“It’s the consumer, stupid”

30th Oct 2017


Well Bill Clinton didn’t say that, but he would do if he looked at the challenges around the energy trilemma that the UK is grappling with.

Last week’s publication of the report into energy costs by Dieter Helm; the recent Energy Research Partnership report into low carbon heat; this year’s Carbon Connect report into the future role of gas – all make the same point – we need to think about the consumer. The downstream end of our business, businesses like the boiler manufacturers have got this for a while – upstream is now catching on. Working together, with the same mind-set, we will make our sector a powerful lobbying force.

Unfortunately the consumer interest is often overlooked, ironically, often by Government. Ironic really as voters are consumers and you would think they would be more sensitive. It’s also true that some industry bodies prefer the old-fashioned insider stitch-up, but enough of Each Home Counts, let’s concentrate instead on something important.

The cost of decarbonisation was the focus of Dieter’s report. How that has made electricity expensive, driving out UK industry because it ceases to be competitive, is a worry. But imagine how big a problem this will be if we ignore the consumer when it comes to heat.

Last week I asked a BEIS official if the Government had an idea of what price consumers would be willing to pay for decarbonised heat? They don’t. And I believe them. But at a time when the fuss is currently over price freezes, it is hard to see consumers accepting many of the stitch-up options. By that I mean policies devised by insiders, usually with an eye to their commercial advantage, without any engagement with the consumer. Those earlier reports I mentioned all suggest early and sustained engagement with consumers – taking their views into account, not foisting policies on them.

I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it, without consumer agreement, then plans to decarbonise will flounder. That is not an outcome we want to see.