Why are so many African power utilities effectively bankrupt? For one thing, they are incredibly inefficient. Efficiency can be improved by proper metering, investing in the system to reduce losses, improving collections and being able to cut off non-payers. This last one being easier if there is up-to-date metering and certain big players like government departments and military installations are also forced to obey the rules. These operational improvements and efficiencies will improve the supply of power but will not go far enough.
Twenty-nine states have deregulated electricity, natural gas or both. That allows you to shop for the supply portion of your bill from alternative providers who may offer rates lower than the default supplier – usually a utility. Delivery services and billing will remain the responsibility of the local utility as they own the power lines and wires that keep the lights on.
Wind and solar power are non-dispatchable. Such power is normally sold before any other bids, at a pre-determined rate for each supplier. Any excess is sold to another grid operator, or stored, using pumped-storage hydroelectricity, or in the worst case, curtailed. Curtailment could potentially significantly impact solar power’s economic and environmental benefits at greater PV penetration levels. Allocation is done by bidding.
If you live in the greater Houston area, there are over 60 different energy suppliers competing for your business. Many of these providers have websites that are confusing and difficult to navigate, their rates buried in misleading advertising and dense jargon. Who has the time to sort through and keep track of options across all these different sites?
Using an average of 1,063 kWh of power each month, Houston’s electricity consumption rates exceed the national average by over 100 kWh. As a city however, it does manage to maintain a lower monthly energy charge than the rest of the US, incurring an average fee of $99 in comparison to the $112 national monthly average. To further save on their plans each month, residents can choose from a selection of Texas-based energy suppliers and service plans.
Anyone on a standard rate tariff is at risk of seeing rising energy bills – so one of the best ways to protect from energy price increases is to switch to a fixed rate tariff. This means that for the duration of the deal, the cost of your energy and gas will be fixed. You may be able to switch to a cheaper fixed price tariff at any point, or you may have to pay a fee if you switch before the end of the deal – so check your paperwork.
No deposit electricity plans also offer a subjective advantages. Thanks to smart meters, electricity providers can offer you smartphone apps that send notifications when your balance is getting low, so you can purchase more kilowatt-hours before your account drops to zero. However, this also means you will track your energy consumption more frequently, as opposed to only once per billing period. Energy consumers who monitor their kilowatt-hour usage tend to consume less energy that those who only wait for power bills once per billing period.
Power generation projects, which have to sell their power to these bankrupt utilities, require creative financing structures to get around these problems. In a bid to reduce their risk when financing these projects, bankers employ financial tools like put call options agreement or World Bank partial risk guarantees. The problem is these tools add complexity and cost which end up being passed on to the end-user or worsen the financial state of the power utility.
2. Fraud: Too many people have been victimized by glib sales reps with promises of cheap electricity flowing in an unending stream only to discover that, as is so often true, “it ain’t necessarily so”. They’ve been locked into unwanted term contracts or there’s a catch – some utilities will give you the great rate only if you meet a usage minimum; basically, the “rate” is, in actuality, a “bulk purchase” discounted fee – or they paid a deposit never to hear from the rep again.
The table below shows simple comparison of electricity tariffs in industrialised countries and territories around the world, expressed in US dollars. The comparison does not take into account factors including fluctuating international exchange rates, a country's purchasing power, government electricity subsidies or retail discounts that are often available in deregulated electricity markets.
A lot of these financial structures ultimately boil down to being a form of government guarantee, which means that they can’t be scaled up to “solve” countries’ power problems because the governments cannot carry all the liabilities. Countries try to introduce the private sector into power generation precisely to reduce such guarantees, which then end up returning through the back door in the form of government support.
Aside from times of natural disasters and large-scale accidents, electricity prices tend to be steadily dictated by electricity demand. Typically, the price of electricity rises when demand rises. In turn, the lower demand is, the cheaper electricity rates become. This pattern is due to the fact that increased demand requires increased energy production. When extra energy is demanded, utilities are forced to use alternative sources of energy production that may cost more to operate. For example, when electricity demand reaches a high point in Texas, coal plants are used alongside the typical natural gas plants. These coal plants are costlier and less effective than natural gas plants, but are necessary to meet high electricity demand levels.
Even though it’s not ideal for either party, both customers and electric service providers have to purchase electricity at current market rates. Strategically timing your switch to a new electricity provider can help you score the best electric rates in a market that’s out of your control. Another way to feel more in control when switching energy suppliers is to sign up for a fixed-rate plan.
Dallas area residents now have the option for choosing their electric provider. However, with all of the different plans that are available, it can be difficult to make the right decision for your particular electricity needs. You may find yourself overwhelmed by the number of options presented to you by all the electric company advertisements or concerned about shady marketing gimmicks.