Confusion about power charges

Nikunu explains that many Yolngu are confused about power and electricity charges. He says that people in the cluster/temporary accommodation (the demountable units that people are put in while waiting for their houses to be built) are complaining about how much it costs to buy power cards. For people in ordinary houses $30 lasts them a long time, but for the people in the cluster accommodation $30 only lasts one day and half the night. Some find they have spent $50-$80 over the weekend and then have to buy another power card on Monday to run their fridge and appliances. Some are getting into debt because of this. What does this mean?

The podcast then explores how the electricity company measures how much power is used, so they know how much to charge. The measurements of watts, kilowatt hours, megawatts and gigawatts are explained.

(It became very clear during the research for this program that hardly any Yolngu understood that power was sold in quantities of kilowatt hours. Many did not know when they paid for power it was dependent on how much they used. The question was asked a number of times, “What do you see that you are paying for when you pay for electricity”? The response was always, “We don’t know. We  just wawun yan naïvely, just go to the store and buy a power card.” So it seems the missing information is the knowledge about quantities of power. Without this information people have little chance of working out how to save or cut back the use of power in different areas.)

The discussion compares how much power in watts various items use, including torches, lights, fans, fridges etc. so that people can see that different things use different quantities of electricity and so cost more/less to run. It focuses on the power usage of air-conditioners which are in these cluster units. Recommendations are made as to the temperature air-conditioners should operate at (approx24 degrees) so they don’t use too much power.

Power consumption of stoves and hot water systems is discussed, including solar hot water systems. There’s a lot of confusion around how these solar hot water systems work and this program covers just the basics, advising that the electricity can be left switched off to the solar hot water system unless it’s cloudy.  However the cluster accommodation has no solar panels and just works on electric hot water. The program looks at how to lessen the cost of these hot water systems.


There are 4 Stories in this podcast. Please see time stamps below:

  • Confusion and anger about Electricity / power costing $50 to $80 a weekend – 00:00
  • Electric power usage costing – 11:39
  • Electric power usage. Temperatures for air conditioners – 18:33
  • Understanding hot water power costs. Confusion about solar powered heaters – 27:05