Energy price war is good news for consumers

John Hearne finds competition between utility companies is leading to good energy deals, but most people ignore the opportunity to cut costs
Energy price war is good news for consumers

THE Retail Markets Report from the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) shows that the vast majority of electricity (81%) and gas (69%) customers are on standard plans. What this means effectively is that we’re all passing up on huge energy cost savings.

If you were to take the time to switch your gas and/or electricity supplier, it would be difficult to find a more profitable way to put in 10 minutes.

Earlier this week, Bord Gáis Energy announced a deal that offers new customers a 24% discount on standard rates. This was the second time this month that Bord Gáis announced a cut, while Flogas, Energia, and Electric Ireland have all lined up very attractive switching offers over the past six weeks.

The price comparison site, Switcher.ie, has worked out that if we all sloughed off that inertia and took the 10 minutes to switch, collectively, we’d save €420 million per year.

Eoin Clarke is managing director of Switcher.ie. He says: “Energy suppliers big and small continue to battle to win customers by cutting rates, launching increasingly competitive discounts, and introducing cash back offers as high as €175. Unfortunately, the continuing trend we see via reports from the CER and our own research is that only a minority of consumers are taking advantage of these deals.”

According to Switcher’s figures, the average consumer on standard rates pays €2,060 on their gas and electricity bills every year, even though switching to the cheapest deals would save them up to €358, bringing the annual bill down to €1,700. And the savings are even higher for people with higher energy usage.

A five-person family, which spends lots of time in the home, could save up to €458 per year.

Sites like Switcher.ie and Bonkers.ie allow consumers to figure out which provider is offering the most appropriate deal for you. You plug in the details of your energy use and then get a list of the cheapest deals available.

You can then go ahead and switch there on then on either of these sites. You choose the right plan, fill in a few details, then the site will contact your new energy supplier and complete the changeover on your behalf.

To secure the best discounts, you’ll have to opt for online billing, and some suppliers will also require sign up to their budget plan.

Budget plan premium

A word of warning about budget plans. On the face of it, this feature does appear attractive. Instead of paying different amounts every month, the utility works out an average bill and you pay that. The only trouble is that once they figure out what your average bill is, they then go and add a premium of anything up to 20%. While they say that any credit will go forward to future bills, it still means you’re paying in advance for your power. Basically you’re giving the company free credit.

While switching supplier is the quickest and easiest way to save on energy costs as the temperature drops and the nights get longer, it’s not the only one.

Estimated bills

Your electricity meter is usually read four times a year, but if the meter reader can’t get access to yours when he calls, you’ll get an estimated reading.

If you’ve clocked up a few of these, there’s a risk that your real usage has diverged from the estimate. That’s fine if you’ve been using less than you were billed for, but it can lead to a nasty case of bill shock if it turns out the bills were underestimating your usage. You can however read the meter yourself, then send the reading to your provider and your bill will be recalculated.

In addition to this, there are all kinds of behavioural changes that can be made around the house that together add up to substantial savings over the course of the year. Keep doors and windows shut and only heat the rooms you’re using. Even closed windows are a weak spot in a building’s thermal envelope, especially if they’re single glazed. Keep curtains shut at night, even in empty rooms, and don’t drape curtains over radiators — this sends the heat straight out the window. Get into ‘Dad’ mode and turn off the lights when you leave a room. Fine tune the timers on your immersion and your boiler; see if there’s scope to reduce the length of time they’re on.

Eoin Clarke, MD of switcher.ie

Eoin Clarke, MD of switcher.ie

Costly standby buttons

Those little red standby lights on TVs, DVD players, and so on consume a lot more energy than you might think — anything up to 60% of the power the device uses when it’s switched on.

Make it a bedtime ritual to turn these things off altogether. Computer monitors are big energy hogs too. Log off and shut down when you’re not using it.

Hot water needs to be hot, not scalding. If you have a thermostat on your cylinder, use it. Turn the temperature down to 60 degrees. When it comes to space heating, turning your thermostat down by one degree could save you as much as 10% on your heating bills. Also, if your oil or gas boiler hasn’t been serviced recently, then you could be wasting money.

In fact, by servicing your boiler, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) estimates that you could improve its overall efficiency by 10% — saving you up to €150 per year.

Expensive ice build-up

Don’t let ice build up in the freezer compartment of the fridge. Defrost once every six months to minimise energy consumption, and don’t sit the fridge beside the cooker, or in the path of direct sunlight if at all possible. Make sure the seals around the fridge are tight fitting, let food cool down before you put it in and don’t leave the door open too long. It takes a lot of energy to get the fridge back down to the right temperature after the door’s been left open.

When cooking, keep a lid on it. When the pot starts to boil, put on the lid and turn the heat down — this keeps the heat where it should be and reduces condensation in the kitchen. Use the microwave to reheat — it’s much more energy efficient than a cooker. If you have to use the oven, try to avoid opening the door a lot to check on things. You lose around 20% of the accumulated heat each time, and it takes a lot of energy to get the temperature back up. If you’re only making one cup of tea, why fill the kettle? Use a cup to measure what you want. It’ll boil much more quickly and much more efficiently if you only boil what you need. Just make sure, if it’s an older kettle, that the water covers the element completely. And use the toaster rather than the grill whenever possible.

The SEAI runs a Better Energy Homes Scheme which offers grant aid for a range of retrofitted home energy saving measures, including insulation and heating controls. The Warmer Homes Scheme meanwhile aims to improve the energy efficiency and comfort of homes occupied by vulnerable households in receipt of the National Fuel Allowance — through the installation of draught proofing, attic insulation, lagging jackets, low energy light bulbs, and cavity wall insulation.

For any more information, check online at www.seai.ie or Lo-Call 1850 376 666.

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