Energy under news spotlight

The 15th Energy Saving Week takes place against backdrop of energy-related news stories

28 October 2011

Energy Saving Week took place in the week of 24–28 October, the 15th such annual event designed to put energy saving at the top of the news agenda.

But it's doubtful that any of the previous 14 Energy Saving Weeks took place against a backdrop like this, with energy stories making the news headlines most nights and widespread public anxiety about the price of domestic gas and electricity.

Chief among these was the ongoing brouhaha around tariffs. It all started when Ofgem, as part of its ongoing Retail Market Review, announced plans to require energy suppliers to simplify their byzantine tariff structures. Several commentators pointed out that with at least 400 different tariffs the system appears to be designed to confuse consumers rather than help them.

The move was welcomed by Ian Preston, CSE's lead policy advisor. “We know that most consumers don’t switch supplier. Secretary of State Chris Huhne has suggested that this is because many can't be 'bothered', but for the majority, the plethora of different tariffs and offers is simply confusing and they are not confident they'll end up with a better deal.

"Our research also reveals that lower-income households are risk-averse and afraid of switching in case they end up worse off: better the devil they know” [see You Just Have to Get By].

Ofgem also said that it would oblige energy suppliers to  make bills clearer, and to provide consumers with annual statements. The proposals should help consumers compare energy prices and also protect them from mid-contract price rises (click here for details).

Then last week, in a high-profile energy-supplier summit designed to reassure the public that the government is on the side of the domestic energy consumer, Chris Huhne met with bosses of the big six to discuss the energy market and rising prices. He and Prime Minister, David Cameron, issued a joint statement reiterating the 'switch to save' message and urging people to do what they could to save energy.

The response of the energy suppliers was to promise not to raise prices further this year and to send out millions of letters reminding consumers of their existing rights to switch providers or billing systems, while advising the poorest to apply for free or subsidised insulation.

After the summit Chris Huhne urged customers to make the most of the energy market, and repeated his call for consumers to shop around. "We should be switching if we're not on the cheapest tariff and taking the opportunity ahead of this winter to really make sure that we're insulating so that we can save money."

Ian isn't holding his breath. "In reality Monday’s energy summit does little to halt the long-term trend for energy prices to rise inexorably, nor to bring people’s bills down. If Ofgem does manage to reform the energy market it may make it easier for consumers to shop around, and then we could see some reduction in the short term."

In what may be another sign of increased public concern about energy price rises, the pages of this website giving strightforward practical information about how to save energy in the home are receiving more hits week after week. Check them out here.

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