Australia's biggest electricity companies are vowing to put customers and affordability back at the centre of their thinking with a new energy charter.

The sector has come under intense scrutiny in recent years amid soaring power prices, and is now facing the federal government’s so-called ‘big stick’ legislation that could force the break-up of businesses.

With the new charter, the 17 signatories hope to recognise the community expects them to do more on energy affordability and to deliver better customer service.

Businesses signed up include electricity retail giants AGL, EnergyAustralia and Origin Energy, and transmission providers Ausgrid and TransGrid.

A new accountability panel has been set up, including national customer advocate Energy Consumers Australia, and it will report each year on how the sector is going.

It will be led by current Climate Change Authority chair Wendy Craik.

The inaugural head of the Council for the Energy Charter, Essential Energy chief executive John Cleland, says it will help to drive greater accountability and new thinking across the industry.

“It will allow our customers to more clearly see what we are doing for them, and in turn hear from them about what we could do better,” he said in a statement launching the charter on Thursday.

“We will demonstrate how we are improving energy affordability; how we are delivering reliable, sustainable and safe energy; and how we are putting the customer at the centre of our business.”