‘Radical’ reform of the energy supply market is needed as future supply models face putting consumers at risk, Citizens Advice has warned.
Citing emerging models and technologies, such as energy as a service and peer-to-peer trading, Citizens Advice stressed that new technologies and a greater digitalisation of the energy system could leave some consumers behind.
It suggested energy service providers should offer non-digital ways of signing up, staying in contact and managing services, such as phone-lines or avenues where a third person with consent could act on another’s behalf, as 5.2 million British adults are not online.
It also recommended that consumers retain access to and control over their energy usage data by default as data-reliant technologies such as smart meters become more common. Privacy and security should be built into technologies and services by design and data should only be collected where there is a clear user need. In addition, there should be ‘appropriate’ levels of transparency and consumer control, including the ability to see who is accessing data and what for.
This comes at a time when digitalisation is being increasingly called for, with the Energy Data Taskforce recommending that data becomes more accessible and open to achieve net zero.
Citizens Advice also recommended that the government should explore the provision of grants for low income households and ongoing financial incentives, low-interest loans and facilitating of rental equipment to allow all consumers to participate in future energy models. This is particularly prevalent for models that require technology such as battery storage and solar.
Industry should also develop business models that allow those in the rented sector to participate, Citizens Advice said. In addition, regulators and policymakers should explore if barriers to these offerings, for example a landlord installing solar and storage which would benefit both the landlord from higher resale value and the tenant through lower bills, exist and how they can be minimised.
The charity is suggesting that the future energy market centres around engagement, transparency, fairness and control. It said the forthcoming consultation document from Ofgem and government is an “ideal” opportunity to lay the groundwork for reforms.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said the net zero target means “big changes” in how consumers access energy.
“New innovations in the way we heat and light our homes will bring benefits for many. The danger is that some of the most vulnerable in society end up excluded from these exciting developments.
“How much you earn, or whether you’re confident with a smartphone, shouldn’t prevent anyone from getting the best out of this rapidly evolving market.”