Energy-wise: Liz Mahony and John Eleftheriou. Photo: Sahlan Hayes
For Liz Mahony, it was annoyance over a mounting electricity bill that irked her into action.
Within a year, Ms Mahony and husband John Eleftheriou had halved the power costs on their converted warehouse home in Alexandria that had been nearing $900 a quarter.
''I'd rather go away for a weekend than give that money to the electricity company,'' she said.
Many of the measures were easy. They installed highly efficient LED globes, relied on fans rather than air conditioning, and cut use of under-floor heating and heated towel rails.
The best investment, though, may have been buying a $150 electricity monitor, said Mr Eleftheriou. That device, easily installed by an electrician and now selling for less than $100, provides real-time readings of power use and its monthly cost.
''Otherwise, we'd be waiting for the bill to come every three months,'' Mr Eleftheriou said, as the monitor in his living room ticked to a ''$120 a month'' reading.
A new report by the Australia Institute shows the Alexandria couple are hardly alone. Consumers have been responding to higher prices by cutting use, keeping a lid on spending despite big increases in tariffs.
''It appears that residential electricity consumers have managed to completely offset the effect of higher prices on their household budgets by reducing consumption,'' according to the report, Powering Down.
Although power price rises began to accelerate in about 2006, the main consumer response is apparent after 2010, when debate over the carbon price flared before its introduction in July last year.
''The political attention being paid to electricity prices led consumers to pay more attention than they had previously done to their expenditure on electricity,'' the report said.
''It's not the reality [of higher bills], it's the increased awareness of what electricity costs, and how you can save that cost,'' Hugh Saddler, principal consultant with Pitt & Sherry, and the report's author, said.
The Australian Energy Regulator's annual report, released on Friday, revealed the components of typical bills this year. In NSW, the carbon cost was 7 per cent, compared with 51 per cent for network costs, 23 per cent for the costs of generating the power, 10 per cent for retailing and 8 per cent for ''green'' programs.
The carbon cost was least in states with the largest share of power supplied by renewable energy, with the tab just 3 per cent in Tasmania and 4 per cent in South Australia. The ACT had the highest carbon cost at 12 per cent.
The AER report estimates electricity price increases will slow sharply in most states this financial year - even if the carbon price is scrapped. In NSW, for instance, power bills will rise 3.6 per cent for Ausgrid customers after surging 21.7 per cent, 10 per cent, 17.9 per cent and 20.6 per cent in the previous four years.
Despite the slowdown in electricity price rises - and the expectation the new Senate will scrap the carbon tax when it sits from next July - Dr Saddler doubts consumers will return to being as profligate with energy. ''It's the legacy of the scare campaign'' over the carbon price, he said.
Another reason is that consumers are busy installing less energy sapping devices, such as airconditioners that use as little as a third of the electricity of models made six to 10 years ago.
Federal minimum standards helped drive some of the change. Efficiency of new televisions improved 20 per cent in the 18 months after the Rudd government toughened standards in 2009, according to a recent report by the Grattan Institute.
Origin Energy says households can save $149 a year by replacing a 2-star rated plasma TV with a 5-star rated LCD one, the Grattan report noted. That is one piece of advice Mr Eleftheriou has acted on, trading in an old plasma for a 70-inch LCD TV that uses a fraction of the power.
With the exception of the loss of a water chiller, the couple's cuts have been painless, he said. ''We haven't had to change how we live at all,'' Mr Eleftheriou said.