As many as 25,000 low-income households will receive federal government support to cut their energy use in the first round of energy efficiency grants paid for by funds from the carbon tax.

The government will spend about $39.8 million – equivalent to almost $1,600 per household – on 11 projects involving trade unions, charities, welfare groups and companies. The projects will seek to lower the barriers to the energy savings, such as upfront costs and behaviour patterns.

“It is very difficult for many low-income households to find the capital costs to invest in energy-efficiency measures or, indeed, even to access the information necessary that can help them,” Greg Combet, Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, said.

Mr Combet contrasted the effort to reach poorer members of society with state-based feed-in tariffs, which have promoted the spread of roof-top solar photovoltaic panels among middle- and higher-income families. Since lower-income households are typically renters or living in flats, it's “very rare” that they tap in to solar PV and other such programs, he said.

“Investment in smart energy use now will help to lower our energy use in the future and help households to lower their electricity bills,” Mr Combet said.

Funding will include outlays over four years for retrofitting some homes with more efficient appliances, installing in-home displays to show energy use, and financial training.

Rising energy bills have become a major political issue this year with the major parties blaming each other for the 50 per cent increase in the past three or four years. The carbon price, introduced on July 1, is one contributor to the rises as are steep increases in network and transmission costs.

United Voice, a union representing 120,000 members across the country, will participate in one of 11 projects, targeting about 1,000 families with annual incomes of $60,000 or less in the Sydney, Newcastle and Illawarra regions of NSW.

A recent union survey found 40 per cent of its members – working in cleaning, security and hospitality jobs - face quarterly energy bills equivalent of about half a week's disposable household income, Mark Boyd, the union's NSW branch secretary, said. The Nature Conservation Council of NSW will lead the project.

“It's hard to imagine a more difficult market,” said Chris Dunstan, research director of the Institute for Sustainable Futures at University of Technology Sydney,and one of the organisations providing support for the pilot program. “You have low-incomes, renters, many languages.”

“If you can make (energy efficiency) happen in this group, it's got massive potential for the broader population,” Mr Dunstan said.

The $39.8 million is part of the $100 million earmarked by the government for its Low Income Energy Efficiency Program.

Other recipients of funding include the South East Councils Climate Change Alliance in Victoria, Mission Australia Housing and Indigenous Essential Services, serving East Arnhem indigenous communities.