Blog: Tesla, customer complaints and a water market update

In her news editor’s blog for Utility Week, Lois Vallely rounds up some of the big stories of the week.

Tesla is back!

Well strictly speaking it never went anywhere. I suppose what I mean is ‘Tesla is back on Utility Week’, as this week the pioneering Californian storage company (and electric vehicle manufacturer) chose a solar PV site in Somerset as the location for the European debut of its grid-scale Powerpack. The company had already brought its Powerwall home storage battery to the UK after a soft launch in early 2016.

Energy storage developer Camborne, which was responsible for installing the Powerpacks, hailed the project as “another success for storage development in the UK”.

In the same week, the Solar Trade Association called for government to “move quickly” and “unlock the game-changer potential” of energy storage.

There is currently no legal definition of storage in the UK or the EU, it points out, which leads to double charging – where storage is charged for both importing and exporting power despite the benefits it offers.

Navigant’s global head of energy, Jan Vrins, has warned that the original objectives of the UK’s competitive energy market structure are at risk from the growth of distributed resources such as storage, unless rules are changed to allow distribution network operators to play a more active role.

DNOs are currently prevented from owning storage assets as they are categorised as generation. The government told the Energy and Climate Change Committee in April it is open to creating a separate license category in the future, but will not make the change immediately.

Energy storage in all its forms is gathering momentum.

Currently utility-scale storage developments make up 84 per cent of total installed capacity, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. However, by 2024 behind-the-meter storage will account for two-thirds of capacity.

I spoke to Dale Vince, eccentric chief executive of Ecotricity, last week. He told me he believes the energy sector is “on the verge of transformation”, and that energy storage and the smart grid will play a huge part in that change. He believes storage is something that needs to be done at grid-scale, business scale, and domestic scale – to allow the world to “completely wean itself off fossil fuels”.

[Full interview will be in the issue of 30 September]

Customers complaining

Complaints handling by energy companies is getting worse.

An independent report commissioned by Ofgem shows that overall with how a complaint has been handled has fallen significantly for both domestic and micro-business complainants over the last two years.

Ofgem chief executive Dermot Nolan has apparently written to all the chief executives of the suppliers surveyed (the big six and the three largest independents) to make clear that their results are “unacceptable” and to ask them to respond publicly – spelt “publically” in the statement – setting how they have made, and intend to make, improvements.

The water sector isnt faring much better, as the number of written complaints from water customers has risen for more than half of the water companies in England and Wales.

The Consumer Council for Water’s tenth annual complaints report warns companies to buck up their ideas – or words to that effect – and has instructed the four worst-performing companies to report back by the end of October on what action they have taken, or are planning to take, to reduce complaints.

With market opening approaching fast, CCWater is particularly concerned that the number of complaints from non-household customers is “well above” those from households.

Meanwhile, the shadow market opens on 3 October, and preparations continue apace.

Ofwat has received two more licence applications – one from the subsidiary of commercial gas supplier Regent Gas (imaginatively named ‘Regent Water’) and, just today (23 September), one from Affinity Water’s rebranded non-household retail arm (imaginatively named ‘Affinity for Business’).

New entrants to the market have also started to come out of the shadows. I spoke to the director of a independent supplier Blue Business Water, Chris Clark, who told me the little company is keen to acquire the customer bases of exiting companies.

Following the Affinity Water announcement, all of the incumbents have now stated their intentions for the market and, unfortunately for Blue Business, no one else plans to exit (at least not before the market opens). The business customers of those which have left have been snapped up by Castle Water and Business Stream.

However, the new entrant also said it is keen for joint venture, and already has the skills and systems in place for billing.

Midnight in Paris

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that UK prime minister Theresa May has pledged to ratify the Paris climate change agreement by the end of the year. But you probably already knew that.