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Simon Moynihan
Staff Writer

Getting the best electricity price comparison in Ireland - ESB, Bord Gáis & Airtricity.

If you haven't switched electricity supplier yet, chances are you're thinking about it now. The launch of Bord Gáis' Big Switch campaign last year and additional competition from Airtricity has seen nearly half a million customers leave the ESB for cheaper home electricity.

So many Irish households have switched that even Bord Gáis was surprised at their own success. Having gained nearly 300,000 customers since the start of the Big Switch campaign, Bord Gáis has massively exceeded their first year target of 100,000 customers.

Continuing with their campaigns, Airtricity tells us that 13 per cent off ESB rates is like getting five weeks free and Bord Gáis' latest message is that there's no excuse for not making the Big Switch.

With all of this switching activity, the big loser has been the ESB, which must get the regulator to approve price changes. Good news for ESB is that the energy regulator has said there's now enough competition in the market to consider letting the ESB to set its own prices and compete directly with Bord Gáis and Airtricity. This will bring more competition into the market, which can only be good for consumers.

Saving money by switching certainly makes sense and it does look like Bord Gáis is the best deal in the marketplace. But is it the best deal for everyone? Taking a closer look at the home electricity tariffs available in Ireland reveals some surprising results.

Looking at unit rates only (everyone pays the same standing charge regardless of supplier), it seems clear-cut that Bord Gáis is the cheapest. For standard urban customers Bord Gáis's cheapest unit rate is 13.76c, Airtricity's cheapest unit rate is 13.93c and ESB's standard Urban 24 unit rate is 16c.

However, to get Bord Gáis's cheapest rate, you must have a home gas supply from Bord Gáis and pay by direct debit. To get the cheapest rate from Airtricity you must pay by direct debit and view your bill online. So Bord Gáis is only the cheapest electricity supplier if you have a gas supply. If you don't, Airtricity is the cheapest supplier, but only if you are willing to manage your electricity account online in addition to paying by direct debit.

Anyone who changed to Bord Gáis electricity at the start of the Big Switch campaign is now coming to the end of their first year and the 14 per cent discount off ESB rates changes to a 5 per cent discount. This means that their unit rate will go up to 15.2c on their one-year anniversary. So it's worth checking to make sure you're still on the best deal.

Using an electricity comparison site can make checking for savings simple. The site does a good job because it takes into account things like the Bord Gáis year-one discount and whether there is a home gas supply. The results are clear and the savings displayed accurately.

Switching is usually about saving money. If you want to know exactly how much you'll save by switching, you need to know how much you're currently spending. A recent bill or two will give you a very good idea and sites like let you enter how much you spend per bill or per annum.

The average three bedroom Irish home uses 5591 units or kilowatt-hours of electricity per year. With the annual standing charge of €104.40 and the standard Urban 24 tariff with ESB, this will cost €999. Airtricity will charge €883 and the Bord Gáis year-one tariff will cost €874.

So for the best deal if you've never switched and have a gas supply, go with Bord Gáis. If you have switched already, you should look at changing to Airtricity when your year-one discount with Bord Gáis runs out, and if you have no gas supply, Airtricity is the cheapest electricity supplier if you are happy to pay by direct debit and manage your account online.

Do keep watching though. When the ESB is allowed to set its own prices, expect their rates to drop dramatically as they try to win back customers with lower rates. And check a comparison site like every six months or so to make sure you're still on the best deal.

Switching is free, easy and only takes a few minutes. When was the last time you made €125 for 10 minutes work?