How to compare gas and electricity prices
We all know that we could cut our energy bills if we compare gas and electricity prices and switch energy suppliers but it is never quite as simple as the experts have you believe, despite the advent of comparison websites.
Most people start off with good intentions then often hit an obstacle (how do I know how much energy I use? What is a kWh?) before giving up. So below I give you a step by step walk-through of how to compare gas and electricity prices and get the best energy deal for you. Don't forget the cheapest energy might not always be the best.
But what makes this walkthrough different is that I actually used it myself to compare gas and electricity prices, cut my gas and electricity bills, plus I timed how long it took. So there's no excuses, as you could even complete it during your lunch hour while eating a sandwich at your desk!
Step 1 - Read your gas and electricity meters and note down the numbers
Step 2 - Work out your energy usage
I've assumed that you will opt to have your gas and electricity supply with one supplier (as it almost always cheaper) and that you are not on a pre-paid meter. To work out your annual energy usage either:
- find a recent energy bill which details your annual gas and electricity usage in kilowatt-hours (kWh) or
- if you have an online account with your energy company log-in and note down the annual usage figures which should be summarised (then skip to Step 3)
- or alternatively, calculate it yourself. I explain how to at the bottom of this article under 'further reading'.
While most of the comparison sites are able to provide estimates of your usage based on the amount you currently pay a month or the size of your house, it's far more accurate to input real annual energy usage figures.
Step 3 - Enter your postcode and email address in the link provided below
Click on the Switchd* link and enter your postcode. In just a few seconds you'll be on your way to finding the best energy deal for you.
Step 4 - Use this simple site
You'll be forwarded to a simple site where you'll need to fill in details of your current gas and electricity supplier, your current tariff (this will be on your latest bill) and your annual usage figures from Step 2.
Step 5 - Should you pay to access the best deals?
There are a number of energy comparison sites on the market and many of them provide an auto-switch service that will automatically switch you to the best deal each year. It is worth noting that many of the auto-switch energy comparison sites will only be able to switch you to a company that has agreed to pay them a commission fee and so customers do not get to see every available tariff on the market. Switchd* offers two services; a free service that provides access to the best deals that pay a commission fee as well as a subscription service that gives customers access to every deal on the market. Some customers may be better off by paying a small subscription fee each month for access to the very best deals. You can check out our Switchd review for more details.
Step 6 - Choose the best energy deal and click on apply.
To get to this point it took me exactly 12 minutes and 47 seconds, and that includes having to calculate my energy usage. Fill in the few details that they require and your application will be in process. This took me 4 mins and 52 seconds to complete. It may also be worth checking the following link and if you qualify for any cashback here, as you can get £25 cashback on some deals. But don't be swayed by cashback alone as you could lose out in the long run.
THAT'S IT! - Job done in a total of 17 minutes 39 seconds.
Switchd will be in touch to tell you what to do next. Pat yourself on the back and well done! Right, time to put the kettle on....
How to calculate your annual gas and electricity usage
Calculate your electricity usage - Find an energy bill dated around a year ago. This way you can ensure you get a true picture of your energy usage across the winter and summer months when your usage fluctuates. Your electricity meter is measured in kWh so to calculate your usage simply work out the difference between this year's electricity meter reading and last year's, which will be noted on your old bill. Note this usage figure down.
Calculate your annual gas usage - Unfortunately calculating your gas usage isn't as simple as comparing two meter readings. Depending on the age of your gas meter the readings are either in cubic feet (an imperial meter) or cubic metres (a metric meter). Either way its not kWh. To work out your usage in kWh your supplier has to make a calculation:
- If you have an imperial meter the calculation is (The number of units you've used) X (The metric conversion factor) X (The volume correction factor) X (The calorific value of the gas) divided by 3.6 = kWh's.
- If you have a metric meter the calculation is (The number of units used) X (The volume correction factor) X (The calorific value) divided by 3.6 = kWh's
The 'number of units used' is a simple case of finding the difference between your latest meter reading and last year's. The metric conversion factor, volume correction figure and calorific value figure can all be found on your bill.
To fix or not to fix your energy bill - the decision whether to fix has just got easier
Normally the decision whether to fix is a tough one. On the one hand is the attraction of fixing your energy bills so protecting your finances from any prices rises, for a fixed period of time. Usually one winter. But on the other hand fix deals are often more expensive than the cheapest non-fixed deals available. Plus you run the risk of missing out on falls in the price of gas and electricity as fixed deals usually have a lock-in period. To break a lock-in usually requires you to pay a penalty, often negating any potential savings made from switching deals.
But now there are fixed energy deals on the market that are not only among the cheapest deals available (including non-fixed ones) but which have no lock-ins. So effectively you can fix your energy bills for at least a year, so avoiding any price hikes. But, should prices fall or cheaper deals become available you are free to switch your gas and electricity supplier at no cost.