Giving people the option to get together and group buy technologies that are traditionally considered too expensive for most households would be good. If local communities could get discounts on solar pv, wind turbines etc they would be far more inclined to give it a go.
Attractive only on the surface, collective energy switching of accounts or collective purchasing from an established provider are distractions for community energy groups. They are a poor half step, distant from the very achievable goal of finally breaking the power of the Big Six, itself easily reached by localised generation. Which? - aka the Consumers' Assocation - likes collective switching; so does Ed Davey, DECC's Energy Secretary of State. Providing no good answers to any of the following questions, they are both wrong. How does collective energy deals avoid these traps?
Recruiting hundreds or thousands necessary for a supplier to takes a lot of volunteer effort for minimal, fragile reward. Where is the physical visibilty of any deal to new recruits? Why should they accept the decision of strangers in deciding the extent of savings achievable?
Collective switching does nothing to encourage energy reduction, or diminish the much observed 'rebound effect'. Self-congratulating participants will almost certainly believe they have won a 'right' to use big and bigger quantities of energy, merely by virtue of its provider being greener. Depending on two factors entirely beyond the control of an organising group - (i.e. this rebound effect, and b) the chosen provider's carbon intensity - ), it is quite possible that net savings in carbon of any deal may be low or non-existent.
Constant tariff manipulation by energy utilities, using the same confusion deliberately employed by the bad old Big Six, by mobile telcos, by banks' savings accounts. Today's deal negotiated by any collective purchasing group can be non-competitive tomorrow morning.
An individualised, consumerist solution; and not a social one. Collective purchasing considers energy chiefly in terms of cost, - i.e. the size of any discount on offer. It addresses CO2 reduction only as a secondary, less important issue. It does not address ideas of value of a scarce resource. Only when both generation and consumption of energy are in the control of the consumer, do consumers show any sense of reducing consumption: Good Energy has some great, eye-opening data, collected from 160 families who make their own power.
Purchasing for groups does nothing to address the centralised control of remote companies, using ageing networks where much energy is dissipated in long-distance distribution. Even with AC networks, wastage over non-local networks is substantial. Localised generation, and control of local networks, as achieved in Germany, remedies this technical problem. Collective purchasing from a remote generation company does not.
I've a better solution. Energy co-operatives for mid-scale, localisedgenerating- such Westmill Wind & Solar near Swindon, or the 40-plus UK energy co-ops represented by the Low Carbon Communities Network. ( www.lowcarboncommunities.net ) are profiting, and becoming easier to set up. With prices of installed wind and solar generating kit, a mid-scale power station generating clean, zero-carbon electricity is now perfectly feasible in the heart of your community. 'Distributed microgeneration', it's called.
Against that, mass switching is like a household deciding not to buy a home computer, even when PCs are falling in price, and instead switching their computing needs from one mainframe provider to another. Centralised generators are zombies, dead men walking. 13 % of Germany's electricity market is now supplied by collective or small-scale green generation.
Finally, congratulations to EnergyShare on apparently dropping its sponsorship from British Gas/Centrica. My solar PV club suffered for 12 months an association with that lumbering bureaucracy: smug, distant, non-communicative, uncompetititive, a beehive of corporate drones of both sexes manouevring their way to the top job. I was delighted when BG & Juice From Your Roof went our separate ways.
Alban Thurston, Juice From Your Roof, London's biggest volunteer-led buyers' club for solar PV