From time to time I find myself trying to explain how the energy industry is changing to people who couldn’t give a picowatt. Here is my latest analogy:
In the past you have had an energy butler, happy to meet all your needs.
It doesn’t matter if it is having the means for a hot meal ready in the Hebridies, in case you drop by, or Heston Bumenthal’s best menu; ask for anything, and you will not see a flicker of alarm on the face of your dedicated provider. He (almost certainly he) will disappear off to make it happen.
Sometimes your small requests might have meant a lot of work behind the scenes. Take a simple request for a pot of Earl Grey, for example. If you ask at just the moment the butler is preparing to throw open the doors for the garden party you also requested, he might decide to call a butler friend and get him to make the pot of tea, even if that means sending the Rolls Royce to pick it up. And if you ask just when there is a power crisis in the kitchen, and the only solution is for the butler to ask the road mender outside to use some of his tar to start a fire to boil up the water, so be it.
(And if there is no Earl Grey in the caddy? Commandeer the Cutty Sark?)
You’ll never know – your demands will never be questioned, you never have to do anything, and it will all just be hidden in the bill.
This comes with downsides.
You have no idea how your butler is managing all this. You don’t know who he is employing, or whether the need to secure supplies of Early Grey at short notice forced him into a deal with the Mafia. Nor do you know whether when you asked him to dispose of some stuff it was sorted and recycled, or just dumped off a cliff. And you don’t know where the all the money went. (Your energy supplier, I should say, is definitely innocent of these crimes.)
What if you didn’t have to have an energy butler? Let’s imagine you have energy supermarkets instead. That makes it much clearer what choices are being made.
You will do some of the work – you have to make some decisions, and visit or set up delivery, decide what’s on your shopping list. But you know a lot more about what’s on offer, you can save money. You don’t have to take your butler’s word for it, if he says the world has not invented the fish finger (but he has hand-crafted something similar, and it’s on the bill).
And you have options. You can choose a different supermarket entirely. You can buy bread, or you can get flour and yeast instead. You can keep a big supply of Earl Grey, or if you run out just when you want it, you can have English Breakfast instead.
You will find out that it is cheap and easy to get Halloween pumpkin cake on 28 October, but much less so on Easter Sunday.
This is where we are going – with still more options, like specialist shops, an allotment to supply some of your own vegetables, or a buying club with your friends and neighbours.
You won’t have to take on this choice if you don’t want to. You can still have a butler to meet all your needs, or another intermediary that does part of it for you. But if you do at least you will understand what you are buying.
Do you have a better analogy?