Cost of living is front of mind for many of us, and with electricity prices rising, you've probably wondered how to shrink your power bill and whether to shop around for a better deal.
But CHOICE research has found that just 6% of people changed their electricity provider in the last six months, and a huge 67% of people don't plan to.
You can save around $350 a year by switching, according to Bill Hero, an energy comparison and switching service. And energy companies offer great discounts to lure in new customers – why shouldn't you cash in on that?
Not to mention that no-one really likes paying money to power companies – there are far more fun ways to spend that amount of money each year!
Just 6% of people changed their electricity provider in the last six months, and a huge 67% of people don't plan to
So, what gives? Why aren't people chasing a better deal on their electricity bill? Who wouldn't want to have an extra $350 back in their pocket?
To find out, we asked CHOICE staff to try switching their electricity provider, then report back to us about what they thought of the process, and I gave it a go too.
UPDATE: If you're on a 'market offer' contract and have recently had a price rise, contact your energy company to ask for a cheaper plan, as some recent price increases have risen above the regulated safety net (which is basically a limit to how much companies can charge customers on 'standing offer' contracts). Contact your energy company and ask how your current plan compares to the regulated standing offer.
For more information, read the full ACCC media release about the regulated safety net.
We asked around the CHOICE office about why people haven't switched, and answers varied from "laziness" to "it's so hard to understand" and "it's overwhelming and confusing", which precisely echoes my feelings about engaging with my electricity provider.
Just reading my electricity bill makes my head swim: there are so many numbers, rates, and terms that I don't understand. It's lucky that they put the amount due in large font, otherwise I'd miss it!
The thought of having to call the electricity company has been a major factor in me putting off changing my plan for so long
And when I so much as think about finding a better deal, I end up in a state of anxiety-fuelled inertia. How do I figure out what plan I'm on? Why are there two different prices? What's the difference between a meter number and a National Meter Identifier? Why are the numbers next to the dollar sign so big? Help!
Not to mention that I have a pathological aversion to making phone calls. To be honest, the thought of having to call the electricity company has been a major factor in me putting off changing my plan for so long. (Sad but true.)
Luckily, my boss told me I had to switch for research purposes – otherwise I would have happily ignored the finer details of my electricity bill indefinitely.
Easier than expected
To help me get my head around the process, I spoke to my friend Li who's a gun at managing her electricity bills. Li is the epitome of a switched-on consumer: she has a spreadsheet for her electricity use and costs, and she regularly checks the market to make sure she's getting the best deal.
What she told me completely revolutionised how I think about switching electricity providers.
"It's a pretty painless process," she says. "And you don't actually have to call your current energy company."
Here's how to switch your energy provider:
2. Enter your details
3. Choose the best deal for you
4. Go to your chosen company's website and request the switch
5. You're all switched! You'll receive a final bill from your old supplier and start receiving bills from your new supplier
*If you live in NSW, ACT, Queensland, South Australia or Tasmania.
If you live in Victoria, it's the same process – but go to Victorian Energy Compare instead. Victorian Energy Compare says that people using their website reportedly saved an average of $110 in the first year alone.
Unfortunately your options for switching are limited in some parts of Australia, such as WA and the NT.
CHOICE tip: If you live in Victoria, you can claim a $250 Power Saving Bonus from the government. You just need to be an account holder for a residential electricity account. The current round of applications closes on 31 August 2023.
To find out which is the best deal for you, you can either go off the projected costs on the government's Energy Made Easy website, or you can crunch the numbers yourself.
If you want to DIY, grab a recent electricity bill and look for two things: your energy use for the period, plus the number of days it covers. (These will be called something like 'general usage' and 'daily supply' respectively.)
You will also need the new electricity rates, including the daily supply charge, of the retailer you want to compare to. You can often get these by doing an online quote for your address.
To calculate how a plan from a different retailer compares, you'll need to multiply the new daily supply rate by the number of days the bill covers, then multiply the amount of energy you used (in kWh) by the new general usage rate. Add these two numbers together and you'll know how much your bill would be under the new retailer. From this you'll be able to estimate which retailer is likely to be cheaper.
Other things to factor in include fees for different types of payment (credit card instead of direct debit, for instance), subscription fees and any discounts you might be able to get as a new customer.
Solar feed-in tariffs (FiTs) aren't what they used to be, and they're not really worth it unless you're selling more electricity to the grid than you're buying back.
In most cases, you're better off using the electricity you produce rather than selling it back to the grid. (And if you can't use it all, then FiTs are a bonus that'll help with your solar payback time.)
To get the best value for the extra solar you make, keep an eye on what energy companies are offering and be prepared to switch if you find a better deal.
"You should look at the plan as a whole: a good FiT is fine, but it's the actual usage and daily supply charge that usually matter more," says Chris Barnes, CHOICE solar expert.
Want to know more? Read our article: Are solar feed-in tariffs worth it?
You can get an estimate of potential savings at energymadeeasy.gov.au, or you can do the sums yourself.
Matthew Steen, head of reviews and testing at CHOICE, says it took him just five minutes to make the switch, including uploading a recent bill and registering with the new supplier.
He's calculated he'll save approximately $50 per quarter. Not bad for five minutes' work!
Savings: $200 a year
Now, Matthew is an incredibly efficient person. (Being in charge of the entirety of CHOICE testing will do that.) Those of us who don't possess Matthew's superhuman ability to parse data and make decisions at light speed might need to allow a bit longer to switch.
CHOICE verifier Melanie spent just over an hour switching her electricity provider. The very nature of her job means she's detail-oriented and methodical, so she took her time combing through a year's worth of bills and calculating all the potential costs.
But it was time well spent: she estimates she'll save almost $600 over the next year.
Savings: $600 a year
Savings: $450 a year
After switching his electricity and gas provider, CHOICE tester Ben was pleasantly surprised. "We have solar panels and my latest combined monthly bill was -$35.10. The previous one was +$30.13, so so far we're actually making money," he says.
Editorial director Margaret Rafferty also had positive results:
"I knew my solar output was higher than my energy consumption so I took the time to find the highest solar feed-in tariff in the market (which is the amount I get paid for the solar energy I generate). That's definitely paying off for me – my first bill was $130 credit for a month!" she says.
Savings: Now making money
Breaking up is hard to do
While your current retailer probably hasn't done much to keep your business over the years, the moment you decide to switch they'll kick into gear and do what they can to keep you. They may call or email you to ask you to reconsider switching.
It's a bit like a romantic partner who's never invested much in your relationship begging you to take them back once you end things. Stay strong – you deserve better!
You might be looking for savings, or you might just be happy to go with a greener product.
While price is the deciding factor for most people, many of us are taking the environmental impacts of our purchasing decisions into account.
While I was hoping to shrink my electricity bills, I didn't want to switch to a provider with poor enviro credentials. But how can you tell what's real and what's just greenwashing?
An easy way to assess a company's enviro chops is to check out Greenpeace's Green Electricity Guide. When we calculate a company's CHOICE Expert Rating, the Green Electricity Guide score makes up 40% of the overall score.
You can check them out and filter by Green Electricity Guide ratings in our article on the best electricity providers.
You can also pay a bit extra for GreenPower, which is government-accredited renewable energy. Most of the retailers let you select between 10% and 100% GreenPower. A switch to 10–25% GreenPower will cost around $1 per week.
To find a balance between affordability and environmental friendliness, I selected several companies that offered the best prices and checked their CHOICE Expert Rating, homing in on their rating from the Green Electricity Guide.
I was hoping to go with Diamond Energy, as it scores a perfect 10 out of 10 in the Green Electricity Guide. Unfortunately I discovered that I couldn't switch to Diamond – many small retailers are currently not accepting new customers due to the recent spike in energy prices.
Many small retailers are currently not accepting new customers due to the recent spike in energy prices
In the end, I opted for Energy Locals as it has a Green Electricity Guide score of 81% and a CHOICE Expert Rating of 81%. It has a fixed fee membership of $14.99 or $19.99 per month, but claims to offer cheaper usage rates.
After crunching the numbers using the last year's worth of electricity bills, I calculated that even with the membership fee, Energy Locals would cost me around $9 more per month than my current provider – and I'd be supporting a company that's much more environmentally friendly and has better customer service ratings. That's money well spent in my mind.
Practise makes perfect
As with any new thing, the first time is always the hardest. While some of our energy-switching CHOICErs felt some trepidation about the process, those who had previously switched providers felt confident: "I expect it to be simple – I ask the new provider to switch my account and they do it," one switcher says.
Personally, I was pleasantly surprised by how easy the process was. Once I'd chosen the provider and plan I wanted, I just entered my details and they sent me a text message and email confirmation straight away.
It was a huge relief not having to contact my existing provider to cancel with them
I loved that I didn't have to pick up the phone or wait on hold for ages, and it was a huge relief not having to contact my existing provider to cancel with them. Now that I know how easy it is, I wish I'd done it sooner – and I know I can do it again in future.
If someone who's as allergic to life admin as I am can do it, so can you!
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.