25 Mar 2017

Power to the people

From This Way Up, 12:15 pm on 25 March 2017
Macbook Pro Power Button

Macbook Pro Power Button Photo: (By vincentq from Melbourne CC BY-SA 2.0)

From Cape Reinga to Bluff, electricity does the same thing whenever and wherever it comes out the plug. So how do you decide who to buy it from?

George Block from consumer.org.nz has been looking at New Zealand's increasingly crowded electricity market and whether greater competition is translating into better deals for consumers.

Powerswitch is a tool to help you work out if you're getting the best deal.

George Block's overview of NZ's new power retailers

  • Flick Electric Co.  (139% growth in 2016, 9884 new customers in 2016) has a single electricity tariff based on the spot price of power, which varies every half-hour. Flick customers can use its free app to monitor spot prices and measure their consumption in terms of carbon emissions. Flick is available everywhere in New Zealand as long as you have a smart meter. As with all retailers a low fixed charge option for low users is available. No fixed-term contracts or break fees.
  • Paua to the People (4979% growth in 2016, 448 new customers in 2016) is the only retailer besides Flick currently offering a spot-based tariff. Whereas Flick is a classic example of an ambitious start-up, Paua is a more low-key operation. Run by a couple from a villa in Wellington’s northern suburbs, Paua’s never placed an ad, offers email-only (though 24-hour) customer service and doesn’t have an app. The upshot is miniscule overheads, meaning it’s able to offer slightly lower rates than Flick. Paua also offers a traditional flat rate per kWh plan in addition to spot pricing. At present, it only serves Wellington consumers with a smart meter. No fixed term contracts or break fees.
  • Electric Kiwi (874% growth in 2016, 5999 new customers in 2016) offers a flat rate but lets you nominate an hour of free power each day during off-peak times (9am to 5pm and 9pm to 7am). Chief executive Luke Blincoe says Electric Kiwi won’t raise prices this year. It guarantees you’ll save in your first year compared to your previous retailer or it will credit you the remainder. Customer service is email- and livechat-only. Available throughout New Zealand as long as you have a smart meter. No fixed-term contracts or break fees. 
  • Ecotricity (405% growth in 2016, 947 new customers in 2016) the country’s only “carbonZero certified” electricity retailer, meaning it offsets all carbon emissions from its operation by investing in renewable energy and electric vehicles. It also only enters into contracts with generators of renewable energy. Unlike many smaller retailers, Ecotricity will buy back power from grid-tied solar PV systems. Its solar buyback rates are comparable to the big five retailers (approximately 7c/kWh). Offers contracts with a three-year energy price freeze. Available throughout New Zealand as long as you have a smart meter. 
  • Wise prepay energy (860% growth in 2016, 1908 new customers in 2016). a prepaid electricity service requiring no deposit, credit check or fixed contract. Aimed at those who have been disconnected by other powercos. If your balance hits $0 your lights will go off that same day.  Offers a customer-only app to monitor your balance, power consumption and top-up your account. Has traditional low and standard user flat rate plans. Available in Auckland, Hamilton, Hawke’s Bay and Wellington as long as you have a smart meter. 
  • P2 SolarShare (152% growth in 2016, 79 new customers in 2016). New Zealand’s only “peer-to-peer” energy provider. Attracts customers with grid-tied solar PV systems with significantly higher buyback rates for their surplus energy than other retailers (16c/kWh vs. around 7-8c/kWh for other retailers). Offers its non-solar customers cheaper power when solar customers are feeding surplus energy back into the grid (14c vs 18c for grid power when no solar is available). Allows you to support solar if you’re a renter or otherwise lack the ability to invest in a system. Guarantees 7% of your power will be charged at the lower solar rate, but only during summer No fixed term contracts or break fees. Only available on Auckland’s Vector network.
  • Electra Energy (103% growth in 2016, 538 new customers in 2016). operated by Kapiti-Horowhenua lines company Electra and only services customers in that region on the Electra network. Offers a fairly standard suite of fixed and day/night tariffs. Customer-owned with profits going back into the community. No smart meter required.
  • megaENERGY (92% growth in 2016, 2960 new customers in 2016). Services the Auckland region with a standard suite of fixed rate plans. Targeted at the Asian market with customer support in Korean, Chinese and English. Bundled landline, broadband, mobile and TV streaming plans, in addition to electricity, are available from parent company megaTEL. Offers free smart meter upgrades.
  • Opunake Hydro (91% growth in 2016, 490 new customers in 2016). Retails electricity in Taranaki generated from its hydro station in Opunake and two gas-fired generators near Stratford. Plans are geared at consumers who use relatively large amounts of energy: 15,000 to 50,000kWh/year, equivalent to a large home,a small-sized business or farm.
  • Payless Energy (31% growth in 2016, 179 new customers in 2016). Dunedin-based retailer catering to residential and industrial customers throughout Otago and Nelson, and currently expanding into Southland. Offers traditional, though competitively priced flat rate and day/night plans. No fixed-term contracts. No smart meter required.
  • Pulse Energy (5% growth in 2016, 2939 new customers in 2016). Community-owned retailer offering electricity and gas (both natural and LPG) nationwide. Offers a plan with a commitment not to increase your bill at greater than an agreed fixed rate for three years. 30-day notice required before switching but no contract break fees. Pulse also operates Grey Power Electricity, available to members of Grey Power.