People power: community circuit breakers

Living Well | Peter Barrett | Posted on 31 October 2018

RACV and Powercor are working with communities to help us all keep our cool this summer.

On average, there are about eight days in summer that really test our electricity grid. They tend to be on weekends as the mercury nears 35 degrees and split-system airconditioners get cranked to as cold as they go. Such peak usage can lead to an overloaded system and blackouts, which happened across the Bellarine Peninsula last Australia Day weekend.

But a joint initiative between the RACV and Powercor – the electricity distribution company responsible for the poles and wires in Melbourne’s western suburbs and western Victoria – hopes to change all that. From December 2018 to March 2019, the Energy Partner Program is recruiting at least 3000 households in the Bellarine Peninsula and parts of the Surf Coast to save power and become ‘community circuit breakers’ on extreme heat days.

During a heatwave the temperature in the room generally isn’t lower than 26 degrees and trying to get it to 19 degrees is unlikely to happen.

It works like this: Each home will have an infrared wifi-enabled remote installed (a Sensibo), which enables users to operate their cooling systems when they are not at home. It also enables Powercor, with the householders’ permission, to set the temperature up to a maximum of 26 degrees.

“On those peak days we can actually interact with it and increase the temperature, because we’re assuming you’ll have it on 19 degrees, desperate to get the temperature down,” says Powercor’s digital network head, Luke Skinner. “During a heatwave the temperature in the room generally isn’t lower than 26 degrees and trying to get it to 19 degrees is unlikely to happen. Meanwhile, you run the airconditioner to death and suck heaps of energy to do it."

Point Lonsdale on the Bellarine Peninsula. Photo: Getty

Point Lonsdale on the Bellarine Peninsula. Photo: Getty Images

Participants in the scheme will not only save on power bills but also receive $20 for each peak usage “event” in which they allow Powercor to set their thermostat temperature.” But don’t worry, before you start having Big Brother panic attacks, Luke assures us that participants are texted the day before, the day of, and an hour before, each event and can opt out any time simply by using their manual remote. “There are about 60,000 customers connected to a similar program in California and it works well,” says Luke.

If you are in the Bellarine/Surf Cost area and want to take part in the program visit

Three ways to help reduce the risk of blackouts and be a good ‘grid citizen’

1. Pre-cool your house.

On peak electricity use days, the crunch time is between 4pm and 8pm, when many people arrive home from work and crank their air-conditioning to the max. Using a Wi-Fi-enabled airconditioning remote such as Sensibo (about $150), which has a smartphone app, you can pre-cool your house, say between 1pm and 3pm, before you arrive home. 

2. Give your air-conditioner a rest.

On hot days, many people set their cooling systems to the lowest temperature, but most homes will never reach 18 degrees, let alone maintain it. By setting your thermostat to 25 degrees you achieve a comfortable environment and it doesn’t push your system (and the grid) beyond its limits. 

3. Run your big appliances outside the peak.

Instead of using appliances such as dryers, washing machines and pool pumps during the 4-8pm peak time on very hot days, use them at non-peak times instead.

Need further help?

Looking for an energy-efficient cooling solution? RACV Home Trades and Services can help you find the right tradie for the job.