 months now, allowing for a few observations:

•    The majority of electricity retailers have basic offers that work out within a dollar of the South Australian DMO Reference Price of $1941 for 4000 kWh used over a year (for a household without controlled load for hot water).
•    Most retailers also offer lower prices. Some work off base prices and talk about a percentage off the Reference Price (that is off both usage AND supply); others show lower base prices that may differ from offer to offer. All offers must now show a percentage comparison to the Reference Price for 4000 kWh/year.
•    Because the retailers do charge different daily supply and kWh tariffs, the price differences widen a little if a household’s usage is higher or lower than 4000 kWh per annum.
•    AGL offers up to 12% off the DMO price; Origin offers up to 15% off. 
•    Several retailers are offering “bonus” or “sign up” credits”, such as “$100 credit on your first bill” or “$25 credit after 12 months”. Others offer sweeteners such as sports streaming or airline loyalty points. These inducements are not included in the DMO discount calculations.
•    In an attempt to outmanoeuvre the competition, a number of offers have been updated several times already.
•    Some small retailers (eg Powerclub, Powershop, Amber Electric) are trying a different sort of offer, which allows the customer to pay a fee for retail services and buy electricity on the variable wholesale market, rather than at set retail prices.
One more important observation: quoted prices must now include GST, when previously GST was added at the end of the bill, so when you look at post-1 July bills it may seem as though base prices have risen by 10%. Don’t panic – they haven’t! It’s just the GST.
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Tariff Tracker Report


St Vincent de Paul & Alviss Consulting, funded by Energy Consumers Australia, have tracked electricity and gas tariffs in South Australia every year since 2009. Their latest report released in July 2019 noted the following about electricity and gas prices in SA: 


AGL’s current Default Market Offers are approximately 3 - 4% lower than their standing offer rates were last year (July 2018).  The annual bill for households consuming the average amount of energy with a single peak rate tariff saw a decrease of $80 per annum (pa) while those with both the peak and controlled load tariffs saw a decrease of about $140 pa. 

These figures are for households who have not chosen a specific market contract and are therefore on the Default Market Offer. The report indicates that households with both peak and controlled load tariffs at a typical consumption level of 7,500 kWh pa, can save about $475 pa if they switch to the best market offer.

Households on the standard gas contract saw a 5% increase or about $55 pa, compared to last year.  An average household consuming typically 21,000 MJ pa of gas can save $180 pa if they switch from Origin’s standard contract (there is no DMO) to the best market offer.

Finally, the report noted that since the introduction of the DMO, most electricity retailers have moved away from pay on time discounts.  They now generally offer a guaranteed discount or no discount ie their base price is already reduced. Consequently, there is now very little difference between the average bill paid late versus those paid on time.

It should be noted that the Tariff Tracker Report is based on offers that were advertised between the 1st and the 8th of July. There have been a number of updated offers released since those dates.
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Competition in the mobile phone sector
 

In Australia, there are only three physical mobile phone networks (signalling towers, repeaters etc), owned by Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone. However, since the launch of Virgin Mobile in 2000, a growing list of Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) has created a much more competitive market, by purchasing access to those networks and passing that on to customers at competitive prices.


Many MVNOs offer cheaper deals than the three network owners, but it’s best to look closely at the amount of data offered as this varies widely from 5 GB per month up to about 35 GB per month within the $20-30 per month price range. High data plans may only be of value if you have a need for them; and it is possible to find a modest-sized plan for an even lower price.

Another key element to look at is the billing cycle – these vary typically from 28 to 35 days. A 28 day month means you’ll make 13 payments in a year, whereas a 35 day month means only 11 payments are required. Some plans offer up to 365 days before expiry. Finally, initial or discount offers for new customers may offer significant discounts in the first 1-3 months but then revert to a much higher price. Unless you are very vigilant in changing your contracts regularly, these offers may result in higher costs once the initial discount runs out.

There is no government-backed comparison site for mobile phone providers, like there is for energy, though there are several commercial comparison sites. The WhistleOut site currently lists 29 providers, whereas Finder lists 50 providers of mobile phone plans. Both of these sites enable you to filter and compare a variety of mobile phone offers, but both may earn a commission for referring customers to providers.
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Source: ACCAN
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Stronger consumer protections for telecommunications customers
 

The Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) Code provides consumer safeguards for mobile, landline and internet customers. The Code sets out the rules that telecommunication providers must follow when dealing with customers.


The latest revision of the Code, effective from 1 August 2019, clarifies and strengthens a number of credit and hardship clauses. The TCP Code requires telco providers to:
  • ensure products are sold in a fair, transparent, responsible and accurate manner;
  • address all enquiries and resolve all complaints made to them regarding third-party charges that appear on a customer’s bill;
  • assess each new customer’s capacity to pay for contracts greater than $1000; 
  • have strong credit assessment and financial hardship procedures; and
  • provide consumers with relevant information regarding billing, products, pricing, terms and conditions and contracts.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), who are responsible for enforcing the code, have said the new TCP code puts the onus on telcos to ensure customers understand what they are buying.  This means that providers have to do a full credit assessment to make sure the customer is in a position to meet the financial commitment.

The TCP Code also requires telcos to ensure customers are able to appoint an advocate or authorised representative if there is a need. Advocates or representatives include financial counsellors, interpreters or even family members appointed to their account. These may be both short- and long-term arrangements.
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New energy customer hardship guideline
 

Requirements for Energy Retailer Hardship Policies were updated from 1 July, and the new policies should now be published on the retailers’ websites.


The new Customer Hardship Policy Guideline, published by the AER, tightens requirements on energy retailers to identify and assist their customers who are experiencing financial hardship. Retailers must train their staff to understand hardship, and must not include unreasonable conditions that would exclude people from their hardship program. Hardship policies must include a number of Standardised Statements (as listed in 5.2 of the Guideline).

Click here to find links to all of the retailer hardship policies that have been approved by the AER.
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South Australia's Virtual Power Plant Schemes
 

A Virtual Power Plant (VPP) consists of a network of solar+battery systems installed across the electricity system (in homes, for instance), which can be remotely controlled by the VPP operator to provide power from those systems to the grid, either when wholesale prices are high or when the grid frequency needs to be stabilised.


The VPP operator has knowledge of and access to these electricity markets that individual households don’t have, and can make money by providing electricity when it’s wanted, just as any other power plant can. The VPP operator typically shares this money with the owners of the solar+battery systems, to compensate the owners for the use of their power and the extra wear and tear on their batteries.

There are currently three VPP schemes on offer in South Australia – the SA Goverment’s Telsa/Housing SA VPP scheme, the AGL VPP scheme, and the Simply Energy VPP scheme. There are important differences.

AGL and Simply Energy:
The VPP schemes offered by AGL and by Simply Energy are typical of VPPs in general. In each of these, the householder has to own their home. They have to invest in their solar+battery system – they can use the State Government’s home battery subsidy scheme to help. The householder then gets free solar electricity from their roof, with excess stored in their battery for their use after dark. They also make some of the stored power available to the scheme operator, for a fee.

AGL’s current scheme offers an extra $1000 dollars upfront towards the battery for customers who stick with the scheme for 5 years. It then offers $100 sign up credit and 49.32 cents per day credit for VPP use of the battery (ie $100 once plus $180 per year), plus the feed-in tariff that applies under their contracts (14.2 c/kWh or 18 c/kWh).

The Simply Energy VPP pays $7 a day for use of the battery, up to a maximum of $5100 (which is just under 2 years’ worth) over a 3 year contract, plus a feed-in tariff of 15 c/kWh. They say a Tesla Powerwall battery can be installed for $10,000 with the SA Government subsidy (although they mentioned a $7,000 price during a phone enquiry).

The disparity in payments to VPP customers is eye-catching! However, AGL’s tariffs for supply and usage are up to almost 15 c/day ($54/year) and 3.5 c/kWh cheaper than Simply Energy’s (though the $54 would be entirely wiped out by an annual $60 incentive payment for Simply RAA customers).

TESLA/Housing SA:
The Tesla/Housing SA scheme differs from the others in very important ways – it is in effect multiple schemes under one name. There have been 100 tenants in Phase 1, 1000 plus 320 tenants in Phase 2, and further phases of the scheme are currently being rolled out.

For Housing SA tenants, the scheme is more a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) than a Virtual Power Plant. Housing SA tenants with suitable roofs do not have to pay for a solar+battery system to be installed, but neither do they get free use of the system. Instead, Tesla retains ownership of the systems, and sells the electricity they make and store, either on the electricity markets, or to the householder (Housing SA tenant) who lives in the house where the system is installed. In this scheme, the tenant purchases all of the electricity they use, whether from the solar system, battery, or the grid. Because they do not own the solar system, they do not qualify to receive free solar energy or feed-in tariff payments. However, if they sign up to the VPP scheme, they qualify for very competitive rates through the scheme’s appointed retailer, Energy Locals, of 78.32 cents per day plus 31.13 cents/kWh. This rivals the SACEDO Origin Value prices (72.65 cents per day plus 32.19 c/kWh and 34.35 c/kWh over 10 kWh/day). They also get blackout protection via the battery (if it’s holding enough charge at the time of the blackout, which it might not be, as Tesla uses the battery to feed in to the electricity system).

Housing SA tenants have the right to opt out and choose another retailer, either before installation of the system, or afterwards, in which case the system will remain installed, but its output will bypass the household and go straight to the grid – the tenant will revert to buying all their electricity from the grid via their chosen retailer. There is already one story of a tenant opting in, then being wooed back by his previous retailer on the basis that “You should definitely be getting a feed-in tariff if you’ve got a solar system installed.” He will not; he does not own the system or its output.

A limited number of Housing SA tenants (320 for Phase 2) who’ve expressed interest in the scheme, but do not have suitable roofs, have been invited to buy their electricity from Energy Locals at the special VPP rates.

There are additional complexities to this VPP scheme. The first 100 participants (Phase 1) actually got a significant bonus – due to the experimental nature of the scheme, they DO get the full use of the solar+battery system as if they owned it. These systems will be rolled into the rest of the scheme when those tenants move out.

In the latest phase of the scheme, the Tesla VPP is now available to the public, with homeowners able to qualify for significant discount on the cost of the Powerwall battery if they sign up. This part of the scheme works more like the AGL and Simply Energy schemes, with customers investing in a battery and being rewarded for access to it by the VPP.

For Housing SA tenants, there is not much apparent risk, and a price benefit that may beat the SACEDO Origin Value offer for energy concession recipients. For others, this scheme represents the cheapest way we’ve seen to get a Tesla Powerwall battery – but one commentator calculates that, even so, the battery is likely to be an economically sound purchase principally for vampires (inactive in daylight; using energy at night). Buyer beware.

Work continues on including community housing providers in the scheme – this hinges on preparing the kind of licence agreement needed to provide access to their roofs/walls for installation of systems owned by the scheme.
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"Zoned Energy Rating Label"


Air conditioner energy rating labels are a little bit different to labels for other household products and have some product specific information on them. 


A new Zoned Energy Rating Label (ZERL) is being introduced for air conditioners from 2019.  While each air conditioner will only have one energy rating label, during the transition period you may see both types of labels on display in a store.

Just like on other appliances, air conditioners are given star ratings, blue for their cooling function and red for their heating function. On the old and new labels, the more stars, the more efficient the appliance is.

On the Zoned Energy Rating Label, you can find the size/capacity of the particular model in a strip near the top of the label. It shows both the cooling and heating output capacity. The heating output will likely show the output at 2 different temperatures.

The ZERL also provides a seasonal efficiency rating for three distinct climate zones across Australia and New Zealand. This enables consumers to see how the appliance will perform in their climate zone, in particular how many kWh the appliance will likely consume over a year in each of the 2 modes.

The bottom left of the label shows the noise output for both the internal and external units. Click here for a more detailed description of how to read the new ZERL.
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Hydrogen future? 


Adelaide recently hosted the 8th International Conference on Hydrogen Safety, which provided the stage for the launch of South Australia’s Hydrogen Action Plan.  


Hydrogen has been used as a fuel for 100 to 150 years – for space rockets, for example – and when hydrogen is used in a combustion engine or in an electricity-producing fuel cell, the exhaust is simply water.

Currently, most industrial hydrogen is produced from natural gas by a process called steam methane reforming, meaning it’s a fossil-based fuel. However, it is also possible to make hydrogen by electrolysis – using electricity to split water into its components, hydrogen and oxygen. If the electricity used is renewable solar or wind energy, this hydrogen is a renewable resource. If it is made at those times when the renewable electricity would otherwise be excess to requirements, hydrogen becomes a relatively affordable way to hold energy in a storable, transportable form.

South Australia now generates more than 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, and there are times when there is excess that could be used for hydrogen production. While there are significant challenges to working with such a small, light, reactive molecule, South Australia may be well placed to enter the renewable hydrogen industry, using the benefit of the experience of some of the early experiments in other countries.

Some commentators remain sceptical, however, noting that a lot of energy is lost in the process of turning electricity into hydrogen, transporting it, and turning it back in to heat or electricity. This means that the renewable electricity would need to be very cheap, and otherwise going to waste, to make it worth using for hydrogen production.
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ConnectEd trip to SA Power Networks' Innovation Centre


In September, ConnectEd educators met with SAPN staff during a tour of the SAPN Network Innovation Centre at Richmond.                                          


This was a great opportunity to learn about new developments in the electricity distribution space, and to ask questions about the finer points of technology and policy from SAPN’s point of view.

The discussion confirmed that electricity metering is in a state of change, from all meters being owned and operated by SAPN, to meters being owned and operated by retailers (and their sub-contractors). While SAPN still does own most meters, the provision of new and replacement meters is now firmly the responsibility of the various electricity retailers, meaning that there is a lot more variation in process and hardware – and this is no longer under SAPN’s control.

James Bennett, Manager Regulation and Harry Pavlou, Energy Advisory were on hand to answer questions. As an electrician and sometime installer of meters and solar systems, Harry provides great practical knowledge of the way that SAPN functions, and can assist with troubleshooting issues about high electricity consumption, metering and meter reading records, connections, solar installations and reducing overall electricity costs. Harry is happy to help you on 0433 883 636 or via energyadvisory@sapowernetworks.com.au
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Free Home Energy Visits 

 

ConnectEd has experienced Energy Assessors who can provide community members with home energy audits and give tailored energy advice.


Clients need to be referred to this FREE service via ConnectEd staff, so if you know someone who needs help with their household energy costs, send an email to: ConnectEd@unitingcommunities.org. If you have seen a financial counsellor or if you have attended ConnectEd community information sessions you are also eligible.
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The ConnectEd Program supports people to reduce financial hardship associated with electricity, gas, water and communication services.

 

4 ways to manage your energy and water bills

Make sure your energy deal is right for you
Find out if you are eligible for a concession
Be mindful of your consumption – save on energy and water use
Know how to get help if you need it
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ConnectEd is funded by the Department of Human Services.

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UnitingCare Wesley Bowden (UCWB) · 77 Gibson Street · Bowden, SA 5007 · Australia

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