One of my colleagues, Amanda, produced a blog last week about the governments plans to ask utility providers to include QR codes on bills, so we can all jump to a price comparison site and see if we are being ripped off. I promised I’d read through it and provide a technology perspective on what organisations should do to deal with the ever increasing complexity of information and channels that content has to be delivered through.
However I got sidetracked into thinking “why”.
My first thought, on reading Amanda’s blog was “wow, the worlds complicated today”. I grew up in the 1970’s and there was the Gas Board that pumped gas into your home for X pence and the Electric Board who provided, yep you guessed it electricity for Y pence per kw/hour. I don’t think there were different residential tarrifs, I vaguely remember something called Economy 7, which encouraged you to use electricity at night but apart from that life was simple.
Then in the late ’80s we told Sid that our lives were far to simple and could he come along and complicate them for us.
Now, there is an array of energy providers, different tarrifs, incentives to sign-up because I can earn reward points of one type or another… that’s better isn’t it, consumer choice, all hail the free market.
Hmm, lets look at that for a second. These providers aren’t making their own Gas, it’s not like I’m buying a different product where one can claim to produce Gas that heats quicker and cooks better than the competition, they are all buying from the same wholesale market.
It’s not that one is more reliable in term of product delivery, said product comes into my home through the same infrastructure regardless of whose providing it.
So why have more than one company, to provide competition, for what, I only need you to do a four things… make sure I’ve got gas and electricity , make it as cheap as possible and if there is a problem with the infrastructure, get it fixed.
Maybe I’m missing the point, the energy companies want to sell us more stuff, so they value us as customers and presumably either subsidise their customer service from other operations to compete on price or cut the customer service to the bone and compete that way…
I just realised I had never even been on a comparison web site for energy, so just went through the process and found I can save £250 a year by switching to some company I’ve never heard of.. but where does that saving come from. Switching has to cost my current provider money, they need to get a final reading, send me a bill work out any money I owe them or they owe me, then hand the meter over to the new provider. It must cost the new provider money, they have to set me up as a customer setup a direct debit, send me a welcome pack. How is me switching creating any additional wealth for the UK economy?
Having gone through the switch site, there were a lot of choices of company and tarrif, some fixed for a period, some with exit fees, but how am I supposed to make a choice. At the end of the day, my only requirement is that it costs me as little money as possible – how am i supposed to know what energy prices are going to do over the next 12 months and therefore is a fixed rate or variable rate better – if i knew that I would be an energy speculator and rich enough not to care about my gas bill.
I would therefore argue that actually there is NO choice in the energy market, because if I can’t link the options presented to me to which best fits my one and only requirement then it is no better than having only one option.
Now, what I really want you to do, is tell me how to use energy better, automatically sense when I’ve left the house, because you know where I am via geo-location, you know when I’m coming home, detect when a tile has come off my roof and is blowing a draft in because you can see the change in energy usage that doesn’t fit into the overall pattern.
I’ll switch to the company that can offer me useful advice to help improve the way I use energy, regardless of whether there are QR codes on the bill
… Now I’ll go and write the blog I was supposed to write in the first place.