Big Six energy suppliers

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The Big Six were the United Kingdom's largest retail suppliers of gas and electricity, who dominated the market following liberalisation in the late 1990s. By 2002, six companies – British Gas, EDF Energy, E.ON, RWE npower, ScottishPower and SSE – had emerged from the 15 former incumbent monopoly suppliers (the 14 regional public electricity suppliers and British Gas).[1]

In 2008, the Big Six still had over 99% of domestic and small business customers.[1] They were vertically integrated in electricity, owning sufficient generation capacity to supply all their customers; while in gas, only Centrica (British Gas) owned production facilities.[1] By the third quarter of 2019, after efforts by the regulator Ofgem to promote competition, their combined share in Great Britain was 70% for electricity supply and 69% for gas.[2][3] The purchase of SSE's retail business in January 2020 by OVO Energy, a competitor founded in 2009, marked the end of the original Big Six.[4]

The companies[edit]

Source:[1]

Supplier Parent Other brands Former brands
British Gas Centrica Scottish Gas
EDF Energy Électricité de France SEEBOARD, SWEB Energy, London Electricity
E.ON UK E.ON Northern Electric, Powergen, Yorkshire Electricity
npower
  • RWE (from 2002)
  • Innogy (from 2016)
  • E.ON (from 2019)
ScottishPower Iberdrola (from 2007) MANWEB
SSE OVO Energy (from 2020) Scottish and Southern, Southern Electric, SWALEC, Scottish Hydro

2014–2016 competition investigation[edit]

In June 2014, energy market regulator Ofgem referred the energy industry to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).[5] The authority investigated the "six large energy firms" and published its report in June 2016.[6] For the retail market, the report recommended:[7]

  • Removal of the requirement imposed by the 2014 Retail Market Review that limited suppliers to offering no more than four tariffs
  • Establishment by Ofgem of a database of customers who have been on a "standard variable tariff" for three years or more, which competitors could use to contact those customers
  • A temporary price cap for customers on prepayment meters
  • Measures to support price comparison websites in the energy market.

Consolidation to Big Five[edit]

In 2017, SSE and Npower announced a merger of their retail businesses,[8] but this was scrapped in 2018.[9]

Just after the failed SSE-Npower merger in late 2018, it was reported that a consolidation to the Big Five would still occur, as Npower would be acquired by default by E.ON due to the already-planned asset swap by the respective German parents, Innogy and E.ON.[10] This was completed in 2019.[11]

Alternatives to the Big Six[edit]

In December 2014, Utility Warehouse, part of FTSE 250-listed company Telecom Plus[12] became the UK's biggest independent energy supplier through a £218m deal to buy 770,000 existing customers from npower.[12] In September 2014, First Utility[13] (since rebranded as Shell Energy) announced it was the first independent utility supplier to reach the milestone of 1m customer accounts for gas and electricity – the equivalent of 550,000 customers, which made it the seventh-largest energy supplier in the UK and the country's biggest independent energy provider.[13] In June 2015, a Cornwall Report stated Opus Energy[14] had broken the dominance of the 'Big Six' energy suppliers in the business market.[14]

The Competition and Markets Authority published an investigation into the energy supply market in June 2016,[15] following a referral by Ofgem in June 2014.[15] The report identified 34 suppliers of both electricity and gas to households, and described the three largest suppliers outside the Big Six as "mid-tier suppliers"; these were First Utility, Ovo Energy and Utility Warehouse.[16] Other significant suppliers (each with more than around 1% market share) were Co-operative Energy, Extra Energy and Utilita Energy (specialising in pre-pay customers).[16] The combined market share of suppliers outside the Big Six[17] had increased from less than 1% in 2011 to around 13% in the first quarter of 2016.[17]

Since 2009, other entrants into the market include a number of new energy companies including Bulb Energy, Good Energy, Ecotricity, and Octopus Energy. Many of these newer entrants are seeing significant growth in customer numbers, in part due to their greater commitment to renewable energy and, in the case of Co-op Energy, community renewable energy projects.[18]

The energy regulator Ofgem maintains a list of all licensed electricity suppliers and distribution network operators.[19]

Local authority-owned companies[edit]

Three of the alternative energy companies have been owned by local authorities. The first such company since 1948 was Robin Hood Energy, owned by Nottingham City Council, which entered the market in 2015. Bristol Energy, also launched in 2015, was owned by Bristol City Council. Both Robin Hood Energy and Bristol Energy were available to consumers throughout the country until their demise in 2020.

In January 2020, London Power was launched by the Mayor of London. Contrary to the other two companies, it only provides gas and electricity to London homes. London Power is not itself an energy supplier, instead it is a partnership between the Greater London Authority and a providing partner, currently Octopus Energy.[20]

Defunct competitor companies[edit]

Before 2021[edit]

By January 2019, ten[21] small energy suppliers had ceased trading or been taken over by others, and others followed similar paths until the market turbulence in the autumn of 2021.

2016 to 2020
Company Ceased trading Customers (approx.) Customers transferred to
Affect Energy September 2018 22,000 Octopus Energy (acquisition)[22]
Breeze Energy December 2019 18,000 British Gas[citation needed]
Brilliant Energy March 2019 17,000 SSE[23]
Bristol Energy September 2020 155,000 domestic,
4,000 business
Business: Yü Energy[24] Domestic: Together Energy[25]
Economy Energy January 2019 235,000 OVO Energy[26]
ENGIE UK January 2020 70,000 Octopus Energy (acquisition of ENGIE's domestic UK customers) [27]
Eversmart Energy September 2019 39,000 domestic Utilita Energy Limited[28]
Extra Energy November 2018 108,000 domestic,
21,000 business
ScottishPower[29]
Flow Energy May 2018 130,000 Co-op Energy (acquisition)[30]
Brand continued until acquired by Octopus in 2019[31]
Future Energy January 2018 10,000 Green Star Energy[citation needed]
GB Energy Supply November 2016 160,000 Co-op Energy (acquisition)[32]
Brand continued until acquired by Octopus in 2019[31]
Green Star Energy October 2019 200,000 Shell Energy (acquisition)[33]
Green Star was a subsidiary of Canada's Just Energy
Iresa July 2018 100,000 Octopus Energy[34]
OneSelect December 2018 36,000 Together Energy[35]
Our Power January 2019 31,000 Utilita Energy[36]
Robin Hood Energy September 2020 112,000 domestic,
2,600 business
British Gas[37]
Solarplicity August 2019 60,000 EDF Energy[38]
Spark Energy November 2018 290,000 OVO Energy[39]
Tonik Energy October 2020 130,000 ScottishPower[40]
Toto Energy October 2019 134,000 EDF Energy[41]
Usio Energy October 2018 7,000 First Utility[42]
Yorkshire Energy December 2020 74,000 ScottishPower[43]

2021–2022[edit]

Sharp increases in wholesale gas prices in summer and autumn 2021, and a consequent increase in wholesale electricity prices, led to further collapses.[44][45] High prices continued into 2022.[46] Ofgem continued to arrange for customers of those companies to be transferred to other suppliers, but when Bulb Energy failed in November 2021 a different approach was needed: with 1.7 million customers, it was the seventh biggest supplier company. Bulb was placed in "special administration" and the UK government undertook to cover its losses while a sale or restructuring was organised, with a potential cost to taxpayers of £1.7 billion.[47]

2021 onwards
Company Ceased trading Customers (approx.) Customers transferred to
Zog Energy 1 December 2021 11,700 EDF Energy[48]
Simplicity Energy January 2021 50,000 British Gas Evolve[49]
Green Network Energy January 2021 360,000 EDF[50]
Ampoweruk Ltd[51] 2 November 2021,[51] finalised 3 November[45] [51] 2,600 Yü Energy [52]
Omni Energy[51] [45] 3 November 2021 under 10,000 Utilita[53]
MA Energy[45][51] 3 November 2021 under 10,000 SmartestEnergy Business Limited[53]
Neon Reef[54] 16 November 2021 30,000 British Gas[55]
Social Energy Supply[54] 16 November 2021 5,500 (TBA)
CNG-Power[45] [51] [56] 3 November 2021 under 10,000 (TBA)
Zebra Energy[45][51] 3 November 2021 under 10,000 (TBA)
Bluegreen[57] 1 November 2021,[57] finalised 3 November[45] 5,600 British Gas[53]
Avro Energy 22 September 2021 580,000 Octopus Energy[58]
Colorado Energy 13 October 2021 15,000 Shell Energy[59]
Daligas 14 October 2021 9,000 Shell Energy[59]
ENSTROGA 29 September 2021 6,000 E.ON Next[60]
Green Supplier Limited 22 September 2021 255,000 Shell Energy[61]
GOTO Energy 18 October 2021 22,000 Shell Energy[62]
Hub Energy 9 August 2021 6,000 domestic,

9,000 others

E.ON Next[63]
Igloo Energy 29 September 2021 179,000 E.ON Next[60]
MoneyPlus Energy 7 September 2021 9,000 British Gas[64]
People's Energy 14 September 2021 350,000 domestic,

1,000 others

British Gas[65]
PFP Energy 7 September 2021 82,000 domestic,

5,600 others

British Gas[64]

PFP was Places for People Energy 2014–2017

Pure Planet 13 October 2021 235,000 Shell Energy[59]
Symbio Energy 29 September 2021 48,000 E.ON Next[60]
Together Energy (incl. Bristol Energy) 18 January 2022 176,000 British Gas[66]
Utility Point 14 September 2021 220,000 EDF Energy[67]
Bulb Energy 23 November 2021 1,700,000 Ofgem[68][69]
Orbit Energy[70] 26 November 2021, finalised 29 November[71] 65,000 TBA
Entice Energy[70] 26 November 2021 5,400 TBA

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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