What to Check on Your Electricity Bill & Gas Bill

Electricity and gas bills are often confusing and hard to interpret. They may even give you a mild headache just thinking about them.

Thankfully, once you know what to look for, they will make a lot more sense. Then you can get started on reducing them!

If you follow the steps below you should be able to:

  • Track your energy usage more accurately,
  • Quickly find errors on your bills,
  • More easily uncover opportunities to reduce your bills.

To get started, take out a recent electricity bill & gas bill and have a look at the following details.

Ideally, you should review 12 months of bills as this will give you a good overview of your usage.

1) Meter Number & Site Details

Quickly check the following 'obvious' information before delving into things:

  • Supply Address or Service Address - this can be informative if you receive multiple bills for one property, which is often the case at business sites. The site description cannot be depended upon as 100% accurate in all cases, but it will provide some clues, either by specifying the exact address of the property or the area covered by the bill.
  • Meter Number - compare the number found on your bill (if present) to that on your physical electricity or gas meter, as they should match. This will help you find your meter if it is in a meter room with several other meters (such as in an office building or residential unit block).
  • NMI, DPI or MIRN - this is an overall metering point identifier which uniquely identifies your property. One metering identifier number can include several physical meters. It is not always written on your meter board, but it is on your bill, and you can use it to easily switch between energy retailers.

2) Average Daily Energy Usage

On your electricity bill look for the average usage in kilowatt-hours per day (kWh/day). This is probably the most useful figure and it is usually on the front page alongside a historical usage chart.

Electricity Usage Chart AGL

Average usage as shown on our AGL electricity bill at work

If you have a gas bill, look for the same number reported in mega-joules per day (MJ/day). Be sure to look across an entire year as gas usage is often much higher in winter.

AGL gas bill

Energy usage as shown on our AGL gas bill at home (gas stove & oven only).

3) Energy Bill Start & End Dates

Next, note down the period of time that each bill covers. This allows you to identify any seasonal variations in energy usage.

Here are some questions to ask as you review some recent bills:

  • Is usage higher or lower than average in Winter, and if so, by how much does it vary?
  • What might have caused these seasonal variations?
  • Is usage going up or down year-on-year? (note the "same time last year" section in the above charts)
  • Is your business closed for a few weeks over Christmas? Do you go away for few weeks and leave your home vacant? Do your bills go down accordingly at these times?

4) Meter Reading Details

Look out for Estimated ('E') rather than Actual ('A') meter reads.

Estimated readings occur when the energy company cannot gain access to the property or if there is another problem. Estimated reads are pretty much useless, so do not depend on estimated bills for an accurate indication of your usage. You would be better off taking your own meter reading to see where you stand.

Business Electricity Bill Details

Meter reading and tariff details on an electricity bill.

You will find similar details to the above on your gas bill. On a gas bill the meter reading is often made in cubic metres. This number is then multiplied by an energy content value (around 38MJ/m3) and a conversion factor (which varies depending on your location), to give you a final number in MJ.

Household gas bill

Meter reading and conversions on a gas bill.

5) Tariff Structure

Quarterly Electricity Bills

Quarterly electricity bills tend to cover most households and small businesses. Even if you pay a monthly contribution to your bill, chances are it is still based off a quarterly meter reading.

The tariff structure on these quarterly electricity bills can vary depending on the time of day, time of week, time of year, or what is being powered. As such, it is important that you take a closer look at the details section of your bill. You may encounter one or several of the following:

  • Regular tariffs - which are normally labelled First then Next. On these bills you pay a fixed unit rate for the first block of consumption per quarter, and then generally a higher rate for the balance usage.
  • Time of use tariffs - which are usually labelled Off peak, Shoulder, and Peak. On these bills you pay a different rate depending on the time of day or time of year.
  • Off peak tariffs - which are usually connected to an electric hot water system and labelled Off peak 1, Off peak 2, or Tariff's 31, 33, 41, 42, 61, 62 . On these electricity bills you pay a reduced rate for over-night hot water heating or for dedicated heating circuits (available in Tasmania).

Electricity Bills With Solar PV Power

Households and small businesses with solar PV panels will need to look through their bill more carefully. The usage chart mentioned at point 2 above should not be trusted for reliable information in homes with solar power.

You need to look through the details section of the bill and find total usage and total solar power generated (both listed in kWh). Then divide these sub-totals by the number of days, to obtain a daily average.

Somewhat confusingly, the totals found on your bill do not reflect the sum total of your "usage" and "production." This is because solar power is usually 'Net Metered' and your usage and power generation profile might look something like this:

Solar Power Bill Explained

Example of relative Electricity Usage (blue) and Solar Power Production (yellow) by time of day.

You should be aware of the following:

  • Total usage / consumption as indicated on the bill actually only refers to the blue or 'Purchased Power' section of the above chart.
  • Total solar generation / production on the bill refers to the yellow or 'Exported Power' component. This is the power sent to the grid.
  • The part where they overlap (or 'Offset Power') refers to electricity usage that is supplied directly from the solar panels to your household loads during the day. This power never leaves your property so it is invisible to your provider and therefore does not appear on your bill.

Monthly Business Electricity Bills

Monthly Electricity BillMonthly electricity bills tend to be found at larger business sites often using more than $30,000 pa. The tariff structure on these bills is far more complex and may warrant a professional consultation such as a business energy audit. As you can see from the picture on the right these bills contain many more line items than a household or small business bill.

Tariff Structure - Gas Bills

Gas bills, on the other hand, tend to be a lot easier to decode in terms of their tariff structure. In fact, with gas usage you often pay a lower rate as your consumption goes up, which is not always the case for electricity!

6) Usage and Pay-On-Time Discounts

Next, check if you are currently receiving any discounts off the standard electricity and gas tariffs. At the time of writing, electricity and gas usage discounts of around 15 to 30% off the normal rate are commonly available in NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Queensland.

As an example, I just phoned up our electricity supplier at work and was able to change from a 13% discount to a 21% discount. Do some research online first. By calling up your existing supplier and asking them to match another offer you avoid the hassle of changing suppliers.

What to do next:

By Ryan McCarthy |

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