Reducing energy use with the touch of a button

Western Australians have proven they can significantly reduce their energy use just by switching off their air-conditioners for a few minutes on hot days.

A summer trial where air-conditioners were remotely switched off for a few minutes at a time, resulted in a 27 per cent reduction in peak power use, without any significant loss of comfort.

About 400 residents of Perth’s western suburbs volunteered to participate in the trial.

The trial involved installing a switching device in their refrigerative or reverse-cycle air-conditioners to allow Western Power to remotely turn off the compressor, but not the fan, for short periods of time on hot days. Switching was done six times during the trial, on days when the temperature reached 36C and usually between 3pm and 5pm.

Energy Minister Francis Logan says the results have shown that customers can reduce their peak power use by 3.5kW when their device is activated.

"This is the equivalent of using four microwaves or two pool pumps. It is a substantial saving," Mr Logan says.

It was the first time such a trial had been conducted in Western Australia, a state renowned for high ownership and use of air-conditioners.

Recent research conducted by Western Power revealed that 90 per cent of Perth households now own an air-conditioner, up from 82 per cent last year. And 34 per cent of those households have more than one air-conditioner.

Western Power managing director Doug Aberle says the trial has demonstrated that it is possible to significantly reduce peak energy consumption with very little effort and no change to comfort.

He says all electricity networks are built to provide for peak use times.

“The question is, do communities want to live with more and more infrastructure when simple changes to energy use can reduce the need?" Mr Aberle says.

"The substations, cables, powerlines and other infrastructure that we build to support energy needs are not driven by normal consumption, but by the total peak. We build to cover the times of highest energy use, even if those times only amount to a few days a year.

"With this trial we were able to measure electricity demand on the Nedlands main powerline and it really showed that ‘a little from a lot of people’ can deliver a reduction in the peak."
Volunteers were surveyed after the trial and most of them indicated they suffered little or no discomfort when the switching devices were triggered.

Mr Aberle says the trial has several important benefits in addition to managing peak demand.

"The device not only assists with managing peak loads, but it also has a positive environmental impact by reducing carbon dioxide emissions associated with power generation," he says.

"The device also reminds people of the importance of reducing their power consumption.”

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