So you’ve decided you want a better deal for your solar household? There are so many options when it comes to choosing a power company and getting to the bottom of why one is better than another can be tricky. Asking the right questions can make all the difference.
Despite the clear upside of shopping around – including potentially huge savings – lots of power companies propagate myths that could put you off making the move. So let’s start with debunking some of the most common myths by sharing how it really works.
Have you heard these things before?
- You’ll lose your account credit
- Your power could be cut off in the switch process
- Tradesmen have to visit your house
- You could be double billed
- You’ll lose your premium feed-in tariff
How it really works
Even though these myths might lead you to believe otherwise, switching to a new power company is easy. In most cases all you need are a few simple details, such as your address and bank or credit card details.
Once you’ve signed up, you’ll go through an industry-regulated 10 day ‘cooling off period’ and after that your transfer to your new power company will begin.
Your new power company will take care of your switch, which usually takes a couple of weeks. Switching involves the transfer of information from one provider to another, so unless you’ve moved or renovated your house, no one will be coming over, touching any equipment or cutting off the supply of power to your home.
If you have credits with your old power company, they will refund them to you when they receive your request to switch away (again, this is carried out by your new power company). They may also get in touch with you to try and convince you not to leave but you’re under no obligation to listen or act.
As you can see, the switch is simple for you as a customer. The hard part is figuring out which power company is right for you. So what should you be grilling them about?
1. Do you monitor my solar system?
One in five solar systems in Australia are deficient according to the Clean Energy Regulator, and you don’t want yours to be one of them. The easiest way to make sure this doesn’t happen is to outsource the monitoring of your solar system to your power company.
If you have a smart meter, your electricity company receives a daily feed of data telling them how much solar power you’re exporting to the grid. If your export is zero, or close to zero, they will know almost immediately. This is most likely an indication that something is wrong with your system, and you should be told.
If you don’t have monitoring set up, or you don’t check it regularly, you may not know your solar system isn’t working until your quarterly bill. Our estimates show, for a Victorian household with a 4kW solar system, that could mean up to $290 in savings lost just like that.
2. What tools do you provide so I can track my solar exports and energy use?
Monitoring equipment is great, but it doesn’t allow you to see how much electricity you purchase from the grid and the dollar value of your solar exports. What you want is a daily view of the full picture – your household usage and your solar exports – so you can see what’s going on at any point in time.
If you’ve got a smart meter, your power company has this data at half hour intervals and should be able to tell you.
Seeing your home energy use at this level of detail allows you to use your solar system more effectively, shift your usage to the times when your system is producing the most electricity and pick up any irregularities before that quarterly bill.
For example, your solar system produces different amounts of electricity at different times of the day. It’s one thing to generally use more electricity when the sun’s up, but it’s another to understand what time your solar export reaches its peak or how long your generation lasts at different times of the year.
When you know this, you can use timers to set your appliances to run at those optimal times. This means maximising the amount of solar energy you use and minimising how much grid electricity you consume.
Having an up-to-date view of how your set up equates to dollars spent on your bill is also a smart idea. Ask your power company if they have an app or email service that allows you to get the full picture, so you can do away with your spreadsheets and embrace the tech.
3. What’s the hook?
There are many electricity companies out there that boast high feed-in tariffs (FiTs), but make sure you check a few things before you jump onto a new deal.
Is it a conditional offer?
Look for any conditions that apply before you sign up. There are plenty of offers out there that have all sorts of caveats. For example, do you have to buy solar panels through that electricity company, or you have to be a member of a certain club?
What are the other rates?
We’re all trained to look at the FiT, but what about the usage rate and daily supply charge? Some power companies offer a really high FiT, then bump up their other rates to compensate, unbeknownst to many of their solar customers. Be sure to get a view of the full rate structure before you make the move.
Is it a limited time offer?
Some high FiT offers only last for 6-12 months and then you’re put back on a lower FiT. While this isn’t the end of the world, you always want to know what you’re getting into. If the FiT is a limited time offer, make sure you’re comfortable with the amount it will return to after the promotional period ends.
4. Is my bill going to be comprehensible?
Electricity bills are notoriously difficult to read – full of jargon, different rates and asterisks that place conditions on almost everything. Nobody wants to spend time trying to decipher bills when they could be watching the next Richmond game, so why do it?
What you want is a simple bill that lays out the value you get from your solar exports, what you’re paying for in electricity and other costs, and exactly what you need to pay each month.
Beware of the pay on time discounts – the one time you forget to pay your bill on time, you’ll be whacked with a great big late payment fee (or lose the large discount that made the offer so enticing).
There are power companies out there that are doing it well, so it pays to ask the question to save yourself some angst.
5. Can you help me get a solar upgrade or battery?
With the cost of batteries falling each year and governments now introducing rebates, solar batteries are becoming financially achievable and the next step for many solar households.
If you’ve got solar, it’s important to know you’ve got a team of experts by your side to help you work out when it’s time to upgrade.
Do they offer solar products and batteries? Can they help you choose the right products for your home? Will they help you get it installed?
Make sure you choose a power company that will help you navigate the advancements in solar technology and help you figure out the best next step for you.
6. How do you make your money?
Be bold – ask the question. Most power companies rely on you using lots of electricity to make a profit. Why? Because they own power plants and other generation assets, which help them make millions by feeding power into the grid and on to customers.
Their profits are directly tied to the usage rate they pass on to customers, giving them a huge incentive to focus on selling you more electricity.
This isn’t great for solar households, because you use less electricity. To these companies, solar homes are bad for business because they don’t buy as much power as everyone else, and ask to be paid when they feed electricity into the network.
Look for a power company that doesn’t tie its profit to your use of electricity (your usage rate). That way you can be confident you’re with a power company that has no vested interest in getting you to buy more electricity and can instead focus on helping you use your solar more effectively, buy less grid electricity and save.
7. What additional value can you offer me on top of my premium FiT?
For solar customers on a prized premium feed-in tariff (pFiT), it can be tempting to stay put for fear of losing it. But despite what some people may tell you, you can take your pFiT with you.
What is true, is that not all power companies add their standard feed-in tariff to the PFiT amount you’re receiving from the government – they just offer the bare minimum of what they are required to pay. So be sure to ask how much you’ll get for your solar exports when you’re looking for a new power company.