First they came for your kettles… household control and demand response

Demand response is becoming a hot topic in energy circles, how we can help to level out the peaks and troughs in the energy system by utilising flexible demand. Energy demand changes hugely over the day, from being very low in the middle of the night to peaking on weekdays usually around 6pm. It also changes in less predictable ways, responding to co-ordinated mass activity such as the ad breaks in popular tv programs. As Wimbledon has just finished, the graph below shows how electricity use changed during Andy Murray’s victory in the finals in 2013.

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First they came for your kettles… household control and demand response

How European Guarantee of Origins are deceiving consumers

GoO_scheme

It’s accepted wisdom among UK and European policy makers that one of the best ways to lower carbon emissions is through marketisation and cross-border trade. This manifests itself in the phenomenon of  what can be called ‘market imagination’, where entirely new markets are created to serve particular policy goals. The problem with these types of markets is that, if designed badly, they can produce perverse outcomes. One such market is the European Guarantee of Origin system. Under this system one ‘certificate’ is created for every MWh of electricity generated from renewable sources. This market is terribly designed, and has meant that green electricity is being double sold and consumers are being mislead.

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How European Guarantee of Origins are deceiving consumers

Voluntary green electricity sales in the Netherlands

The Netherlands is a rare example of a country where consumers have a high willingness to pay for green power and a correspondingly high enrolment in green tariffs. By the end of 2014 64% of Dutch consumers had a green power contract for their electricity. This is by far the highest recorded enrolment out of any country in the world. It’s closest rival, New Zealand which has a large amount of renewables generated anyway, only has 26% of consumers enrolled. Despite this apparent success, renewable energy still comprises a small proportion of the total energy generated in the country. This case study will look at several of the factors which have driven the increase in households purchasing green electricity, before engaging in a discussion on whether these trends are uniquely Dutch, whether the program has been a success, and whether there are lessons which can be learned for other countries looking to support a demand side policy.

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Voluntary green electricity sales in the Netherlands

GMOs, ethics and the environment

Right2Know GMO SF Rally

In a recent moment of procrastination I found myself on the product accreditation page of the Vegetarian Society and was intrigued by one of their requirements, that all products must be free from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This seemed interesting as not even the Vegan Society goes this far – it only excludes GMOs which contain animal genes or animal derived substances. This got me thinking, why should the vegetarian society accreditation, which exists to help vegetarians avoid foods containing meat, care at all about whether the product contains GMOs? After all, if the world was to start eating less meat for both ethical and environmental reasons, GMOs would be a great way to both increase the yield of crops and to create meat substitute products.

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GMOs, ethics and the environment

Do small businesses overpay for utilities? Evidence from the CMA and the real world

The recent provisional findings from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) investigation into energy markets includes the less than shocking revelation that SMEs overpay for their utilities. It found that most micro-businesses overpay for their energy usage and that 45% are on default tariffs that they had never negotiated with their suppliers. Consequently, suppliers are free to set high prices and enjoy profit margins of 8%, which are exorbitant compared to the 3% in domestic markets. Why does this appear to be the case? In this post I’ll be exploring some of the arguments made in the provisional CMA report as well as reflecting on my own experience running a small business and switching our electricity provider.

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Do small businesses overpay for utilities? Evidence from the CMA and the real world

Standing charges – the hidden enemy of energy efficiency

Last week I wrote a post that looked at the effect of standing charges on consumer understanding of energy tariffs. Standing charges are set daily fees that consumers pay regardless of their actual energy usage. I argued that eliminating standing charges is the best possible way to simplify energy tariffs. This would make switching easier for consumers and would lead to a better deal for low-energy consumers. Today I will take a different approach to the issue and will focus on the inter-relation between energy efficiency and the standing charge. As far as I can tell this issue is too boring for any academic research to have been undertaken, so the statistics here are based on my own calculations from Ofgem data. Continue reading “Standing charges – the hidden enemy of energy efficiency”

Standing charges – the hidden enemy of energy efficiency

Price comparison websites – consumer champions or well branded middlemen?

meercat620_1969570aPrice comparison sites have grown hugely in the past few years. There have been expensive advertising campaigns to try and differentiate among several websites that are all almost identical in functionality. Recent research by Consumer Futures finds that 52% of consumers have switched or purchased directly through a price comparison website. Despite their growth there has been little research done to examine how beneficial they are for consumers, how they should be regulated and how sustainable the business model is likely to be.

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Price comparison websites – consumer champions or well branded middlemen?