The Citizens' Energy Forum – an annual event designed to explore consumers' views and their role in a competitive, 'smart', energy efficient and fair EU energy retail market – has welcomed the EU's plans for Energy Union with citizens at its core.
Energy Union will allow citizens to benefit from new technologies to reduce their energy bills, participate actively in the market, and afford protection to vulnerable consumers.
Speaking at the event held in London, Miguel Arias Cañete, European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, said reforming energy markets, improving access to information on energy prices and costs, and strengthening consumer power are all key areas for action.
In recent years, gas and electricity markets have undergone a transformation that has opened up markets and introduced greater competition. Some EU countries have seen a large number of consumers switching energy providers – Portugal held the EU record last year with one in four customers changing electricity supplier, while in Ireland, one in six customers changed gas suppliers.
However, many EU countries still need to reform and switching suppliers can be bureaucratic and time-consuming. Meanwhile, in some cases people are generating their own electricity but they are prevented from selling it back to the grid. At the same time, one in ten people in Europe cannot afford to heat or power their homes adequately which should not be the case in a modern, developed economy, Arias Cañete said.
Some EU countries also regulate retail prices which can block new market entrants and choke competition, and there is currently insufficient use of smart technology devices – all challenges for the future Energy Union.
Boosting consumer power
Reforming energy markets by knocking down the barriers that separate wholesale and retail energy markets will bring benefits for consumers, Arias Cañete said. "When the wind is blowing strong, consumers could buy electricity cheaper. When the sun does not shine, appliances could adapt to save people money," he added.
Consumers should be able to access clear, understandable, reliable information delivered in real-time in order to increase their control over their energy decisions. Meanwhile, citizens should be encouraged to generate electricity and not face barriers.
The Commissioner called for a market that works for consumers, not just producers; a new phase of open and freely available information; and for consumers to have full power to make their own energy choices.
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