How to read your power bills

Let’s talk about power bills… It might not be your favourite topic, but knowing how to read and extract information from your bill is crucial to understanding how you can save on electricity.

After receiving an electricity bill, most of us simply look at what we owe and begrudgingly pay up. But there’s plenty of useful information on your bill that can help you save, so it’s worth taking the time to read your bills carefully. In this article, Canstar Blue walks you through your electricity bill to highlight some important sections to look out for and explain how this information can help reduce what you pay for electricity.

How to read a power bill

Electricity bills are issued by your energy retailer, so what your bill looks like will depend on who your retailer is. That said, most power companies include similar information in their bills, so the advice in this article should remain true regardless of your retailer. To explain the different parts of your bill, we’ll be using an example bill from Alinta Energy – an electricity and gas retailer operating across most states.

Electricity Account

Alinta Energy Example of Electricity account on residential bill

The first part of your bill summarises all the relevant information about your account. You can see that it includes information such as the range of dates covered by this bill, any rebates you may be entitled to, any previous balance and the total amount due before and after applying the discount.

Notice next to “previous balance” it says $0.00. This would be a positive number if this bill payer had been previously overcharged, and it would be deducted from this current bill. At the bottom you can see the total amount due, but this is more clearly displayed in the following section.

Electricity Usage and Cost Summary

Alinta Energy example of usage and cost summary on residential electricity bill

This is the part of the power bill that most of us would be familiar with. At the top you can see what contract you’re on – in this case, it’s the Sample Plan, which comes with a small pay on time discount. Under that, you can plainly see in bold the total amount owed and due date, as well as the discount value and the reduced bill total if it’s paid on time. The bill in this example is for $157.10, but only $117.59 needs to be paid, so long as the entire amount is paid before 5 Jul 2019.

If you live in NSW, SA, VIC, ACT or South East QLD and notice that your bill doesn’t include any discount, it’s likely you’re on a standing offer and could be paying much more for electricity than you need to be. If that’s the case, be sure to shop around to find a better deal on electricity using our price comparison tool above.

Energy Usage

Alinta Energy example of average energy usage on a residential electricity bill

This part of the bill breaks down your electricity usage, illustrating your energy habits and how you compare to households in your area. In the top left corner you can see a list of information, including the daily average electricity usage, a comparison of the same time last year, the average daily cost, and the total greenhouse gas emissions. The diagram neatly illustrates all of this information and compares it to previous periods, helping you visualise whether your electricity usage habits are getting better or worse. As this was the customer’s first bill with Alinta Energy, there was no previous data for the graph to compare.

The table at the bottom of the diagram provides a useful indication of how your electricity usage compares to other households in your area. You can see the average usage of a one, two, three and four-person household and compare this to your usage in the box on the bottom right. This bill is for a one-person household, and as you can see, this customer’s usage of 14kWh/day is exactly on average for the area.

Payment Options

This part is usually at the footer of the first page of your bill and is fairly self-explanatory. On the right you have a recap of what’s owed on this bill. On the left, you have all the information you need about paying your bill. It includes direct debit, paying in person at the post office, mailing your payment, and paying using a credit card or BPAY by phone or internet. Simply follow these steps and you shouldn’t have any difficulty paying your bill.

Alinta Energy example of bill payment options on a residential electricity bill

Account Detail

This section generally contains the nitty-gritty details that many of us likely pass over. Nevertheless, some of these tidbits of information could be extremely helpful to know about when looking to reduce energy usage. In this section of your bill, you’ll typically find the following:

  • Your National Meter Identifier (NMI): A unique number used to identify and bill your property, your supply address, the billing period and the applicable tariff – which essentially sets out how you’re charged for electricity. In the example below, this is the top left.
  • The tariff type: For this bill, the tariff is a “Domestic Single Rate”. This means we’re charged the same price for electricity regardless of the time or how much electricity is consumed. As you can see under the “charge” column, standard electricity usage (aka Any Time Usage) costs $0.31 per kWh on this plan.
  • Meter reading notice: Traditional meters require someone to physically visit the property to record electricity usage. In the top right hand corner, we can see that the next meter reading date on this bill is 23 Jun 2019. This date is worth noting to ensure the area is cleared on meter reading day. If the meter can’t be read, your bill will be estimated. Customers with a smart meter won’t have this section as these meters automatically transmit usage data to your power distributor.
  • Usage charge: The first column shows the tariff, as we mentioned, the Any Time Usage for electricity you actually use. On this bill, $131.31 was attributable to standard electricity usage.
  • Supply charge: The supply charge is a daily fixed fee that applies regardless of how much electricity you use, if any. On this bill, $27.39 was paid in supply charges.
  • Solar credit: This is the amount of money the customer made back from exporting excess solar energy back into the gird. On this bill, we can see $2 was earnt in credit, thanks to solar exports.
  • Reading type: This refers to whether someone actually read your meter, or whether it was estimated – in this case, it was actually read.
  • Total usage: The total usage (third column from the right), is the difference between your current reading and the previous reading. Here, you can see this house used 427 kWh of standard electricity.

Alinta Energy example of account details on a residential electricity bill

Looking for a better energy deal?

The table below shows a selection of some of the cheapest plans on our database in each state.

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 3900kWh/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 4600kWh/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 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.

What about reading gas bills?

Even if you pay for gas and electricity with the same provider, you’ll still receive two different bills. So are gas bills any different to electricity bills? Not really. Your gas bill should be virtually identical to your electricity bill, with a couple of important variations:

  • Natural gas is measured in megajoules, so instead of seeing your electricity usage noted in kWh, you’ll see your gas usage measured in MJ.
  • Your gas distribution network will be different to your electricity distribution network, so don’t worry if you see a different company name.

How can I reduce my power bill?

Understanding how to read your power bills is only half the battle – the other half is acting on the information you are given. For example, if you read your bill and realise you have low electricity usage and a large portion of your bill is from fixed supply charges, then you need to get out there and find a deal better suited to low-use households. Customers on a time of use tariff can also use their electricity bill to get an idea for when they’re using the most electricity, helping identify opportunities to reduce electricity usage. You can also use your usage information to see whether or not electricity bills are increasing. If they are, take a moment and think what could be causing it and whether there are any other ways to reign in your usage.

Paying close attention to the electricity rates you pay will also allow you to watch out for any sneaky price increases from your provider. Your energy retailer will need to inform you of any price increases, but you’ll need to keep your eye peeled.

If after all this you’re still struggling with your bill, then perhaps it’s time to see what else is out there. Check out our customer satisfaction ratings below and start comparing electricity providers in your area.

Compare Electricity Providers

Image credits: Alinta Energy website.

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