Gas & Electricity

The pros and cons of prepay electricity

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Image Daragh Cassidy
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Prepay or pay-as-you-go electricity suppliers claim they can save you money by offering you complete control over your bills. Sounds straightforward enough - but are these claims true? In this guide, we look at the pros and cons of prepay electricity.

What is prepay or pay-as-you-go electricity?

Prepay electricity is a way to pay for electricity on a pay-as-you-go basis.

A prepay electricity meter is installed in your home and topped up in a way not dissimilar to how you would top up a prepay phone. 

Instead of receiving a monthly or bimonthly electricity bill, you pay for the electricity you use as it’s consumed. 

How does prepay electricity work?

1. Your supplier installs a pay-as-you-go meter in your home

Once you opt for prepay electricity, your supplier will arrange for a prepay/pay-as-you-go meter to be installed in your home. This usually takes less than an hour to do and is usually free.

2. You add credit to your meter

Your supplier will give you a prepay card and usually some free welcome credit to get you up and running, but you’ll then be responsible for topping up your meter yourself.

Thankfully, this is fairly straightforward. You can buy credit online through your supplier’s website, over the phone or at a Paypoint or Payzone outlet. You’ll need your prepay card to do this so keep it safe!

Once you’ve bought your credit, you’ll be given a 20-digit code, which you'll enter into your prepay meter to add the credit.

If electricity unit prices change, you will be issued with a one-off 40 or 60-digit code, which will update your system to the new rates once entered.

Once you’ve topped up your meter, your credit will be eaten up as you use electricity and, once you’re down to your last few euro, you’ll receive a warning to top up again.

You can then opt for some ‘emergency’ credit to keep you going until you have a chance to top up properly, so you don't have to worry about your electricity being unexpectedly cut off. The emergency credit will be deducted from your next top-up.

However if you don’t top up and you’ve declined ‘emergency credit’, your electricity will stop working once your credit runs out. If this happens, all you have to do is add more credit to get up and running again.

Who supplies prepay electricity?

There are currently three main suppliers of prepay electricity in Ireland: Electric Ireland, Pinergy, and PrePayPower.   

What are the advantages of prepay electricity?

1. It can help you to budget more effectively

With a pay-as-you-go meter, you’ll be able to monitor exactly what you’re spending in real-time through your supplier's mobile app or an In-Home Display (IHD) which they may offer. 

This brings peace-of-mind, eliminates the fear of getting a shock bill (which are a regular occurrence during the winter months) and helps you to better see which appliances use the most electricity.

2. It can help you use less energy

Prepay electricity is not only great for helping you to identify electricity guzzlers, it’s also great for the environment as it encourages you to be vigilant and only use what you need, thus reducing electricity consumption. There’s nothing like the threat of the power being shut off to remind you to turn off the lights and TV when you leave the room!  

3. No more bills

Your supplier will usually send you a yearly statement, detailing what you've spent and when. But apart from this, you won’t receive any paper bills.

4. Control

If you decide to get a pay-as-you-go meter, your supplier will basically get out of the way and give you control over your own electricity consumption and spending. You'll pay for your electricity as you use it, and it’ll be up to you to choose how and when you top up.

What are the disadvantages of prepay electricity?

1. More expensive

The obvious con of prepay electricity is the extra expense.

The unit rate is usually more expensive than billpay plans, especially when you compare it to some of the discounted introductory rates you can get with most suppliers.

And on top of the daily standing charge, which all customers must pay, you'll be hit with a daily charge for the prepay meter too.

All in all, this makes prepay electricity a pretty expensive option. 

For example, if you were to choose prepay electricity with Pinergy over a normal billpay contract with Electric Ireland (where you'd get a discounted rate in the first year), you’d end up paying close to €1,000 more in your first year, based on average electricity consumption figures.

2. Potential inconvenience 

There's also the added inconvenience of having to top up on a regular basis, lest you have your power shut off unexpectedly. This is particularly true if you run out of credit at the weekend or late at night.

Ultimately, with prepay electricity you pay for the privilege of not having to worry about your bills.

How much does prepay electricity cost?

If you take advantage of the increased control over your usage, you could end up paying slightly less for your electricity. If you don’t, you’ll probably pay more. And in some cases far more.

Most suppliers will install your prepay meter for free, but you'll have to pay an ongoing prepay meter service charge to keep your meter running, which is currently over €136 a year with all three suppliers. This is on top of your annual standing charge which can be over €300 a year. You'll also pay a higher standard unit rate for your electricity. 

However, with the visibility you get over your consumption and which appliances are costing the most to run, you should be in a position to reduce the amount you’re using and make some savings that way. And by using less electricity, you're also doing your bit for the environment. 

Check out the table below to compare each of the three suppliers like-for-like. All figures shown include VAT and are correct as of March 2022.

Charges

PrePayPower.ie

Pinergy

Electric Ireland

Annual standing charge

316

227

€208

Annual prepay meter charge

€137

€137

€137

Introductory cashback offer

€50

€100

€150

Cost per unit (kWh)

24 cent

38 cent

24 cent

Annual PSO levy

59

59

59

Year one cost (based on national average electricity consumption figures)*

€1,467

€1,929

€1,261

*Includes any welcome credit

Compare the market 

If you’re wondering whether or not prepay electricity is right for you, visit our energy price comparison service to see how all of your options stack up.

Our comparison tool lets you compare a range of energy tariffs across all energy suppliers nationwide and makes it easy to switch energy supplier in just a few minutes.

For more information before making the switch, consider taking a look at some of our other helpful energy guides:

You can stay up to date on all the latest energy news and top saving tips with our blogs and guides.

Get in touch

If you have any questions or queries about prepay electricity or switching energy suppliers, we’d be happy to help. You can comment below or get in touch with us on our social media pages.

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