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Independent

The good news is that an energy price war has broken out, characterised by cut-price power deals.

These are the days when the heating is turned on fall blast, as blustery and cold conditions force us to shiver. Whether you heat your home with solid fuel, oil, electricity or gas, it is an expensive time of the year. - Charlie Weston

Electricity prices here are higher than average in the European Union area. We pay more than in Britain, France, Austria and Norway, among others, according to official figures.

It costs around €200 more for a typical household now than it did five years ago.

The standard annual electricity bill is now €1,200, up from €990 five years ago according to the Commission for Energy Regulation.

That's the bad news. The good news is that a minor price war has broken out, characterised by cut price power deals.

There are now seven players supplying electricity to homes. That is quite a leap from just a few years ago when there was just the ESB.

And these companies are competing against each other to win customers.

The players are Electric Ireland (the retail arm of the ESB), Bord Gais Energy, SSE Airtricity, Energia, Prepay Power.ie, Pinergy and Panda Power.

Panda Power is the new arrival in the market. Its offering is only for those who have their bins collected by Panda.

And the further good news is that SSE Airtricity and Electric Ireland both announced reductions taking effect in January.

This is unusual, as energy companies do usually wait until the good weather is upon us to put in place price cuts.

Electric Ireland, which has more than 130,000 gas customers, will shave 2.5pc off gas prices, saving customers just over €20 per year on their gas bills.

From January 11, SSE Airtricity will cut what it charges all customers for electricity by 2pc saving customers €23 per year on their electricity bills. Bord Gais Energy also cut gas and electricity prices in October - €20 gas price reduction, €19 electricity price reduction. Although it could be argued that there is room for greater price cuts, these announcements represent the second time that SSE Airtricity and Electric Ireland have cut prices in 12 months.

There have been accusations that energy companies have failed to pass on decent reductions in wholesale energy costs. Wholesale gas prices are down 26pc on last year.

The best deal for electricity is from Energia. Its CHEEP240 "web exclusive" will cost €987.64 year, according to energy comparison site Bonkers.ie.

Taking up this deal will mean a saving of €194 over Electric Ireland's standard electricity price. For residential gas, the best deal is from Flogas on a plan it calls 20pc Discount, which costs €798.45 year.

The problem with all of this is that only small numbers of us switch provider. The numbers switching compare favorably with other countries, but are low in the context of the overall energy market.

Just 15pc of households switch, meaning that most are being mugged by high so-called "standard rates" for their electricity.

Switching is easy. The first thing to do to change your electricity supplier is to look up your MPRN (meter point reference number), which is a unique number for your home. You can find this on the first page of your electricity bill.

You will need to provide meter readings when you switch. That is how your new supplier will know when to start billing you and your old supplier will know when to stop.

You will need billing information if you want to pay by direct debit too. It is best to pay by direct debit if you can because the best discounts are available to customers that pay that way, and you won't usually need to pay a deposit to your new supplier if you're a direct debit customer.

It takes around two weeks for a switch to complete and once it does, your old supplier will send you a closing statement, based on your own meter reading. When you pay that, then all your bills will come from your new supplier.

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