This is a transitional period for the British energy industry. The traditional big six are being challenged by a wave of new, innovative start-ups that are providing consumers with greater choice than ever before. So, who are the biggest companies? Which ones are British-owned and operated? And what about the small-to-medium size energy suppliers? Which electricity suppliers in the UK value sustainable energy? Which one offers the best customer service? This post aims to answer these questions and more.
Which suppliers are part of the big six?
Originally founded in 1812 in Westminster, London, British Gas is the oldest and largest energy supplier in the UK. Along with providing energy to over 12 million consumers, British Gas also provides home services. These include home insurance for homeowners and landlords, and home improvement services through heating systems and home electrical upgrades.
Today, British Gas is a subsidiary of Centrica plc, which is a multinational energy company, headquartered in Windsor, Berkshire. As a consumer, if you are looking for a large, traditional electricity supplier in the UK with British ties, look no further than British Gas.
The second-largest energy supplier in the UK, Scottish and Southern Energy plc (SSE), is headquartered in Perth, Scotland. Officially founded in 1998, after a merger between Scottish Hydro Electric and Southern Electric, SSE supplies around nine million customers throughout the UK.
SSE will sell its household energy and services business to OVO, with the sale expected to be completed in late 2019 or early 2020. This sale is not expected to affect current SSE customers in any way (other than a new name at the top of their monthly bill), but going forward, the acquisition of SSE’s household energy and services business is likely to shake up the traditional UK energy hierarchy.
Previously known as London Energy, EDF Energy is the product of an acquisition by Électricité de France (EDF), a French, state-owned energy supplier. EDF generates most of its power from nuclear power plants, as well as wind farms and coal and gas stations. Currently, EDF is constructing Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in Somerset, which will provide a projected 7% of UK power by 2025.
While EDF Energy is not British owned, it started as a London based energy supplier and was merely acquired by the French-owned energy conglomerate. EDF claims to be the UK’s largest producer of low-carbon electricity, making it an attractive supplier if you want the comfort of a large, state-based energy supplier with environmentally friendly policies and motives.
Founded in 1901 in Glasgow as Clyde Valley Electrical Power Company, ScottishPower has been located in the UK for over 100 years. Today, ScottishPower is owned by Iberdrola, a Spanish energy firm focused on sustainable and green energy.
ScottishPower delivers innovative and green solutions and aims to become the first integrated energy company to produce 100% green energy in the UK. In essence, ScottishPower combines the tradition of a large, integrated UK energy company with the public’s desire for sustainable energy.
Created in 2000, E.ON is a German electric utility company that distributes utilities to customers throughout Europe. According to Bloomberg, E.ON is the first of the big six energy suppliers in the UK to supply all its customers with 100% renewable electricity. Clean electricity is available on all E.ON tariffs without any added costs. While E.ON is not a British energy supplier, it emphasises clean, renewable energy to all its customers within the UK and provide excellent customer service.
npower ranks as the third-largest power supplier in the UK. Innogy SE, a German-based company and subsidiary of RWE, owns npower. In January 2019, npower announced it was being bought by E.ON, meaning a merge of two of the big six UK energy companies, leading to a ‘big five’.
npower still trades on the London Stock Exchange as npower and maintains its own independent entity despite being owned by E.ON. For consumers, npower and E.ON are separate entities and still compete in the big six.
There are many other start-up power suppliers in the UK. One supplier to watch is OVO Energy. Having just agreed to an acquisition of SSE’s household energy and services business, OVO is set to become the second-largest supplier in the UK. The acquisition is set to be finalised late in 2019 or early 2020. OVO brings innovation and sustainability to the British energy sector, with aims of modernising the industry.
Founded in 2009, OVO has its sights set on becoming a carbon-free energy supplier with sustainably sourced electricity and carbon-neutral gas. Furthermore, along with its business goals, OVO also runs a charitable foundation that focuses on improving education access to at-risk youth in the UK and Kenya, creating access to electricity in rural parts of Kenya, and improving the youth homelessness crisis in the UK. OVO was founded and is headquartered in Bristol, England.
Another young energy company which is disrupting the UK energy industry is Bulb Energy. Bulb first entered the market in 2015, based in London, with hopes of bringing simpler, cheaper and greener energy to UK energy consumers. Bulb claims to buy its energy from independent renewable generators from across the UK and provide its customers with 100% renewable electricity and carbon-neutral gas.
First entering the UK energy market in 2016, Octopus Energy is another start-up energy company to consider. Known and regarded for its excellent customer service, the London-based energy supplier came into the market with hopes of changing the traditional landscape for a new era of corporate transparency and green energy in the UK. Octopus serves over 400,000 customers across the UK and regularly earns five-star customer service ratings on review and comparison sites such as Trustpilot and uSwitch.
Ultimately, the best UK energy supplier for your needs depends on what you want from a supplier. If you’re looking for a big, traditional supplier with historical roots in the UK, British Gas is a great choice. Meanwhile, if you see value in being part of an international supplier who has ties throughout the world, EDF Energy and E.ON would likely be the go-to choices. Finally, if you fancy modern, millennial values such as environmental sustainability and great customer service, the younger companies such as OVO Energy and Bulb are excellent options for green energy in the UK.
This means that there is a great variety of British energy suppliers to choose from when making your decision. With the emergence of firms such as OVO, Bulb and Octopus, the big six are no longer having it all their own way. All in all, customers can hope for cheaper tariffs, better customer service and increasingly green energy from all suppliers.