Return to Website

Number Watch Web Forum

This forum is about wrong numbers in science, politics and the media. It respects good science and good English.

Number Watch Web Forum
Start a New Topic 
View Entire Thread

I think the answer to that paradox, where small energy supply firms that specialise in providing renewable energy appear to be able to offer significantly cheaper prices than the 'Big Six' energy suppliers, was explained in this Mail on Sunday article called "Energy Secretary switches his power supplier... dodging his own green taxes WE have to pay" about the former energy secretary Ed Davey in 2014:

Ed Davey switches energy supplier

Extract from the article:

"Mr Davey recently changed from Sainsbury’s Energy to Green Star Energy to supply gas and electricity to his Kingston constituency home.

Green Star – which, despite its name, is not an eco-certified company – does not have to pay green taxes because it is a new firm with fewer than 250,000 customers. Its average household bill is just over £1,009 a year, compared with Sainsbury’s average of £1,264 – meaning Mr Davey could potentially save about £255 annually.

The average standard bill across all energy suppliers is around £1,346. Green sceptic Peter Lilley, a Tory member of the energy and climate change committee, said last night: ‘He is paying less than most people as he is not being hit with those levies, it is as simple as that. He has found a way to avoid this unfair burden on families which his own department is inflicting. It is a form of tax avoidance.’

Smaller firms also do not have to pay for the Energy Company Obligation, which costs customers about £47 a year towards the cost of funding insulation for low-income households.

And they are exempt from the Warm Homes Scheme, which offers extra support to anyone struggling to afford their energy bills, such as the elderly.

However, if Mr Davey’s decision encourages enough other customers to switch to Green Star and the firm passes the 250,000 threshold, it too will be liable for the green levies."

As soon as this Bulb firm builds up to having 250,000 customers (if the same rules apply today as in 2014) the Green levies then kick in, and you then might have to find another small energy supply firm that has recently started up which can offer the cheaper prices.

I'm signed up with one of the 'Big Six' energy suppliers myself, and with the one that is reckoned to be the most Green-leaning of the six, Scottish Power. I don't live in Scotland - I live in Cheshire, but my old electricity supplier MANWEB, which I believe stood for 'Merseyside And North Wales Electricity Board', was bought up by Scottish Power just over twenty years ago. Scottish Power seem to be particularly keen on this smart meter stuff, as I mentioned in another thread, so I'd like to switch supplier, but I'm put off by the tendency for the small cheaper suppliers to be even more Green-leaning than Scottish Power. I've got a feeling that I'm going end up switching to EDF as my supplier at some point, being an ex-nuclear power man.


It is always entertaining to start thinking about marking electrons for ownership...

Of course that can stimulate a Hole flow, electron flow debate.

But then we might get to squeeze in a E=IR discussion.

That can easily bring up my favorite joke of "What are they measuring in those MMTS? Temperature or voltage? Or is it resistance? Or is it current?'

My addled brain has them all tied together. They might be in a circle. They might be in orbitals. They might just be in the equation. I sort of expect the person on the other end of the joke to not laugh. It is the type of joke to stimulate the hint of a twinkle in the eye. In my brain, I can grab onto one of the variables and then check the other two. There are schemes for each of them in instrumentation.

But the accounting of power distribution where people change their 'provider' still causes me to pause...

The only switch that is thrown is in a database saying "I want to pay power company C". The hand waving that must go on in the board meetings.... I cannot begin to imagine.

My home consumes massive amounts of electricity. The bill average $75. 33 kWh a day. It is wrong to say that I qualify as "massive". 33 kWh * 250,000 => 8 GWh of supply.

Are the bills publicly accessible? Can you get a spreadsheet that lets you evaluate this?

Smoke and mirrors...


In reply to Brad, it is a strange arrangement where electric current is being marked for ownership. I can see most countries not operating an arrangement like this as it's just 'too silly'.

Bulb purportedly supplies 100% renewable electricity and 10% renewable gas to its customers. 100% renewable electricity is possible in the UK because continously available sources are available in the form of the burning of wood pellets. The 'renewable gas' is probably biomethane from sewage. The firm has built up to 100 thousand customers in recent months.

But a Bulb customer probably just gets the same electricity and gas, from whatever sources that came from, that they got before they switched. Bulb doesn't as far as I can see own any energy infrastrucure, so it definitely can't change the electricity and gas mix for the neighbourhoods of its customers. I don't think a Bulb customer is actually getting the product that they have specifically paid for, what they're paying for is to input more renewable energy into the overall UK electricity and gas network than might have happened otherwise.

The other aspect of the silliness is what I mentioned earlier in the thread, where small energy firms are exempt from charging 'Green levies'. I would imagine that most of Britain's prominent Greenies - Roger Harrabin, Jonathan Porritt, David Attenborough, Damian Carrington and so on, are signed up with these specialist small renewable energy suppliers, and they don't pay the Green levies.

The people who are keenest on a Green energy policy in the UK could be said to be voters for the Green party and the Liberal Democrat party. These kind of voters probably make up a lot of the customer base of firms like Bulb. If we now look at the statistics of average house prices in UK parliamentary constituencies, it turns out that the constituencies represented by the Greens and Lib Dems have the most expensive average house prices:

Greens and Lib Dems live in most expensive homes

So I would argue that the voters who are driving the Green energy policy are quite well-heeled and should be paying a lot more for Green energy, not getting the rest of us to pay for it.