Electricity is a necessity, but electricity bills can be a nasty surprise, especially over the last year as electricity prices have fluctuated.
Savvy consumers treat utilities like electricity and gas as something you switch as often as possible to make sure you're always getting the best price.
Better $50 going into your pocket than someone else's, right? And sometimes it can be much, much more of a saving.
We've pored over the Australian Energy Regulator Reports and Victorian Energy Market Report to find the best electricity provider, so you don't have to. Here's what we found.
CHOICE only recommends energy retailers that receive 85% overall for their score, 98% for complaints and 70% for both call response and Green Electricity Guide.
Diamond and Amber Electric topped our survey with complaints scores of 98% or better, customer service of at least 70% or better, and Green Electricity Guide scores of 70% or better. In fact, Diamond scored 100% in the Green Electricity Guide.
Neither of these retailers are carbon neutral according to the Climate Active website run by the government.
These two retailers are Australian owned and have local headquarters, and only offer electricity (not gas). Size-wise, Amber Electric is the smallest of the two with just over 13,000 customers, while Diamond has close to 18,000.
Due to the nature of the current energy market, you'll need to send an expression of interest to Diamond and Amber Electric from their respective websites, and the business model of Amber Electric is access to wholesale energy prices for a monthly subscription.
New South Wales, South Australia, South East Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria are deregulated, which means there isn't an Australia-wide best electricity provider.
However, Diamond and Amber Electric serve South East Queensland, NSW, Victoria and South Australia well. Amber Electric, a newcomer to our survey, is the top performing retailer available in the ACT with a CHOICE Expert Rating of 88%. However, its Green Electricity Guide results are lower than the top three at 70%. Amber Electric also supplies the ACT, but Diamond does not.
Energy Locals and Aurora Energy are the best options in our survey for Tasmanian customers, and also serve all other states and territories aside from Western Australia and the Northern Territory. With CHOICE Expert Ratings of 75% and Green Electricity scores of 81%, they don't quite meet the criteria for a recommendation, but they're not far behind. Their call response scores of 44% for Energy Locals and 47% for Aurora could be improved though.
Since we're using both Australian Energy Regulator and Victorian Energy Market Reports data, we can give a larger scope of the better outcomes for energy retailers across deregulated areas in Australia.
From customer complaints to green energy ratings, here's what we found.
Customer complaints: The bad
There are a decent chunk of complaints put through every year against energy retailers, but some of them outstrip others.
You'll see that no retailer scores below 85%, but that doesn't mean they're all great. Look for providers that score at least 98%. Also, larger retailers often have a greater number of complaints, but measured against their size and amount of subscribers, it makes the percentage of complaints quite small.
Customer complaints: The good
Plenty of retailers have great results for their complaints score, and call response times can be excellent as well. Drill down on the graphic above that covers all scored retailers to find out which ones invest in their customer service. High results in both complaints and call response means a better investment.
Green energy ratings: The bad
Some of the latest updates to the Green Electricity Guide paint a rather dire picture. A number of providers have seen significant drops in their results including AGL, ActewAGL, Energy Australia and Simply Energy. Then you have retailers like Alinta Energy, who claim to be working towards sustainability and yet still scored just 31%.
Many of the biggest retailers in the country, including those listed above as well as Origin Energy, are among the worst performers.
The most common problems are a lack of transparency in advertising, and retailers continuing to purchase some, or all, of their energy from the National Energy Market (NEM). The latter still burns fossil fuels, so while a retailer may not be directly involved with non-renewable sources, buying energy from the NEM is indirect involvement.
Green energy ratings: The good
Fortunately, a number of retailers are sticking to their green guns. Diamond, Momentum, Aurora and Energy Locals all score above 70% in the Green Electricity Guide. Also many retailers offer green electricity plans of some kind. We're also seeing an increase in the number of retailers earning Climate Active carbon neutral certification.
Options include plans that are partly, or wholly, derived from renewable sources, solar feed in tariffs which often include financial incentives when you supply excess energy back to the grid, and GreenPower. This is a program where retailers claim to generate one unit of electricity from a renewable source for each unit of electricity sold. A few even actively encourage home solar with discounted panel and battery installation.
Finally, while sustainability claims made by some retailers don't entirely match up to their Green Electricity Guide results, there has been some progress. Alinta, for example, owns solar and wind farms, is building a lithium-ion battery storage system, and has stated that its coal-fired power station in Victoria may close 15 years earlier than planned. It's not the only retailer heading in that direction, either.
You don't have to go to commercial switching sites like iSelect and Comparethemarket (which have some troubling issues around only examining a portion of the market). There are some free alternatives such as Energy Made Easy, a federal government initiative, as well as some state-based switching options like Vic Compare.
CHOICE has partnered with Bill Hero, who follow the same methodology as our previously run initiative, Transformer. They'll ask for a subscription which they use to monitor your bills and swap you to a cheaper energy retailer, covering both electricity and gas.
While we don't include the Climate Active program as a scoring element in our recommendation for best energy retailer, we recognise that working towards attaining Climate Active certification creates healthy competition between energy suppliers and retailers.
Working towards net zero emissions makes it easier for consumers to select carbon neutral energy if they want to. As more energy suppliers and retailers attain the Climate Active standard, we'll add this into our scoring methodology, looking at how many of their products are Climate Active as well as their organisation.
At the time of publishing, current energy retailers we've reviewed that have organisation and/or product Climate Active programs are:
- ReAmped Energy
- Simply Energy.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.