Most made of free power

At the ready . . . University of Otago physiotherapy students (from left) Kate Gibb, Tessa Hartland and Katie Shaw (all 20) prepare to use their "hour of power" in their flat in North Dunedin. PHOTO: SHAWN MCAVINUE

The fuses in a student flat in North Dunedin are failing as its eight residents make the most of an hour of free power.

University of Otago physiotherapy students Kate Gibb, of North Canterbury, and Tessa Hartland and Katie Shaw, both of Christchurch, live in an eight-bedroom house with five other flatmates.

The flatmates have been using electricity retailer Electric Kiwi in the two-storey flat since February.

Electric Kiwi allows customers an hour of free power use each day.

The hour has to be during off-peak times, between 9am and 5pm and 9pm and 7am.

The students nominated their free hour to be from 9pm to 10pm each day.

Bang on 9pm, the students switch on eight fan heaters and eight electric blankets and the washing machine and clothes dryer.

The heat pump in the lounge gets turned on and the flatmates surround it as their rooms warm up.

However, Miss Hartland said the extra demand for electricity often blew a fuse, resulting in upstairs rooms being unexpectedly “dark and freezing” by 10pm.

An electrician had to be called once during the hour when a fuse blew and the house was without power until 1am.

“It was a nightmare,” Miss Hartland said.

Miss Shaw said there was an unwritten flat rule heaters could only be used between 9pm and 10pm.

“We just live for the hour,” Miss Shaw said.

Miss Gibb said that the flatmates asked their landlord to increase the capacity of electricity use in the flat.

The landlord declined the request, saying the flat was wired for “normal” usage, she said.

Miss Gibb said she suspected the hour of power was a marketing ploy and the flatmates could be paying a smaller electricity bill by using another retailer but she had not investigated.

Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority Energywise technical expert Allen Davison said the EECA recommended consumers check the What’s My Number and Powerswitch websites regularly to ensure they were on a competitive electricity rate.

“The hour of power may not suit every household.”

Heating a house to a healthy and comfortable temperature was important.

“The students’ strategy will help them do this more affordably, although it will be more effective if their house is thermally efficient so this free heat is not lost quickly to the outside.”

Tenants should discuss insulation with their landlords to ensure they received the greatest benefit, he said.

As Electric Kiwi customers were using the hour of power during off-peak times, it had little effect on greenhouse gas emissions and electricity infrastructure stress, Mr Davison said.

Electric Kiwi chief executive Luke Blincoe, of Auckland, said Electric Kiwi had been available in Dunedin for about two years and had about 3000 customers in the city.

“We have been growing rapidly in Dunedin.”

The students were using the hour of free power more effectively than most of its customers in New Zealand, he said.

Most Electric Kiwi customers were using the same amount of power but were shifting their usage to off-peak hours, which benefited the environment and electricity infrastructure, he said.


Shut your curtains at dusk to keep the heat in.

Use window insulation film. The film, used in conjunction with well-fitted, thermal backed curtains, is a cheap window insulation option.

Only heat the room you are using. Keep the door closed and use door snakes to keep the heat in.

If you have a heat pump, use its timer and thermostat and clean the filter regularly.

Replace standard light bulbs with LED bulbs.

Install a cylinder wrap around your electric hot water tank and insulate the first few metres of hot water pipe.

Install an efficient shower head.

Wash your clothes in cold water.

Source: Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority