The Spark of an Idea

Eveready, Exide, and Ray – o- vac, names to conjure from the past and then more recently Varta, Duracell and Panasonic to name but a few.

I remember my mum giving me a new Pifco torch for a present, one of those where you could operate small slide buttons to change the colour to red or green and she would always say “don’t forget to put the batteries in the right way round”. Then along came mini transistor radios with earphones and subsequently the Walkman. “Don’t forget to put the batteries in the right way round”. There was always that doubt of whether they would last the duration and not make you embarrassed in front of your friends who usually had a better model anyway.

Of course now we mainly rely on rechargeable devices, mind you, still hoping that they last the duration. That is until the utopian arrival of the self-generating power source ( about the size of a kidney bean) as displayed by Yoda in Star Wars when telling Luke how to jump start his X wing, or something like that.

Hmmm!  Not long to wait then.

In the meantime, along comes Mr Musk. Not to be confused with that essential accessory to every mans Friday night babe magnet splash it all over juice, applied liberally to the face and other parts in the false hope that it may compensate for the out of stock instant personality pill.

No, this Mr Musk is our bridge between Eveready and Yoda and he promises to provide a solution to the vulnerability we all have to the ex-banking trader now happily re-employed by a large energy generator to make sure we pay a fair price for our fuel? Or indeed the discomfort we feel when waking in cold sweat from the bad dream of Russian intervention in Ukraine which threatens the wests power supplies.

Thank goodness! Only a dream.

Mr Musk, Elon to his friends, is most famous of course for his amazing Teslar cars and that their range (and price) is at least two and a half times that of its competitors from Japan and France.

That may be considered a good omen for those of us who want to live the Goode life (showing my age now) which was an old programme portraying suburban sustainability, and he may give us the ability to stick one, two or however many fingers take your fancy, up at the traditional providers.

Elon has come up with a viable battery storage unit that will enable those of us with the ability to generate our own power such as photovoltaic panels, to be able to use that power when the sun has disappeared in our domestic and commercial buildings.

I never did like the name Vladimir anyway because it reminds me of a bad night on vodka I had once in Warrington.

But before you rush headlong to join the queue (already standing at a quarter of a million) waiting to buy the domestic version from Musk Enterprises, just pause and take a breath.

Do you really want to threaten the stability of east west relations or indeed the world, or maybe affect the bonus systems in place for the newly re-employed executive of EON, NPOWER, BRITISH GAS, GAS PROM and the like. Or should we embrace Mr Musk in his endeavours to improve our world and hope that his San Diego to San Francisco transit system is just a precursor to travelling between Manchester and London in twelve minutes by electro – magnetic shuttle tube. I didn’t want to say Glasgow to London as I didn’t want to influence any future referendum.

Steve Roberts

A reason to be cheerful?

Last week the media were reporting that one in ten firms involved with the Green Deal Scheme have been struck off.  If we can see past the headlines, we could interpret this as a positive Green Deal news story.

The proposition that the Green Deal Scheme provides a route to market for participants that are accountable in terms of accreditation, solvency and a code of practice should be a significant driver for Green Deal take up and arguably not enough is made of this feature of the scheme; the reasons for which are an essay in themselves.

The figures reported send out the clearest of messages to both industry and the consumer: Action will be taken if you don’t meet the standards you agreed to deliver or uphold.

At a time where countless multinationals, from banks to supermarkets, are conducting their business in the shadows, with an apparently endless stream of dubious dealings making front page news, the Green Deal Scheme shedding rogue traders at a rate of knots is a reason to be cheerful.

Why then publicly pillory the scheme for attempting to keep its own house in order?

In terms of public perception, if action against those participants breaking the scheme rules scheme isn’t forthcoming in a timely fashion, it is effectively the same as having no action at all.

Slicing out the dishonest elements and sharp practitioners in the industry can’t come quickly enough for those who have traded through the start of Green Deal and the omnishambles of ECO with those left standing, albeit battle weary, moving forward to ECO 2.

If there is a criticism to be levied at the schemes’ ‘better late than never’ attitude to rooting out bad practice ………..better never late I am sure would be the industry cry.

It’s awards season: The ‘Green Grafters’ 2015

Well done to MP Energy and the rest of the regional winners at this year’s Green Deal and Eco Awards. I enjoyed a great day with some splendid company in the form of suppliers, customers, colleagues & competitors from the energy efficiency industry.

Mike Penman, MP Energy Boiler Installer of The Year North West Region

Mike Penman, MP Energy Boiler Installer of The Year North West Region

Looking around the room, the creativity and energy of the participants demonstrates that this is an industry on the up; concealing, very well, the adverse trading conditions businesses in this sector have endured of late.

The awards recognise achievement within the energy efficiency industry, specifically businesses delivering within the Energy Company Obligation and Green Deal Schemes.

Let’s be honest, our green and pleasant land is ripe for the largest retrofit programme imaginable, both domestic and commercially. Our aged inefficient stock, various carbon reduction commitments, national sense of outrage at the behaviour of the ‘big six’ and lack of energy security all contribute to set the scene. The Energy Company Obligation seamlessly blended with the Green Deal should have created the perfect mechanism to drive forward change with the energy efficiency industry tearing up the recession rule book, creating jobs and value to our economy. So what happened?

I believe this was the recipe……..……

Firstly create a bill, which politely requests that turkeys vote for Christmas using their own money, playing entirely by their own rules and ensuring any enforcement is years away.

Do not under any circumstances make the rules transparent to the participants; add a large helping of bureaucracy.

Take a good idea, Green Deal is an excellent choice, then launch it to the general public whilst still only half baked.

Mix well for a year then add a generous dollop of dog whistle politics, glazed with a Prime Ministerial edict to ‘get rid of all the green crap’.

Voilà! the perfect way to kick the legs out from underneath a growing industry.

So how have these businesses survived?

Answer: People.

The ‘Green Grafter’ winners are passionate about what they do, they want to deliver. So when the going gets tough, which it seems to with uncanny regularity in this industry, these imaginative, hard-working, and tenacious individual’s just knuckle down and draw upon what seems like endless reserves of enthusiasm to fight longer and harder for an industry they believe in. So congratulations once again to all the winners, I eagerly await the outcome of the nationals.

Jo Barlow

Big six dash for vulnerable customer cash

Growing up in the 1970s & 80s with electric and gas slot meters, the dash for gas in our house meant something quite different to the notion of exploring our natural resources. The fraught search for a coin when the lights went out, rarely during homework but often during Coronation Street, was only surpassed by the raw panic created when the gas went off.

The gas cooker, now ornamental, mid egg & chips, would remain quiet until the shiny fifty pence piece located at the bottom of a tardis like handbag could be retrieved. There followed an obstacle race to the meter, located behind several coats, which was accompanied by cries of ‘hurry up, eggs congealing’…..

Etched in my psyche are these events, it is therefore unsurprising that as an adult I am somewhat sensitive about ensuring an uninterrupted energy supply to our family home. My duel fuel bills are paid by direct debit and I am billed online to ensure the best tariff available with my current supplier. Have I switched supplier recently? Not in the last decade.

Alongside the childhood reminiscences of fumbling to get a sweaty, slippery, fifty pence piece in the slot, under the stairs, in the dark, in a hurry, sits the painful memory of switching energy supplier last undertaken in 2001. I was scarred by this process, specifically being batted back and forth between suppliers for little over a year. Complaints to Ofgem suggest I was not alone.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) investigating the energy market suggest that the ‘big six’ who account for 92% of the UK’s energy supply market have millions of so called ‘sticky customers’ mainly vulnerable households who do not have the facilities, such as the internet to switch or don’t understand the switching process. Often inherited from privatisation many these households are still on costly standard variable tariffs.

CMA’s findings come as no surprise to our Domestic Energy Assessors who regularly visit leaky, draughty and costly to heat homes occupied by vulnerable customers paying more for their energy than those who are able to assert their buying power.

Admittedly, my experience of switching energy supplier is historical and according to mega animated price comparison sites, outdated. The bleating sheep like noise from government to energy market price gaffes sounds something like, ‘just switch energy companies, switching is supplier is easy’ but is it really?

I presume that is why energy company complaints continue to rocket skywards, because energy companies are making it so easy for their customers.

I might be tempted to switch energy supplier again if I had the dream team of Money Saving Expert – Martin Lewis, Watchdog – Anne Robinson and Think of A Number – Johnny Ball fighting my corner, then I would only need to be supplied a pre- paid mobile to cover hours on hold.

Martin, Anne & Johnny. The Energy Switching Dream Team

Martin, Anne & Johnny.
The Energy Switching Dream Team

Without the Dream Team, but armed with industry knowledge and digitally literate, if I am still reluctant to undertake the process, is it surprising that those with less information and limited on-line access find the idea of switching energy supplier too difficult to attempt.

The health of our energy market is yet to be decided by the CMA. I understand the ‘big six’ have shareholders to please, but there is little corporate pride to be taken in having the collective ‘trousers down’ of their most loyal customers. The dash for gas may have ended, sadly the dash for vulnerable customer cash continues……..

Jo Barlow