What is Powerswitch?

Powerswitch is a free service that helps you work out which power company and pricing plan is best for you. Using our comprehensive database of electricity and gas prices, it's easy to compare plans and find the cheapest deal in your area.

How is it funded?

Consumer Powerswitch is supported by Consumer NZ, Electricity Authority, Gas Industry Company and the following retailers: Contact Energy, Ecotricity, Electra Energy, Electric Kiwi, Flick Electric Co., Genesis Energy, GLO-BUG, Energy Online, Mercury, Meridian, Nova Energy, P2P Power, Paua to the People, Powershop, Pulse Energy, Tiny Mighty Power, Trustpower.

Using Powerswitch

What can I use it for?

Powerswitch is designed to provide comparisons for primary residences and not businesses or baches. If you are using Powerswitch to compare plans for a non-primary residence, it's possible that some listed plans won't be available to you.

Powerswitch does not cover apartments as the separate agreements landlords or development companies may arrange preclude us from being able to give meaningful comparisons.

We advise consumers who want to switch to:

  • Check your tenancy or electricity supply agreement allows you to switch retailers
  • Contact retailers directly.

Important: before signing a rental agreement or buying an apartment, check you have a choice of power companies available to you. Check your tenancy or electricity supply agreement allows you to switch retailers. Otherwise you could be locked into a contract and have to pay whatever your building's electricity supplier (and any middle-man company) charges.

How do you estimate my energy?

We take the information you provide about your pattern of electricity and gas use, and information from your bill (if you provide it), and estimate how much energy you will use in a year.

Using this estimate, we compare the different pricing plans available to you and identify the cheapest. Results also include prompt and electronic payment discounts.

General assumptions

For electricity we take the information you supply and work out which parts are for general power, hot water and heating. For gas the uses are cooking, hot water and heating. We adjust these proportions for where you live, your type of hot water system and how you heat your home in winter. We also take into account the time of year covered in the information you give us - a bill for December is unlikely to include any power used for heating.

Household energy-use assumptions

In working out the amount of power each household uses we make the following assumptions:

  • The amount of energy used in the period you supplied us with is typical of your average level of use.
  • Winter months, when heating is used, are from April to September – except for the far north where the period is slightly shorter, and the central North Island and the deep south of the South Island where the period is longer.
  • If you don’t have your bill we make an estimate of how much energy you use, based on what a typical household of the same size as yours would use. These amounts are then adjusted according to what you tell us about where you live and how your household uses energy.
  • A house unoccupied during the day uses less energy for heating than one occupied all day.
  • We adjust the energy you use for water heating depending on the different methods of water heating you use. If you have a continuous supply system there is no standing loss like there is from a conventional cylinder, a hot water heat pump is assumed to be twice as efficient as a cylinder, and solar heating gives large savings in summer but also some savings in winter. A wetback reduces your winter use, but only if you use the fire as your main source of heating. We also take into account that households use more hot water in winter than in summer.
  • We ask for your main way of heating your home and also up to two other types of heating you regularly use. We allocate the majority of your heating energy needs to the main source and the balance is split evenly between other sources.
  • If you have a heat pump, we reduce the amount of electricity used for heating.
  • Where you live matters. We use the average monthly temperature of different regions to adjust the amount of energy needed for heating.

Other assumptions

In calculating the cost of electricity we make the following assumptions:

  • We split the electricity used into 3 groups: general usage – lighting, cooking, appliances; hot water heating; and space heating. We apply the appropriate rate of each pricing plan to each group.
  • If a plan has day/night rates, 72 percent of the power is at the day rate and 28 percent at the night rate. Where the night rate covers the weekend, the split between day and night is 51/49.
  • If a plan has summer/winter rates, the power is split between the rates and is also varied for different types of electricity use. The period for winter rates is May to September. This is one month shorter than the usual heating period of April to September and so a proportion of electricity use for heating is allocated to the summer rate.
  • We have excluded any rebates from community-owned trusts, line companies, or any dividends paid by Contact Energy to its shareholders.

My plan isn’t listed

We work closely with providers to ensure we have a complete list of available plans on Powerswitch. If your plan is not listed please let us know.

However, all retailers from time to time make special offers to selected customers during marketing campaigns. Some companies also have a range of plans that are only available to existing customers who meet specific eligibility criteria. As these plans are not open to the general public, but only to customers to whom the company offers them, they are not represented on Powerswitch.

There are also some companies that are not listed on Powerswitch. Bosco Connect is the only supplier currently not included in Powerswitch as it only provides electricity to a limited number of apartment buildings.

Bill information we need

All the information we need to know is on your bill:

  • The start and finish dates for the time your bill covers
  • The amount of power you have used

If you're on a plan with more than one meter you'll need to enter the amount for each meter separately. In some cases we will ask you about a meter that doesn't seem to appear on your power bill. You should put "0" in the box (this is because with some companies, if you haven't used any power they don't print the details on your bill).

If you wish you can add together the amounts from successive power bills and enter that information. Just ensure that you get the start date from the first bill, the finish date from the last bill, and that you don't have any bills missing in between.

What does the Powerswitch estimate include?

Powerswitch comparisons include GST, Electricity Authority levies, daily charges, unit charges, plus prompt payment and dual-fuel discounts (it's important to note that some retailers provide their customers with rates exclusive of GST and levies). There are discounts and fixed-term prices that are not publicly available so do not appear on Powerswitch.

Comparing bottled LPG prices

Powerswitch can be used to compare prices for electricity and natural gas; calculations for bottled LPG are not available. But you can select bottled LPG as an answer to the heating question. This will exclude the LPG part and give you a representative electricity comparison.

Low fixed charges

Electricity providers are required to assist low-use customers by offering them a low fixed charge tariff option of no more than 30¢ per day (excluding GST but after any prompt payment discount is subtracted). Your provider should inform you at least annually of whether it may be beneficial for you to switch to a low fixed charge rate.

The low-user plan is generally the best option if you use less than 8000kWh per year, or 9000kWh per year if you live in parts of the lower south region (all areas south of and including Christchurch, but excluding the West Coast).

The low-user plans have a lower fixed daily charge than the standard options and a higher variable charge for the electricity used. The amount of the variable rate varies depending on where you live and what type of meter you have. To qualify for a low-user plan, your home must be:

  • Used or intended for occupation mainly as a place of residence.
  • Your principal place of residence. Certain very small distributor locations are exempt from these requirements.

Problems with retailers

My bill hasn’t arrived

Although you are obliged to pay your bills, it is up to the power company to ensure it sends you bills within a reasonable timeframe. If you can't afford to pay all at once, tell the power company you will pay by instalment. You should receive a discount from the company when bills are very late.

My estimate is too high

Although power companies bill their customers monthly, they usually only send someone around to read the meter every second month. In each intervening month they send you an estimated account, based on your consumption over the previous years.

If you have good reason to think the estimated account is too high, make a payment to the company for what you think is fair, together with an explanation. If you know how, you could read the meter yourself.

If your estimated accounts remain persistently inaccurate, complain. There may be a bug in the system.

Complaining about a retailer

Utilities Disputes (formerly known as The Office of the Electricity and Gas Complaints Commissioner) is a free service that deals with complaints from consumers about electricity and gas retailers and distributors. Before it will consider your complaint, you must complain to the company concerned first. If your complaint is still not resolved, you can ask Utilities Disputes to consider your complaint.

To make sure there is no confusion about the nature of your complaint, we suggest you write to the company and head up your letter "formal complaint". The company generally has 20 working days to try to resolve your complaint.

You can ask Utilities Disputes to consider your complaint if:

  • You and the company have not resolved the complaint within 20 working days, and the company has not written to you with good reasons why it will take more time
  • You and the company have not resolved the complaint after 40 working days.

Spot pricing

How does spot pricing work?

When you buy electricity the traditional way under a set-price contract, the retailer buys electricity at the spot price and sells it to you for a fixed price – the price per kWh you pay each month. This price is substantially higher than the spot price. It includes a margin to cover the variations in the spot price the retailer may have to pay.

When you buy electricity using a spot-price contract what you pay varies with changes in the spot price. There is a price margin for the retailer, but because the retailer does not have to cover the variations in the spot price (you’re doing this), the margin is smaller than for a set contract price. So on average buying on the spot price is cheaper but riskier than set-price contracts.

Benefits of spot pricing

The benefit of going on to a spot-price contract is the chance to get cheaper power. The average spot price is lower than a fixed contract price and the retailer margin is smaller because the price risk has been passed through to the consumer. Also at off-peak times the spot price can drop to almost zero – so if you can shift a reasonable amount of your electricity use to off-peak times, in particular during the night, your costs can be even lower.

Getting the most benefit

The spot price is generally highest from 7am to 9:30am and from 5pm to 7:30pm. The less electricity you use at these times the lower your cost will be.

The main ways of doing this are:

  • Showering at night so your hot water cylinder is reheating at low off-peak prices not at morning peak prices.
  • Setting your washing machine, clothes dryer and dishwasher to run when you go to bed.
  • Planning to do housework such as ironing and vacuuming or work with power tools after 7:30pm, or at the weekend.
  • Turning off all unnecessary appliances at peak times.

Spot pricing risks

You’re exposed to increased costs in periods of higher spot prices, for example during low inflow into hydro lakes or during winter if an unexpected event affects the capacity of the network to generate and deliver electricity. These events don’t occur often, but when they do they can have a large impact on the short-term cost of electricity.

In a low-inflow situation, there could be a substantial rise in the average price of electricity for several months. If the rise was from a base of 10c/kWh to an average of 25c/kWh a medium-size household using 1000 kWh per month would need to pay $170 more for each of the three months.

For a very short one-off event the spot price could rise from 10c/kWh to $10 or more per kWh for however long the event lasted. Using any electricity during that period could be very costly.

Managing risks

Make sure your retailer has procedures to give you as much warning as possible about low inflow conditions or any other events that may occur so you can reduce consumption. They should also supply you with a way of monitoring the price at your GXP in real time.

Mostly you will have lower power bills, but you need to be able to cope with the occasional much larger bill. If you don’t have the disposable income to do this, it’s essential you build a reserve to cover any extremely high power bills that could occur from time to time.

To minimise the impact of a low-inflow situation you can be diligent in reducing your peak-time power consumption. However, for a specific price-spike event you may need to rapidly minimise all power use. Switch off all unnecessary appliances at the wall. Avoid opening the fridge or freezer and try not to use any hot water. It’s highly unlikely to happen, but a single 100-watt light bulb will cost 50c an hour to run at $5/kWh. Remember specific events can occur with little warning so it would be prudent to have an action plan ready.

Getting out of the spot market is the final option. This won’t help for unexpected short-term events as there could be little warning. However, for low-inflow situations which occur over a longer period, and can usually be seen coming, this may be an option. Switches happen more quickly nowadays, so as long as you are alert to the warnings, you should be able to avoid exposure to paying the higher spot price.

Spot pricing considerations

Before signing up to a spot-price contract you need to be sure:

  • You understand the risks of occasional price spikes and have a plan to manage those risks.
  • You understand the risk of occasional extreme price spikes and are in a financial position to absorb those spikes.
  • You are in a position to monitor what’s happening with prices for your location.
  • You can vary the times when you use electricity to avoid peak-demand times.

The Electricity Authority has written a guide to managing electricity price risk, which focuses on spot pricing. Statistics on what's happening in the wholesale market currently, including information on recent spot prices, electricity demand levels and current hydro storage levels is available at: www.electricityinfo.co.nz.