WHOLESALE gas prices are at a six-year low - the ESB recently announced record-breaking revenues and competition between suppliers is intense. But energy prices in Ireland remain among the highest in the EU. Charlie Weston
However, significant savings are available to customers who know where to look, according to Mark Whelan of price comparison site Bonkers.ie.
Ireland's retail electricity market was fully opened to competition back in 2005, paving the way for new entrants and what many hoped would be plummeting prices.
The country's gas market followed suit in 2014, which brought further expectations of greater choice, improved service and lower bills.
There are now eight suppliers in the energy market and while competition has significantly increased, prices have fallen by no more than €29 for the average customer in the past year, Mr Whelan said.
Consumer experts have routinely called on suppliers to cut prices further - an argument which was strengthened by the ESB's recent announcement of a record €635m in revenues in 2015.
Another compelling argument for price cuts comes from the fact that wholesale gas prices are at a six-year low, thanks to an excess supply of gas in Europe and a stronger euro, he said.
Wholesale gas prices are what Ireland's energy suppliers pay for gas before selling it on to customers. Over 40pc of Ireland's electricity is generated from natural gas too, so customers might be forgiven for feeling aggrieved that both their gas and electricity bills haven't seen anything better than the 2pc and 2.5pc reductions that have been announced by some suppliers so far this year. However, there are much greater savings to be had by customers who know the right place to look and are willing to take action themselves.
Discounts for new customers
Price cuts for existing customers have been small, but discount offers and sign-up incentives for new customers are bigger than they have ever been, Mr Whelan said.
Energia is offering a 26pc discount to new electricity customers, which will save a household with the Irish average consumption of 5,300 kWh around €214 in year one.
Bord Gáis Energy and SSE Airtricity are both offering a 20pc electricity discount, with the latter willing to pay new customers €50 cashback too.
There are large incentives on offer to new gas customers as well, with Flogas offering a 20pc year-one discount, which will save the average household more than €160, the Bonkers.ie expert said.
By switching to Energia for electricity and to Flogas for gas, a household with average consumption, can save up to €376.
This figure is nine times greater than what would have been saved by waiting for existing customer price cuts this year.
Switching is key
Only 15pc of Irish people switch gas and electricity suppliers regularly, with inertia and fear of the process being the main barriers to switching.
Comparison and switching site bonkers.ie claims that customers can change suppliers online and access savings of up to €376 in less than seven minutes, Mr Whelan said.
To put this savings figure into context, it is over ¤100 euro more than the annual water charge, which has seen tens of thousands of people take to the streets in protest.
Suppliers' lack of loyalty to long-standing customers has been repaid with blind loyalty from the vast majority of Irish energy customers for years. This has resulted in consumers overpaying for gas and electricity by a combined total of €290m every year. It's important for consumers to know that discounts don't last forever, though, Mr Whelan said. The vast majority of discounts expire after one year and customers are quietly put back on to expensive standard rates.
Therefore, it is vitally important for customers to switch suppliers regularly, he said.
One Big Switch
The One Big Switch initiative, which launched earlier this month, is also highlighting the power that lies in the hands of customers when it comes to lowering energy bills. Tens of thousands of consumers have signed up to the One Big Switch campaign which has negotiated a 12pc discount and €140 cashback electricity deal for its members. To date, over 1,000 customers have taken advantage of this offer.
One Big Switch members can also sign up for a dual fuel offer, featuring a 14pc electricity discount, 8pc gas discount and €140 cash back off any electricity bill at any time. Customers can sign up to the One Big Switch energy offer until midnight on May 6.
Customers have control
Ireland's energy companies are seeking to maximise their profits in the highly competitive marketplace and it is clear that large price cuts are not going to be handed out to existing customers.
It is time for Irish consumers to stop waiting for change that is not going to arrive and rather claim the large discounts that are on offer at the moment, Mr Whelan said.
What will the Government do about high energy prices?
Energy prices may not be at the top of the political agenda as Ireland's leading political parties are dragged kicking and screaming into the formation of a new Government. But when Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were in the throes of campaigning back in February, they each outlined their plans for the country's energy market.
Despite the fact that the market is now fully deregulated, many people still believe that Government intervention is needed to see the price cuts that they feel are fair.
In its manifesto, Fianna Fáil pledged to "push down energy costs".
The party sees the country's current energy policy as bad for consumers and would like to reform the Commission for Energy Regulation to help bring prices down for consumers and businesses, Mr Whelan said.
Fianna Fáil also wants to put greater resources towards community energy projects and balancing the country's energy mix to meet EU climate change targets.
Fine Gael is similarly outspoken in its manifesto on the issue, stating the party's desire to see "greater competition and lower energy prices" in Ireland.
The party has outlined its plans to ask the Commission for Energy Regulation to examine the level of competition in the marketplace and to propose structural reforms, designed to bring lower prices to consumers.
In addition to this, Fine Gael outlined its determination to maintain a single electricity market for the island of Ireland, again with lower consumer prices in mind.
The level of emphasis placed on lowering energy prices for consumers suggests that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael believe that there is room for further price cuts from suppliers. It is an issue on which both parties are broadly in agreement, despite differences in proposed tactics.
However, how much of the two parties' plans was empty electioneering and how much was real commitment to lower energy prices for consumers, remains to be seen.