In April of 2016, Japan opened up its multi-trillion yen energy market—breaking the monopoly regional electricity providers like Tepco and Kepco had enjoyed for decades. The country has gone from having just 10 power companies to well over 200, opening up options for customers to score lower bills and rely on renewable sources of energy. Changing providers isn’t difficult, but the lack of English-language support and the myriad of choices may make it feel overwhelming. Here, we try to give you cheapo readers an idea of which Tokyo energy company might save you the most cash.
First, let’s get the most obvious question out of the way.
Can I change providers?
Anyone can switch to a new energy company as long as they are in charge of their own electricity bills. It doesn’t matter whether you live in an apartment or a house—as long as the account is in your name, you can contract with whoever you like. The exception here is those folks who live in apartment complexes where the energy provider is decided by the building management—if that’s your situation, you might be stuck.
What are my options?
There is a huge range of energy providers serving the Tokyo area, including a few big—and somewhat surprising—names. Cellphone providers like SoftBank, AU and KDDI have branched out into power, as have other mega corporations like Tokyo Gas Co., Eneos, H.I.S. (that travel shop) and Tokyu Corp (the railway). There are also a cluster of smaller companies—have a look at the full list here (in Japanese). This one is focused on greener providers.
The savings you’ll reap depend on your suburb, electricity consumption and the plan you opt for. They are typically calculated using a yearly rate—a word of caution here: many of these companies will try to lock you in to a 24-month contract (cellphone style) that carries hefty cancellation fees. Read the fine print before signing anything!
Because there are so many options out there, it’s impossible for us to say which one would be the ultimate best for you. We can give you an idea of what three of the biggest providers are offering, though, and point you in a useful direction.
AU have paired their electricity plan with their cellphone offerings, rewarding customers with cashback vouchers once a year. For a small household paying roughly 5,000 yen a month on electricity, a voucher of 1,319 yen can be expected. The more you pay, the more you get back, with the savings paid out in 1%, 3% and 5% increments.
The cellular giant currently has two “denki plans”, one in partnership with Tepco, the other—”Fit denki”—offering energy from renewable sources. Like AU, the plans go with your phone. Savings are estimated to be in the region of 6,000 to 8,000 yen a year, and there are T-points (Tepco loyalty points) thrown in.
Tokyo Gas Co.
This new entrant to the electricity market claims savings of over 8,000 yen a year for the average household, and has already positioned itself as one of the more popular alternatives. The only snag? You need to be getting gas from them to qualify.
Where do I compare?
The best thing to do is play around on Kakaku.com, enepi or enechange—you enter your postal code and the basic details about your living situation (type of house, number of residents, average monthly watt usage—check your last bill) and the sites present you with a list of the top energy company options (note that not all of the available companies might be listed), as well as the savings you can expect.
We did one of these “simulations” in Japanese (there was no English option) and found that a single-person household (apartment) in Itabashi Ward, with an average monthly electric bill of 5,000 yen, could pocket savings of around 12,000 yen a year if they switched from Tepco to Shell; 8,500 yen if they went with something called Yonden; 7,000 yen through Tokyo Gas Co.; and about 5,500 yen with Looop Denki, MachiEne or SoftBank. The list went on, but most of the other savings were negligible.
How do I change?
The process is fairly simple and usually takes around two weeks. Have a recent electricity bill handy, and follow these steps:
1. Fill out and submit the application forms for the new provider (most of the time they are available on their website). You will almost definitely need Japanese language support here!
2. Wait for Tepco to come and change your old electricity meter to a swanky new “Smart Meter” (assuming you are still with Tepco, and don’t already have one of these futuristic meters). This usually can be done for free—they might bill you for the labor costs though (minimal, don’t worry).
3. Once the switch has been confirmed, you’ll start receiving bills from your shiny new provider. Pay them. Enjoy the electricity and plot and scheme the best ways to spend your savings (a look around our site should give you some ideas).
Cheaper but with blackouts?
A worry for many is that they’ll change to a new provider, and then experience blackouts because the company is new to the electricity scene and perhaps unreliable. However, there’s no need to fret about this. If your new provider can’t, well, provide, the company that manages the overall power transmission will automatically step in and make up the difference—you won’t even notice. And if your provider does go belly up, Tepco will immediately take over the supply for you until you choose another company.
Have you changed to a new energy provider? How are you finding it? Post in the comments below.