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UK Energy suppliers: green providers and Big Six
The United Kingdom has a large number of energy providers that supply residential customers with gas and electricity. Below you can find the suppliers we have reviewed so far to help you compare them.
Renewable and clean energy providers
More UK energy suppliers
Not all gas and electricity suppliers share the same environmental goals as those mentioned above. There are a great number of energy companies in the UK both, big and small
The Big Six is a popular name for the UK energy cartel made up of the six most established companies on the market.
Other UK energy utility companies
The United Kingdom has a massive amount of smaller companies trying to get a slice of the retail energy pie. Here's just a few of them:
What do UK energy companies do?
The UK energy sector is made up of several layers:
- Energy generators generate electricity both in renewable and non-renewable ways.
- The National Grid links up the energy producers through a high capacity network designed to carry electricity from one end of the country to the other.
- Distribution Network Operators are responsible for stepping down the high voltages from the national grid so they are suitable for residential use locally.
- Finally, energy providers bill you for the energy you use in your home.
Energy suppliers are the last step in the energy journey, their one job is to charge you for the energy you use. They buy up gas and electricity in bulk on a wholesale market so they can then sell it on to British households and businesses for profit.
This energy wholesale market is similar to a stock market with the price of electricity and gas fluctuating depending on demand and supply. Energy providers try to buy energy at low prices when electricity generators are outstripping demand on the national grid. This allows energy providers to sell it on to their customers with a sizeable markup that goes straight to their bottom line.
The opposite can also happen where demand comes close to meeting the outer envelope of supply which then drives up energy prices on the wholesale market. In those situations, energy companies may make less money or even lose a little.
While British energy companies play the energy wholesale market, regular customers are insulated from sudden changes in energy prices through two main types of tariffs which most energy suppliers adhere to:
- Variable-rate tariffs have energy unit rates that can change from one month to the next. These changes are usually driven by the seasons with unit rates increasing in winter and falling in the summer.
- Fixed-rate tariffs have rates that are set in stone for a fixed period of time, usually a year. While a household’s energy bill might change because of variations in energy use, the underlying rates will not during the duration of the tariff.
While it might be tempting to think that one energy company will provide better quality gas or electricity than another, that’s simply untrue. Every UK household gets the same kind of gas and electricity through the national grid and their local Distribution Network Operator, no matter where they are.
Going with a cheaper energy provider doesn’t mean more power cuts or brownouts. In fact, in the unfortunate event of a power outage, your energy supplier will only be able to refer you to your Distribution Network Operator or a national power outage helpline who will actually be responsible for dispatching engineers who can fix the problem
Telling them all apart
The main differences between energy companies for UK customers are as follows:
- Customer service quality varies from one energy utility to the next. This can impact how quickly and effectively billing issues or queries are resolved. Long call wait times and unclear communication are symptoms of unsatisfactory customer service which can erode customer trust in a company.
- Pricing is the other main area which varies across providers and, in some cases, even within the very same provider. Different providers will offer different rates within their tariffs and energy advice services, such as Selectra, let you compare them like for like.
- Energy sourcing varies from one energy supplier to another due to different wholesale purchasing practices. Some companies will make it a priority to buy green electricity while others will go with electricity coming from nuclear or coal power stations without giving it a second thought.
Green energy companies are no longer more expensive than companies that are less caring when it comes to the environment. Renewable electricity is competitive when stacked against less environmentally-friendly sources. Using greener electricity comes down to mere willingness to do so in this day and age.
Voting with your wallet
Since a more expensive provider doesn’t net UK energy consumers a more reliable gas and electricity supply, there is no point staying with a company that overcharges its customers. The UK energy market privatisation was justified as a way of giving all Britons more choice and better prices for their gas and electricity.
This means that UK households are responsible for finding the best deal for their home. However, over 70% of people stick with the same big energy company instead of shopping around for a leaner and more competitive supplier.
It’s worth noting that the majority of the big energy suppliers listed above are owned by foreign companies. Anyone staying with these suppliers out of a sense of patriotism is misplacing their loyalty. Take Scottish Power, for example, they are owned by Spanish energy giant Iberdrola.
How to pick a winner
With so many energy companies doing essentially the same thing, picking the right one for your home is no easy feat. Here at theSwitch, we have a few pointers to get you started:
- When comparing energy tariffs make sure you find the unit rate and standing charge amounts for each one to get a clear idea of which one offers better value for money.
- Do a little research on the company to get a better idea of the type and quality of service they offer. By clicking on the company names above, you can read our in-depth guides. You can find out everything from customer opinions to the supplier energy mix.
- If you’ve just moved into a new home or don’t know how much energy you use every year, use an energy estimator to better understand your gas and electricity consumption.
- Speak with an energy advisor to get an idea of what company has the best prices for your area. Alternatively, if you don’t fancy talking on the phone you can also do an online comparison.