Switch on a better energy deal
There are big savings to be made, explains Charlie Weston, if you are canny and change your current gas and electricity provider
With petrol and diesel prices plummeting, consumers will be asking themselves why residential energy prices are not dropping too.
Also worth asking is whether you can still make big savings by switching.
Forecourt signs advertising 99 cent diesel are becoming commonplace across Ireland, and even petrol is now less than €1.20 a litre at many outlets.
Petrol and diesel prices haven't been this cheap since 2010 and it's been a huge boon to happy motorists.
In just six months, the price of diesel has fallen by around 33 cent per litre and drivers can now save €20 or more on every fill-up compared to last summer, according to Simon Moynihan of price comparison website Bonkers.ie.
These rock-bottom prices mean that an average driver could easily save €600 over the next 12 months compared to last year's prices, he says.
Cheap petrol and diesel are the most obvious way that we are seeing the effect of falling worldwide oil prices.
And low oil prices have many more benefits for consumers too.
The cost of home heating oil has plummeted, and with the warmest winter on record, we're using far less oil and gas to heat our homes than we usually would.
Mr Moynihan says natural gas prices, which are closely linked to electricity prices, have been falling steadily too, and this has led householders to expect big cuts in their home energy bills.
But he added: "And although most suppliers have cut prices over the last couple of months, the reductions have been nothing like as dramatic as those seen at the pumps."
Gas and electricity price cuts
Bord Gáis Energy reduced prices for its gas and electricity customers in October, and most major suppliers have followed suit with Electric Ireland, SSE Airtricity and Flogas all introducing price cuts since the start of the year.
These price cuts have been between 2pc and 2.5pc off gas and electricity unit rates, and although they have been welcomed by consumers, they offer savings of around €25 off electricity bills and €20 off gas bills per year, which are nothing like the savings motorists are now seeing, Mr Moynihan said.
And with wholesale gas prices down 29pc and wholesale electricity prices down 18pc in the last 12 months, some critics are asking why the price cuts haven't been deeper.
Suppliers have long argued that they buy natural gas up to two years in advance in order to ensure that they have supply and to keep prices consistent for customers.
"And as a result wholesale prices can take a long time to pass through to customers," the energy expert said.
But with wholesale prices falling for two years in a row, isn't it time for bigger cuts?
"Wholesale prices indicate that there is room for bigger price cuts - and certainly we have seen much greater reductions at the pumps than we have for home energy.
"However, suppliers seem to be passing on the savings they are making from wholesale prices in the form of much bigger discounts than usual, and a range of cash incentives and special offers designed to sign up new customers," he said.
With eight energy companies now operating in Ireland, competition is fierce and suppliers are having to work hard to sign up new customers, Mr Moynihan said.
Cash-back, which was unheard of two years ago, is now common.
Free boiler services for gas customers are available, and some suppliers are even offering free heating controllers to entice customers to switch.
But what's most striking is how deeply suppliers are now prepared to discount prices in order to sign up new customers.
When Bord Gáis Energy launched their Big Switch campaign in 2009, they offered discounts of 13pc to new customers willing to make the switch.
And customers switched in their droves, Mr Moynihan said.
In fact, the Big Switch was so successful that Bord Gáis Energy signed up nearly 450,000 customers over the course of the campaign, which was more than 20pc of the entire electricity market.
And now suppliers are offering discounts that are twice as big.
Energia is currently offering new electricity customers a 26pc unit rate discount and new SSE Airtricity customers can take advantage of electricity discounts of up to 25pc.
This could save electricity customers well over €200 over 12 months compared to standard rates.
Gas customers can also make substantial savings, with discounts across most suppliers.
Mr Moynihan said 20pc is the top gas discount which is available from Flogas, and offers savings of €145 over 12 months for an average household.
Saving up to €360 on energy bills
Although only 15pc of energy customers switch suppliers for a better deal each year, 79pc of electricity customers and 94pc of gas customers said they switch to save money, according to the energy regulator's most recent customer survey.
And with savings available to switchers at the highest level since deregulation, there has never been a better time to take advantage of competition in the market.
Although many customers like the convenience of having one supplier for both gas and electricity, the biggest savings are available by taking electricity and gas from separate suppliers, Mr Moynihan said.
Customers can save almost €360 by taking electricity with Energia and gas with Flogas, according to Bonkers.ie.
You may have switched in the past and saved money, but if it was more than a year ago, you are now almost certainly paying those expensive "standard" rates again.
That's because new customer discounts only last for one year, and then suppliers roll customers over on to their more expensive standard prices. And unlike insurance companies, they are not required to notify you or send you a letter when your prices are going up, Mr Moynihan said.
There is good news though, he added.
With so many companies out there looking for your business, and all of them offering big introductory discounts, you don't have to pay those "standard" prices.
You can save big money by switching instead.
You don't need much to switch.
Once you've selected the supplier and the deal you want to switch to, you'll need your MPRN (meter point registration number), which is on every electricity bill.
And if you have gas you'll need your GPRN (gas point registration number), which is on your gas bill.
Then you'll need your billing details.
If possible, you should take a meter reading too. Otherwise you can provide the reading from your last bill.
An actual reading is best though because it's what your new supplier will use to start your billing, and your old supplier will use it to close your account - so you want it to be as accurate as possible.
After that, everything is taken care of for you.
There's no interruption to your supply, a technician will not need to visit your house and whole process takes around two weeks before you are notified by your new energy company that you are on supply.
A comparison and switching service like www.bonkers.ie can help you find the best deal and will take care of the switching for you.
All you'll need to do is complete a short application and you could save €360 over the next year.