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Who supplies my power?

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

On the surface this question may seem simple…you probably think the person who sends you the bill, and this is most likely one of ‘the Big Six’(npower, SSE, British Gas etc.).  But, this is only half the answer.  In reality there is a complex web of companies that are responsible for the delivery of electricity that ensures the lights come on when you flip the switch.

Electricity, much like anything, is a commodity.  To try and bring some clarity to the question we can consider electricity to be like a pint of milk. Your supplier, whoever that be, should more accurately be described as a retailer, such as Tesco.  They buy the electricity, in this case milk, wholesale. And, repackage and resell it, to you the consumer.

Before you buy the milk from Tesco it has to get to store.  This is where the distributors come in.  The UK electricity network is split up into 15 regions and each is managed by a local network operator e.g. Northern Powergrid in Yorkshire, or UK Power Networks in London.  It is the responsibility of these companies to manage the wires that distribute the electricity to your house.  Also, there is the National Grid, this is the company responsible for moving electricity country around the country from power stations and wind farms to balance supply and demand.

Finally, the electricity has to be generated.  Within the UK this is from a variety of sources: coal (36.3% of 2013 UK total), gas (26.8%), nuclear (19.8%), renewables including wind (14.8%) and other sources (2.2%). The power stations are operated by a variety of companies, some are independent companies e.g. Drax which operate Drax Power Station, the Big Six which have operate both power stations and have a retail arm supplying consumers, and homeowners can generate electricity too which can be supplied back into the grid. Going back to our milk analogy these companies, or individuals, should be considered the farmers i.e. making the milk (obviously the farmers don’t ‘make’ the milk…the cows do that).

The electricity, when generated, is added as available supply to the grid.  Your supplier subsequently buys electricity wholesale from the grid to supply to your home.  Much like the milk in your fridge, the electricity used when you flip the switch comes from a variety of sources.  And like milk, sometimes it pays to shop around to get the best deal.  If you haven’t switched recently, or confused as to how switch, check out the forums for some helpful tips and advice.  Or, if you have a tale of switching please share with the community.

  • Alex Buckman
  • Posted by
    Alex Buckman
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