Gas & Electricity

What is prepay electricity?

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Image Daragh Cassidy
Head Writer

Prepay electricity is a pay-as-you-go method of paying for electricity usage, designed to give customers more control over their electricity consumption and spending. With prepay electricity, customers top up their electricity credit on a home meter and only pay for the electricity that they actually use.

If you’re considering switching energy suppliers you may have come across tariffs for prepay electricity. With prepay electricity, instead of receiving a monthly or bimonthly electricity bill, you only need to pay for what electricity you use as it’s consumed. 

Here we outline how prepay electricity works, its pros and cons, what suppliers currently offer prepay electricity and what you can expect to pay annually if you opt for a pay-as-you-go tariff.

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 pay-as-you-go meter to be installed in your house. This usually takes less than an hour and is free with Pinergy and PrePayPower, each of which specialise in pay-as-you-go metering.


2. You add credit to your meter

Your supplier will give you a prepayment card and some free electricity credit to get you up and running, but you’ll be responsible for topping up your meter yourself pretty soon after installation.

Thankfully, this is very 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 prepayment card to do this so keep it safe!

Once you’ve bought your credit, you’ll be given a 20-digit Power Code, which you'll enter into your pay-as-you-go meter to add the credit.

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


3. You only pay for what you use

Your credit will be eaten up as you use electricity and, once you’re down to your last few euro (€10 with Electric Ireland, €3 with PrePayPower, €2 with SSE Airtricity and Pinergy), your meter will beep for two minutes to let you know.

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. Phew!

If your ‘emergency’ credit runs out late in the evening, over the weekend or on a Bank Holiday, when it might be difficult to head out to a Payzone outlet or jump online to top-up, you can opt for some ‘friendly’ credit. This extra few euro should get you through to the next working day, when you can top-up again.

‘Emergency’ and ‘friendly’ credit will be taken out of your following credit purchase.

If you decline ‘emergency’ and ‘friendly’ 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 suppliers of prepay electricity in Ireland at the moment: Electric Ireland, Pinergy, and PrePayPower.   

Prepay electricity is available from other suppliers such as SSE Airtricity for example, however, only when certain eligibility criteria are met.

What are the advantages of prepay electricity?

1. It helps you to budget more accurately

With a pay-as-you-go meter, you’ll be able to monitor exactly what you’re spending in real time.

This brings peace-of-mind, eliminates the fear of getting a shock bill (which are a regular occurrence during winter months) and helps you to see which appliances use the most electricity. This visibility of your usage and spending can really help with budgeting.


2. No more bills

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


3. 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 of your own electricity consumption and spending. You will only pay for what you use, and it’ll be up to you to choose how and when you pay.

What are the disadvantages of prepay electricity?

1. More expensive

The obvious con of prepay electricity is the extra expense.

For example, if you were to choose prepay electricity with PrePayPower.ie over a normal billpay contract with Electric Ireland (which has one of the cheapest discounted rates on the market right now) you’d end up paying around €495 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, safe in the knowledge that you will always be on top of them and in control.  

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 meter for free, but you'll have to pay an ongoing prepayment meter service charge to keep your meter running, which is currently over €130 a year with all three suppliers. This is on top of your annual standing charge which can be over €200 a year. You'll also pay a higher standard unit rate for your electricity. All in all, this makes pay-as-you-electricity pretty pricey.

However, with the visibility you get over your consumption and which appliances are costing the most, 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 November 2021.

Charges

PrePayPower.ie

Pinergy

Electric Ireland

Annual standing charge

316.22

190.82

€208.79

Annual prepayment meter charge

€136.71

€136.71

€136.88

Introductory cashback offer

€50

€100

€210

Cost per unit (kWh)

23.95 cent

32.14 cent

23.97 cent

Annual PSO levy

58.57

58.57

58.57

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

€1,467.40*

€1, 635.98*

€1,200.98*

*Includes cashback offer

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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