Collective switching – a look behind the hype

Author: Ian Byrne 30/04/2014

Collective switching schemes have been getting a lot of press coverage recently, partly on the back of Government support. The ‘Big Power Switch’ in Doncaster reckons to have saved 285 local residents a total of £80,500 with one saving a ‘massive £525’ after taking advantage of the scheme. All excellent news, you might think, especially for those in fuel poverty where saving money on energy bills undoubtedly relieves some of the financial pressure they’re under. However, saving £525 makes me wonder what the total bill was to start with, and whether there might have been other ways of reducing it that would last for a lot more than a single year.

Collective switching - the bigger picture

Collective switching needs to be seen as part of a bigger issue – how much energy you use at home and how well you use it. If you think about it, collective switching doesn’t encourage either of these. In fact, it could be counter-productive as it gives the impression that all you need to do is shop around, find a cheaper deal, make a one-off switch to a different supplier and not bother at all about how you actually use energy, but think that’s the 'job done'.

Rather than simply focusing on the headline price, what you really need to do is to take real, positive action to improve the way you use energy at home – whether it’s by installing practical energy-efficient home improvements (such as loft and cavity wall insulation), using technology (such as fitting solar panels) or by small changes to your behaviour (such as making sure the central heating is set to come on only when it's needed).

And if you can save money through collective switching, then it's a good idea to reinvest the savings in energy efficiency measures. These should save you money year after year and will help the environment through lowering CO2 and other emissions.  They may even increase the value of your home!

Collective switching - a hindrance

I would argue that, on the whole, collective switching can hinder energy efficiency, slows the UK’s progress to its carbon emissions targets and discourages householders from taking responsibility for their personal energy efficiency.