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Why it's worth considering a smaller energy retailer

Bigger doesn't always equal better, but do good things come in small packages?

woman thinking of switching to small energy provider
Last updated: 14 April 2022

Need to know

  • We assessed 27 energy retailers on their environmental credentials, customer service and number of complaints
  • We found there are great reasons to choose some smaller electricity retailers over big-name suppliers
  • We recommend reviewing your suppliers every year or so to check if you're getting the best deal and are with the retailer that suits you best

As cost of living concerns increase, many of us are looking for ways to rein in our budgets. Keeping the lights on is a necessity, but electricity bills are a constant cause of worry for many households. 

It pays to be proactive to keep a lid on your power bills – assessing your utility providers about once a year will help ensure you're signed up with a company that suits you. 

If you're thinking of switching to a different energy provider to get a better deal, don't restrict your search to the big retailers: our research shows you might find a better deal – and better customer service – with a smaller retailer. 

Who are the big retailers?

The biggest retailers are all well-known companies that have a significant market share of Australian customers:

  • Origin Energy: 2.3 million customers (24.46% market share)
  • AGL: 2.1 million customers (22.75% market share)
  • EnergyAustralia: 1.4 million customers (15.24% market share)

By comparison, some of the smaller retailers have far lower numbers, the smallest being Discover Energy with just 5943 customers. We don't assess companies with fewer than 5000 members in our review. 

Can I change my electricity retailer?

Depending on where you live, your options may be limited or non-existent. In parts of Queensland, the NT, WA and the ACT you might have to go with the only provider in the region, or there might be only a few providers to choose from with little variation in price, as they are regulated markets. 

So the bad news is that if you're from those areas, you'll need to find other ways to save. The good news is that we can help you out: we have lots of resources for saving money

If you're in NSW, SA, Victoria, Tasmania and South-East Queensland, you're in luck! You can switch providers. We'll walk you through how to change energy providers here

And if you want to find out about pricing, check the government's Energy Made Easy website (or Victorian Energy Compare if you're in Victoria). 

Big vs small

While you might expect that the big players have the market cornered, the truth is that they don't always deliver for their customers. 

When we reviewed Australian energy retailers, the company that came out on top – far ahead of all the others – was Diamond Energy, a small provider that has just 13,000 customers. And yet it scored 100% overall on measures like call response times, complaint ratings, and the Green Electricity Guide score. 

Some of the worst performing energy retailers were among the biggest

By comparison, some of the worst performing energy retailers were among the biggest: Origin Energy, EnergyAustralia and AGL. They should take note of what their smaller rivals are doing!

How do the retailers compare?

We plotted each energy retailer's performance against its number of customers to see whether bigger numbers meant a better score. But the comparison shows that the smaller retailers generally performed better than the larger ones. 

What sets the smaller retailers apart?

Now, when we review energy companies, we don't rate them on price. It would be virtually impossible to do, since discounts and deals change regularly and vary from region to region. (We're too busy making the world better for Australian consumers to track pricing!)

However, what we do rate them on is their customer satisfaction, comprising a complaint rating and a call response rating (aka how long it takes for them to answer your call) and their environmental credentials based on Greenpeace's Green Energy Guide. 

While we can't tell you which company will save you the most money, we can tell you which ones will save you the most hassle

So, while we can't tell you which company will save you the most money, we can tell you which ones will save you the most hassle. To help you find the best price, CHOICE has partnered with energy comparison and switching service BillHero.

Here's what some smaller companies do better than their larger competitors. 

Shorter call wait times

Many of the smaller energy providers had far shorter call response times than the larger companies. Diamond Energy, the top-scoring company in our review, answers 100% of incoming phone calls from customers within 30 seconds. 

By comparison, Energy Australia customers will be hanging on the telephone for an average of 111 seconds before their call is answered. 

Fewer complaints (aka more happy customers)

One of the ways we score energy retailers is to assess the number of complaints they receive as a proportion of their overall customer numbers. 

While some smaller companies were as bad or worse than the big retailers, there were some that had quite low complaints numbers. 

The companies that received a complaints score of 100% were all smaller companies

The companies that received a complaints score of 100% (the higher the number, the better) were all smaller companies:

  • Diamond Energy: 12,952 customers
  • Locality Planning: 29,028 customers
  • GloBird Energy: 60,985 customers
  • Powershop: 136,654 customers

But it's important to take these numbers in context: GloBird did receive a good score in terms of complaints, but its call response score was only 57%, and its Green Electricity Guide score was even worse at just 35%. So make sure you check our reviews in detail before you decide to switch to a smaller retailer. 

Greener energy… at least for some

Green energy is where some of the smaller retailers are streets ahead of the large companies. Diamond Energy and Enova Energy both received perfect scores for their Green Energy Guide ratings. Momentum Energy, Energy Locals and Aurora Energy also scored well. The largest of these, Aurora, still isn't huge: it has 243,943 customers. 

By comparison, the larger retailers were some of the worst in terms of their green credentials. Origin, AGL (and its subsidiary ActewAGL) and Energy Australia received the lowest Green Energy Guide ratings of all the retailers. 

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Stock images: Getty unless otherwise stated.