Which retailer is offering the best electricity plan for solar customers in Brisbane?

Getting a higher feed-in tariff from your electricity retailer looks great on paper, but it does not necessarily mean that you will save more money on your electricity bills. We’ve taken a look at a spread of retail electricity plans for solar customers in the Brisbane area in order to determine who is actually offering the best deal for solar customers.

Recognising that things change quickly in this space, our plan is to publish updated versions of this analysis every three months; we will also publish similar articles for Australia’s other capital cities.

Disclaimer: While we have done our best to ensure the accuracy of our calculations and conclusions, we encourage you to do your own research (and maths) before making a decision about switching retail electricity plans.

In the land of no Solar Bonus Scheme, solar self-consumption is king

Queensland’s Solar Bonus Scheme – which offered 44c for every kilowatt-hour of solar energy they send into the grid – has been closed to new applicants since July of 2012. But solar installations have continued in the state even in the absence of this incentive, thanks mainly to the low cost of installing a system in the Sunshine State – not to mention the high price of retail electricity from the grid.

Without the state-based solar feed-in incentive, however, solar system owners should be looking to maximise their solar self-consumption; every unit of solar energy self-consumed is one less unit that needs to be purchased from the grid. This means making sure that a) their solar system is appropriately sized, and b) that they understand how they are consuming electricity throughout the day, and therefore be able to take advantage of their solar energy while it is available. (Check out our solar PV system sizing tool.)

Not all homes self-consume all of their solar energy, however. In fact, virtually all solar homes end up sending at least a portion of their energy into the grid – with 30% or 50% solar export (or even more) not being uncommon even among homes without a feed-in tariff. Ideally, a home with solar can change their behaviour (or install battery storage) to reduce solar export to as little as 0%, thus maximising the value of their system.

Compare solar installation quotes instantly: Complete our Solar Quote Comparison request form on the right of this page.

What factors we took into account

We recognise that many Brisbane homes already have a solar system and may not be in a position to install batteries or significantly change their behaviour so that all of their solar energy is put to good use. In such instances, it becomes even more important that these homes are discriminating in their choice of electricity retailer – and it’s not all about how generous their feed-in tariff offering is.

Electricity pricing plans can be tricky to navigate, so we’ve crunched some numbers to determine which retail electricity plans actually offer the best value for solar customers in Brisbane. We took a look at retail plans for solar customers on the government comparator site EnergyMadeEasy.gov.au to synthesize a meaningful comparison that takes into account more than just feed-in rates – whose benefit can easily be outweighed by higher usage charges, supply charges or even special fees that apply only to solar customers.

Here’s the main things we took into account:

  • Feed-in tariff rate on offer
  • Daily supply charges
  • Usage charges (per kilowatt-hour, kWh)
  • Additional fees for solar customers
  • Applicable discounts
  • Recent history of customer complaints (based on data from the Australian Energy Regulator)

What about environmental considerations?

While we recognise that environmental considerations are at the the top of the list for many solar system owners (and non-solar homes!), such considerations are outside the scope of this article. If you’re interested in comparing the environmental and ethical track records of various retailers, we recommend that you check out Ethical Switch or The Green Electricity Guide.

How we calculated our rankings

It’s difficult to determine unequivocally who the ‘best’ retailer is for solar customers, but our estimates should give readers a better feeling for the answer to this question than the results on EnergyMadeEasy do (their estimates do not take into account solar system size or solar self-consumption). Even still, it’s important to note that we can’t possibly model every scenario. Consuming more electricity and/or having a different size of solar system could change the outcomes again; as such please take all the results as indicative.

Please also note that many of the discounts are conditional (e.g. a ‘pay on time’ discount may not apply if you pay your bill late), and we have not taken into account additional fees for paying by credit card which some retailers levy. In essence, we’ve assumed that you will do everything possible to minimise costs through payment method and timing.

  • We took a look at the 25x single-rate plans from 9x retailers that came up in a search for postcode 4161 (an example postcode which we chose at random) on EnergyMadeEasy, and assumed that the home in question uses between 6,000 and 10,000 kWh per year (roughly 16 – 27kWh per day). We only took into account single (or ‘flat’) rate plans and did not consider time-of-use plans (which are generally better for homes with battery storage). We excluded offers that were not on offer to homes with existing solar systems or which did not include a feed-in tariff rate.
  • We then examined outcomes for homes with a 3kW system, 4kW system or a 5kW system (three popular system sizes) based on 40%, 50%, 60% and 70% solar self-consumption scenarios (‘high export’ to ‘low export’)a total of 24 scenarios. Retailers were awarded a maximum of 50 points for ranking in the ‘Top 3’ retailers across all the scenarios, and up to 30 points for ranking in the ‘Top 5’.
  • A maximum of 20 points were given for customer service, with points being deduced in accordance with complaint data from the Australian Energy Regulator. We gave zero points where no complaint data was available, thus giving a slight point advantage to a retailer with a back customer service record over a newer retailer that we know nothing about.
  • We should note that none of the plans available on EnergyMadeEasy had fixed rates (meaning that they may be increased over the course of the contract). Also common to all plans was the lack of a contract-break fee (or ‘exit fee’), so there was no need to take this into account.

Instantly compare current prices for a range of solar system sizes in Brisbane: Request a Solar Quote Comparison.

So what are the best retail electricity plans for solar in Brisbane?

With all of the above in mind, below are the top 3 results of our modelling. All of the plans included below have identical supply and usage charges – the ones set by Queensland’s energy regulator for Tariff 11 offers. They differ on the discounts and feed-in tariff rates they offer, as well as on their customer feedback scores (based on complaint data from the Australian Energy Regulator).

Diamond Energy: Diamond Solar (DIA119894SR)

Diamond Energy’s Diamond Solar plan appeared in the Top 3 plans for every scenario that we modelled, and managed close to a perfect score when customer service/complaints were taken into account. Unlike other retailers, Diamond has only one offer available on EnergyMadeEasy for solar customers – making it easy to know exactly what you’ll get when you sign up. A 6% discount on supply and usage charges gives this plan an edge over many others in the running, as does its above average feed-in tariff of 8c/kWh.

Diamond Energy has a stellar customer service record, with a complaint rate of only 0.09% according to the AER – lower than any other retailer who appeared on the EnergyMadeEasy comparison.

Key features of this plan:

  • 8c/kWh feed-in tariff / solar buyback
  • 6% discount on usage & supply charges (pay on time, direct debit)
  • Usage charges of 24.4c/kWh (incl GST)
  • Daily supply charge of $1.28 (incl GST)

Urth Energy: Residential – Single Rate (URT121477MR)

Urth Energy’s Residential – Single Rate plan ranked in the #1 spot for every scenario that we modelled. A relatively new retailer, Urth offers a 10c/kWh feed-in tariff through this plan, which seems to give it a winning edge when combined with competitive usage and supply charges. A 10% pay on time discount on usage charges plays a major role in boosting this plan’s attractiveness.

As a new kid on the block, however, no customer complaint data was available from the AER. Customers who opt for Urth’s Residential – Single Rate plan are therefore encouraged to ‘watch this space’ for news on the company’s ability to deliver on its promises.

Key features of this plan:

  • 10c/kWh feed-in tariff / solar buyback
  • 10% discount on usage charges (pay on time)
  • Usage charges of 24.4c/kWh (incl GST)
  • Daily supply charge of $1.28 (incl GST)

EnergyAustralia: Flexi Saver – Home – Peak Only (Max Offer All Customers) (ENE129681MR)

EnergyAustralia had a total of two plans on offer through EnergyMadeEasy. The company’s Flexi Saver – Home – Peak Only package ranked well across numerous scenarios for low annual costs, while the Basic Home – Peak Only plan did not. Key features of the Flexi Saver plan are a 12% discount (pay on time and pay online) for usage charges. Although the plan offers only a 6c/kWh feed-in tariff, the 12% discount helps to make up for it.

According to the Australian Energy Regulator (AER), EnergyAustralia has a complaint rate of 3.5 per 100 customers – about the middle of the scale (which maxed out at 7.7 for a different retailer).

Key features of this plan:

  • 6c/kWh feed-in tariff / solar buyback
  • 12% discount on usage charges (pay on time, pay online)
  • Usage charges of 24.4c/kWh (incl GST)
  • Daily supply charge of $1.28 (incl GST)

Other retailers who make the list

Lumo Energy performed well in the scenarios modelling high solar self-consumption ratios – thanks mainly to their competitive daily supply charges (as low as 95c/day incl GST).

Key takeaways (and some pointers)

  • Our results show that a higher feed-in tariff does not necessarily mean a better deal for solar customers – but it helps.
  • The best plan for you ultimately depends on your situation, but plans that rank well for value across a wide range of scenarios are probably the safest bet in case your consumption habits change. In many cases, there was only a small difference in value (as little as $2/year) between the top-ranking plans for a given scenario, while he median difference between total costs for plans in the top 5 spots was $27, while the average difference between the #1 and #2 plans was $85.
  • If you want to switch to one of these plans, make sure that you ask for the plan by its name – not just the retailer; many of the retailers have other plans that may not offer as much value as the ones we’ve highlighted.
  • None of the plans we examined offer fixed prices – retail prices and associated savings may change (with notice to you) during the term of the contract; we suggest that you re-examine retailer offerings every 3-6 months. 
  • You can check out more detailed results of our analysis (including annual costs of each plan by scenario) in this Google spreadsheet.

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© 2016 Solar Choice Pty Ltd

James Martin II

Contributor at Solar Choice
James was Solar Choice's primary writer & researcher between 2010 and 2018.

He is now the communications manager for energy technology startup SwitchDin, but remains an occasional contributor to the Solar Choice blog.

James lives in Newcastle in a house with a weird solar system.
James Martin II

Comments

  1. How come you say Urth does 10c/kWh (it does), but then in Key Features you show 6c/kWh?

    1. Hi Sacha. Apologies – that was a typo. We’ve rectified it now. Sorry for any confusion – and thanks for pointing it out!

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