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What is an electricity demand tariff?

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In this article, Canstar Blue takes you through everything you need to know about electricity demand tariffs and how they work in Australia.

The way we pay for electricity is changing, and perhaps not for the better. ‘Demand tariffs’ (also called ‘demand charges’) are now available to most Australian residents and small business customers, and while energy retailers have been quick to boast the advantages of them, whether or not consumers stand to benefit is much less clear.

Demand tariffs have traditionally been used in large business, but as of 2017, retailers have been able to offer them to residential and small business customers too. Not only are retailers offering them, but it seems some will be actively encouraging customers to switch to them.

Demand tariffs are very different to how most of us are used to paying for electricity. If you have a comfortable knowledge of electricity and how your home uses it, then a demand tariff could save you money. If not, it could cost you big time. Learn the ins and outs on an electricity demand tariff with Canstar Blue.

What is an electricity demand tariff?

A demand tariff is a pricing structure designed by energy distributors to lessen the strain on the electricity grid during peak usage times. It incentivises customers to use less energy during times when demand is high.

A typical energy plan is comprised of two types of charges: supply charges and usage charges. However, if you’re on a demand tariff, you’ll also be charged a third fee called a ‘demand’ or ‘capacity’ charge.

The demand charge reflects a household’s maximum electricity usage, typically between 3pm and 9pm on weekdays. Your highest energy usage over a 30-minute interval during this time window is then used to calculate the demand value. This is then multiplied by your network’s daily demand charge rate to calculate the total cost of the demand tariff. The peak usage resets each month in most cases, meaning you only need to hit your peak once for that demand rate to apply every day for the entire month.

Demand charges vary across different electricity distributors and retailers. Demand charges are also different in ‘summer’ (December-March) and ‘winter’ (April-November). Typical rates are anywhere from 25c per kW/day to 45c per kW/day in summer, and from 8c per kW/day to 25c per kW/day in winter.

How often is my demand charge reset?

The majority of residential customers will have their demand tariffs recalculated on a monthly basis, so your highest usage this monthly billing won’t carry over to the next. However, some regions may use seasonal demand resets (recalculated at the start of each season) or annual demand resets (recalculated at the end of each year).

How does an electricity demand charge work?

For an illustration on how demand charges works, we’ll run you through an example based on the below sample from an old energy price fact sheet. Let’s say a household in summer (between 3pm and 9pm) usually runs a fridge, TV and a few lights at the same time.

The maximum amount of electricity it draws from the grid at any one moment is 3kW. The demand charge would therefore be 101.904 cents (3kW x 33.968c) for each day of the month. This is on top of standard electricity usage and supply charges.

Now let’s assume that one evening this household runs the TV, lights, fridge, air conditioner, dishwasher and cooktop all at the same time, drawing 7kW of electricity from the grid at once. This now becomes the new peak demand, and a demand charge of 237.776 cents per day (7kW x 33.968c) would be applied every day, again for the entire month.

It’s important to keep in mind though that in order to access a demand tariff or charge, a smart meter is required. If your premise does not have a smart meter installed, you will only have access to a flat rate.

AGL Demand Tariff Sample

Advantages of an electricity demand tariff

There are a few advantages to being on a demand tariff for your electricity usage, including:

  • Lower usage rates: Electricity usage rates with demand tariffs are considerably lower than usage rates on a single rate tariff – usually by about 4c/kWh. But, you have to ensure your electricity usage is stable in order to take the most advantage of this.
  • Encourages energy efficiency: Demand tariffs are similar to time of use tariffs. Both these tariff types encourage customers to spread their electricity usage over time, rather than all at once.
  • Alleviates stress on the grid: By making use of peak and off peak times for electricity usage, more customers will begin to change their energy habits in order to save the most money. This means that less households and businesses will look to consume their energy during peak times, when strain on the grid is high.

Disadvantages of an electricity demand tariff

As much as a demand tariff can help to save customers money and reduce strain on the grid, there are also a few disadvantages to using them for electricity usage.

  • Can cause higher bills: Demand tariffs are incredibly punishing on households that let their electricity usage slide for even a moment. Brief spikes in electricity usage between 3pm and 9pm on any given day will leave customers paying a higher price for the entire month.
  • Requires a smart meter: While some households and businesses in Australia, particularly in Victoria, already have smart meters installed, the vast majority are still without one, making it difficult for this tariff to be accessed.
  • Two charges to keep track of: Unlike other electricity tariffs, a demand tariff requires bill-payers to watch over two separate usage charges for a billing cycle, which could be time consuming or even confusing for some homes and businesses.

Electricity demand tariffs in Australia

While demand tariffs are common for large and medium-sized businesses across Australia, they are still yet to make a huge impact on the residential energy market. Most states and territories in Australia do offer a demand electricity tariff to households, but uptake is largely dependent on the access to smart meters in that region. Currently, Victoria is the only state to have rolled out smart meters to all homes and businesses, as it’s the only state to mandate smart meter usage.

The guidelines and availability of a demand tariff also differs between each distribution network in Australia. Some networks, like EvoEnergy in the ACT and Ausgrid in New South Wales, have even moved more towards demand-pricing to aid with energy grid strain, which means that any household or business that has installed a new smart meter may be encouraged to go on a demand tariff for at least 12 months.

For the most part however, customers will only be put on a demand tariff if they explicitly opt in. If you’re approached by your retailer about a demand tariff, it’s best to consider how you use energy and whether you stand to benefit from it before making a decision.

Compare cheap single-rate electricity plans

Here are some of the cheapest published deals from the retailers on our database that include a link to the retailer’s website for further details. These are products from referral partners†. These costs are based on the Ausgrid network in Sydney but prices may vary depending on your circumstances. This comparison assumes general energy usage of 3911kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Please use our comparison tool for a specific comparison in your area. Our database may not cover all deals in your area. As always, check all details of any plan directly with the retailer before making a purchase decision.

Here are some of the cheapest published deals from the retailers on our database that include a link to the retailer’s website for further details. These are products from referral partners†. These costs are based on the Citipower network in Melbourne but prices may vary depending on your circumstances. This comparison assumes general energy usage of 4000kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Please use our comparison tool for a specific comparison in your area. Our database may not cover all deals in your area. As always, check all details of any plan directly with the retailer before making a purchase decision.

Here are some of the cheapest published deals from the retailers on our database that include a link to the retailer’s website for further details. These are products from referral partners†. These costs are based on the Energex network in Brisbane but prices may vary depending on your circumstances. This comparison assumes general energy usage of 4613kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Please use our comparison tool for a specific comparison in your area. Our database may not cover all deals in your area. As always, check all details of any plan directly with the retailer before making a purchase decision.

Here are some of the cheapest published deals from the retailers on our database that include a link to the retailer’s website for further details. These are products from referral partners†. These costs are based on the SA Power network in Adelaide but prices may vary depending on your circumstances. This comparison assumes general energy usage of 4011kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Please use our comparison tool for a specific comparison in your area. Our database may not cover all deals in your area. As always, check all details of any plan directly with the retailer before making a purchase decision.

Will an electricity demand tariff save me money?

In short, it seems unlikely. Demand tariffs are marketed as a great way for customers to save, but the reality is that this requires households to be extremely vigilant in monitoring their power usage to avoid spikes.

There are plenty of electricity usage monitors and monitoring apps with live usage information to help customers track their usage. Some apps can even send you alerts when usage gets out of hand. With that said, not many of us are engaged enough with electricity to monitor our usage this closely. Even if you are, it’s difficult to say whether any possible savings are worth the additional effort.

How can I reduce electricity demand charges?

If you’re on this kind of tariff and you are looking to reduce demand charges, the best way to do so would be through optimising your energy usage.

  • Take advantage of the different times of the day where costs aren’t so high to use some of your more energy-draining appliances, such as clothes dryers or pool pumps.
  • Avoid using multiple energy draining appliances at the same time during your allocated demand charge time period: for example, run your dishwasher first, then your washing machine afterwards instead of running both at the same time.
  • If you do need to use several appliances in peak demand hours, try to stagger them in 30-minute intervals to avoid your energy use skyrocketing during any half-hour.

Will a demand tariff charge me more for electricity use at night?

Typically, on any kind of demand or time of use tariff, the peak time time will run into the evening. This means that your electricity will probably cost more at night than it does in the day time. That being said, this is usually only until 9pm; so if you have the means to leverage your energy usage after this time or during the day, you can avoid these higher costs.

Should I go on an electricity demand tariff?

While a demand tariff can save you money if you don’t use much electricity during peak demand periods, there is still the large risk factor that comes along with incidental extra energy usage. There may be little to no benefit to going on a demand tariff, especially in warmer parts of the country where energy usage is critical for cooling the home.

If you are really keen to monitor your usage and know you can take advantage of the peak and off-peak times, a demand tariff may work for you. However, households like this are still probably better off sticking to a time of use tariff, as it means you avoid the risks that come with demand charges.

No matter what tariff you are on, it doesn’t hurt to compare providers and plans regularly to ensure you’re still getting a good deal on electricity. Our free energy plan comparison tool allows you to compare a range of providers across a variety of criteria, from prices and to green energy options.

 

Kelseigh Wrigley
Energy Specialist
Kelseigh Wrigley was a content producer at Canstar Blue for three years until 2024, most recently as an Energy Specialist. She holds a Bachelor of Journalism from the Queensland University of Technology.

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