Rising energy costs are the biggest financial concern for consumers in 2018, according to a recent survey by Canstar.
The Consumer Pulse Report found 30 per cent of consumers were more worried about rising electricity and gas prices than any other financial issues, including job security and interest rate movements.
This summer will see energy prices hit their highest levels ever, putting households under further pressure as bills soar.
So how can you minimise your power bills and protect yourself from rising energy prices?
Shop around and negotiate hard
Minimising the amount you pay for power is the most effective way to reduce your electricity bill, and switching providers or negotiating with your existing provider is the best way to do it.
The Canstar Blue Energy Insights Report, which compared 113 electricity plans in NSW and Victoria, found the cheapest plan cost $1800 per year, while the most expensive cost $4500, based on a five-person household. Put simply, changing your electricity plan could save you $2700 per year.
The report also found 45 per cent of consumers don't think they are getting a good energy deal. According to Canstar Blue Editor Simon Downes, consumers need to be proactive to get lower rates, and fortunately, retailers are willing to negotiate.
"Retailers would rather keep you as a customer and make a bit less money from you than not have you as a customer at all," he said.
But to get the absolute cheapest electricity deal, you need to be prepared call your retailer's bluff and actually switch providers, which 41 per cent of consumers have never tried.
"The retailers always have a fallback position they can offer their customers. To make sure you're getting them into that position, it doesn't hurt to put the wheels in motion to actually go and switch retailers."
Standard energy contracts have a 10 working day cooling-off period, so even if you find a better deal than your current provider can offer, it's not too late to switch back if they manage to beat it.
"You can bet your bottom dollar that if your retailer hasn't offered you their lowest deal, they're going to if you've already switched," Mr Downes said.
However, switching providers might not be an option for consumers in Tasmania, the Northern Territory, Western Australia and parts of Queensland, where the number of retailers is limited.
Make your own electricity
One in six homes have solar panels installed, and solar systems are becoming more affordable, with electricity providers and banks offering customers incentives that can reduce the price to as low as $1500.
The average cost of a medium-sized solar system is $6200, and according to SolarQuip principal Glen Morris, it will pay for itself within five to 10 years, depending on usage patterns.
"The best benefit is for people who use energy when the sun shines," he said. "The payback is much quicker, we're talking four years or so."
Batteries can further lower bills by allowing solar power to be used at night. But at about $10,000 each, it can take a decade to recoup the cost.
Solar Citizens campaigner Stephanie Gray said homeowners should investigate whether state and local governments can help fund their solar system. "The upfront cost of installing solar is a barrier for many low-income households, but some state governments do provide assistance loans."
Minimise your energy consumption
Air conditioners, ovens and refrigerators are some of the biggest power drains in a home, and Mr Morris said efficient appliances are worth the higher price tag. "Always look for the best star-rated appliances. Within a couple of years you're ahead."
Mr Downes said behaviour change is the key to cutting consumption. "You need to get into the mindset that whenever you're using something in the house, it's costing you money."
While minimising consumption may be effective in high usage households, Mr Downes said consumers in small households should pay particular attention to daily supply charges, as lowering power usage will have minimal effect on bills if supply charges remain high.
"Daily supply charges can vary from 90?? to $1.30 per day. Those are costs you are paying regardless of your energy usage."
Top 5 ways to minimise power consumption
- Use air conditioning wisely - Setting the temperature one degree higher in summer uses 10 per cent less electricity.
- Eliminate standby power usage - Plug home entertainment devices into a power board and switch it off at the wall when not in use.
- Keep your fridge running efficiently - Ensure the top and rear are clean and well ventilated and keep it full to reduce the amount of air inside that needs cooling.
- Insulate your home - Most heat gain comes through the ceiling and windows. Install ceiling insulation and keep windows shaded.
- Use efficient lighting - LED bulbs use 75 per cent less energy than incandescent bulbs and last 25 times longer.