In Britain, the energy market is dominated by six big companies. Together they supply 95% of the country’s households, but that is changing. In the past, the huge investment costs of energy generation made it impossible to break into the market, but renewable energy is creating new challengers.
As we’ve discussed before, renewable energy can be installed at small scale, and it is therefore a much more democratic technology. The falling price of solar means that anyone can become an energy generator, on their own house or land. Communities can band together, local councils can fit out their buildings. The number of energy providers is booming, or in fact coming full circle, because it used to be more diverse in the past.
That means trouble for the big six, who are now facing competition from thousands of smaller generators chipping away at their position, with the prospect of many more to come. That’s the subject of a new briefing from Friends of the Earth, Big Six on the Run, which I’ve found rather interesting. When I wrote about the potential for democratic energy earlier this year, it felt speculative and hopeful, but it’s happening. Half of Germany’s renewable energy is owned by citizens:
As FoE point out, renewable energy has some big advantages over fossil fuel generation that is giving it an edge over the big companies and their power stations. After the initial investment, ongoing costs for wind or solar are very low, because there are no fuel costs. They can also serve local markets and don’t need the same level of transmission infrastructure. We’re nowhere near the end of fossil fuels just yet, but a transition is well underway.
This is good news, and I’d recommend browsing the Big Six on the Run paper if you’re feeling a little depressed about the general state of energy and climate action. Now we just need to watch out for a fightback from the energy companies, who may decide to fight support for small scale renewables to protect their profits.
“We are witnessing a quiet revolution in the way we obtain our energy,” say FoE, “and not everyone has yet woken up to this fact. Just as canal engineers were trumped by railway industrialists, and record companies have fallen prey to online downloads, so solar and other renewables are preparing to bury their dirty fossil-fuel competitors.”