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Energy: Compare Electricity & Gas Plans
The electricity and gas market in Australia is a complicated topic, with everything from rules and regulation, to available energy retailers, to concessions and rebates changing on a state-by-state basis. While most Australians can now choose their energy provider, and have more of a say in the energy market than ever before, there is still a lot of confusion surrounding everything from how the energy market works, to choosing providers, to renewable energy.
The National Electricity Market, or NEM, is the interconnected network of governing and regulating bodies, infrastructure, generators, retailers, distributors, and consumers who make up the energy market in most of Australia. First developed in 1998, the NEM was created to help facilitate the transmission of electricity between states and territories, while increasing competition among retailers, and protecting consumers from rising electricity prices and bad practices.
Today, the National Electricity Market regulates all aspects of the electricity and parts of the gas market in Queensland, New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, Tasmania, and South Australia, with certain aspects having been adopted by the Northern Territory and Western Australia.
According to the Australian Energy Market Commission, there are 39 active energy retailers within the NEM, and 19 gas retailers, though individual states or territories might have less depending on regulation. Energy retailers are divided up into three categories; The Big Three, which are the three largest and historic energy providers in Australia; Tier 1, which are energy retailers with over 10% market share but don’t carry the same historic name-recognition as The Big Three; and Tier 2, who are smaller energy retailers making up the rest of the energy market in Australia.
Deciding whether you want one of The Big Three, Tier 1, or Tier 2 as your energy provider is simply a personal choice. While you might get the best discounts available with one of the largest retailers, you might not get the same personalized customer service experience as choosing a smaller, less well known retailer. If you have solar PV installed on your roof, or want to ensure you’re doing your part for the environment, many of the Tier 2 retailers have a green and renewable energy approach, including high solar feed-in-tariffs or community-based initiatives.
The Big Three energy retailers are AGL, Origin Energy, and EnergyAustralia. These are the largest and most historic energy providers in the NEM and make up the largest collective market share. Many customers opt to choose one of the Big Three when choosing an energy retailer, for many reasons such as:
AGL is one of the historic energy providers in Australia, offering electricity and gas plans to customers in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, and South Australia as well as gas-only plans in Western Australia. With AGL, customers can choose between two plans: AGL Essentials or AGL Essentials Savers, depending on if you want fixed or variable electricity rates.
Origin Energy is another one of the Big Three, historic, energy providers in Australia. Origin Energy has three electricity and gas plans available to residents of New South Wales, ACT, Victoria, Queensland, and South Australia, and gas-only available to Western Australian residents. Origin Energy has three available plans for electricity and gas: Origin Basic, Origin Flexi, and Origin Max Saver which gives the biggest discount off the reference price but is only available online. In addition to electricity and natural gas, Origin Energy also offers LPG bottled gas in sizes starting at 3.7kg up to 210kg.
EnergyAustralia is one of the biggest energy providers in Australia, with millions of customers across the NEM. EnergyAustralia has three electricity and gas plans available to customers in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, and South Australia: Basic Home, which gives customers the same rates as the DMO; No Frills which offers simple, low rates; and Total Plan, which guarantees a total-bill discount.
In addition to The Big Three, other large retailers holding more than 10% of the energy market share in Australia individually, make up Tier 1 energy providers. These include:
The remainder of the energy providers in Australia make up the Tier 2 retailers list. These smaller, and generally less well known, often do away with confusing and conditional discounts in favour of low rates.
Some of the Tier 2 retailers, such as Energy Locals and Powerclub, offer wholesale pricing for a monthly or yearly membership fee, giving you the best rates possible for your energy. Others, such as Diamond Energy or Powershop offer the best options for green energy-minded people with high solar feed-in-tariffs or 100% green energy offset. Meanwhile, those interested in giving back to the community through different renewable initiatives might find providers such as Enova Energy or DC Power Co as the best choice for them.
When comparing energy providers, you’ll often see “X% off the reference price” in their plan details. This is how much of a discount you’ll receive on this energy plan, when compared to the government-set Default Market Offer (DMO) or Victorian Default Offer (VDO), better known as the reference price. The reference price is often used as a cap to energy prices in Australia, and energy providers are legally obligated to tell you how much less (or more, in some cases) their plan is when compared to the reference price.
|Distribution Network||Annual estimated usage||DMO on a Flat-Rate tariff|
|Ausgrid||3,900kWh / year||$1,462 / year|
|Endeavour||4,900kWh / year||$1,711 / year|
|Essential||4,600kWh / year||$1,960 / year|
|Energex||4,6000kWh / year||$1,508 / year|
|SA Power Networks||4,000kWh / year||$1,832 / year|
|Distribution Network||VDO on a Flat-Rate tariff*|
|AusNet Services||$1,646 / year|
|Citipower||$1,420 / year|
|Jemena||$1,496 / year|
|Powercor||$1,517 / year|
|United Energy||$1,508 / year|
*Source: Victorian Essential Services Commission, January 2020. Prices based on average annual usage of 4,000kWh/year
Energy discounts fall into a few different categories. They are:
Low rates: This simply means that the base rate for your daily supply charge and price per kWh of usage are low. Many Tier 2 providers offer low rates, often at fixed prices for 12 months.
Conditional discounts: These are discounts you receive that have a condition attached. More often than not, these conditions include pay on time discounts, or direct debit discounts. Tier 1 and The Big Three retailers often offer these discounts to customers and can be a good deal if you know you can meet them consistently.
Unconditional discounts: Instead of low, fixed rates, you simply get a percentage discount off your total energy bill.
Other offers: These can be in addition to, or instead of, the above discounts. Other offers that an energy retailer might include in your plan can be points for certain membership programmes, e-gift cards, or a credit off your energy bill every 6 or 12 months.
It can be a good idea to calculate how much energy your household consumes before deciding on a low rate or percentage discount plan. Customers with lower energy consumption might be best off choosing a plan with low, fixed rates, while households with higher energy consumption might get a better deal choosing a percentage discount.
Switching energy retailers is easy to do now, thanks to government regulation. Most energy providers now offer plans with no exit fees so you don’t need to worry about terminating a plan early and getting slapped with a big fee on your final bill. The first step to switch your energy provider is to compare providers and plans. Once you find a plan or provider that you think suits your household and lifestyle you'll need to sign up, which can usually be done online. In order to sign up for a new energy provider, you'll probably need a valid form of identification and consent to a credit check for eligibility.
Most of the time, when you switch energy providers, your new provider will do all the difficult work for you. Simply choose your new provider, and they’ll contact your previous provider and make the switch. In Australia, you have the right to a 10 business day “cooling off period”. After signing or receiving an agreement with your new provider, you have 10 business days where you can cancel at any time without penalty and continue to have your energy provided to you by your old retailer.
Once you’ve switched to a new energy provider, your old one will continue to supply you energy until your next meter reading (usually every 3 months unless you request a special meter reading or have a smart meter). Once you have your meter read, your old provider will send you a final bill and you’ll be transferred to your new provider for good.
Energy bills, while traditionally posted through the mail, are more and more commonly being sent by email (also known as e-billing). While you can still opt for paper bills, these will often come with a fee of up to $3 or more per bill.
Energy bills, though different for each provider, usually have the same information on them including:
Renewable energy is becoming increasingly popular at every level of the Australian energy market. More and more renewable energy generation methods are being built and developed, while more energy retailers are choosing to go 100% green or 100% carbon offset on their energy plans. This doesn’t even include the fact that 21% of all households in Australia now have solar PV systems installed on their houses, according to the Australian Renewable Energy Association.
In 2019, Australia met its renewable energy target of 23.5% as reported by the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, with this number expected to grow in the coming years. As renewable energy technology becomes increasingly less expensive and more small households and businesses are able to install small-scale renewable generators (such as solar panel systems), the way energy is produced and consumed in Australia will definitely change in the near future.