Loss of power for energy companies

There has been a 38% increase in profit margins made by energy companies in the last 2 months and it is this which has prompted an investigation by Ofgem, the electricity and gas market regulator in the UK. Alistair Buchanan, Ofgem’s chief executive, said:

“With Britain facing an investment bill of £20bn over the next 10 years, consumers have the right to expect that the energy retail market is providing them with value for money. Our analysis published today shows an increase in company margins from £65 to £90 at a time of rising energy prices, which causes Ofgem to rightly ask if companies are playing it straight with consumers.”

Three of the big six suppliers have recently announced price rises and the fast-track review by Ofgem will consider whether consumers should be better protected. Scottish Power has increased gas prices by 2% and electricity prices by nearly 9%, meaning some customers may pay an extra £138 per year. British Gas is also planning on raising prices from December 10th, with gas and electricity bills expected to increase by 7%. Scottish and Southern Energy said it will increase domestic gas tariffs by 9.4%. EDF has promised a price freeze – at least until after the winter and nPower and E.ON are yet to announce their plans, but we can expect some form of a price rise.

While the review won’t make any difference to customer bills in the short term, Ofgem does have the power to make some changes to the way the companies are run. It is also expected that Ofgem will ask for more legislative support from the government and the Competition Commission. Although there are several suppliers in the energy market, each has market power and their dominance is preventing new firms from entering. As Adam Scorer, Director of Reputation and Impact at Consumer Focus, said:

“They do not feel the hot breath of competition on their necks.”


Energy firms facing gas and electricity price review BBC News (26/11/10)
Energy firms face new Ofgem enquiry over price rises and increased profits Telegraph, Andrew Hough (26/11/10)
Ofgem promises review as energy firms boost profit margins 38% Guardian, Jill Treanor (26/11/10)
Fuel bills: turning up the heat Guardian (27/11/10)
Energy firms face profit rise probe The Press Association (26/11/10)
Scepticism greets energy price probe Financial Times, David Blair (26/11/10)
UK utilities face review after recent price hikes Reuters (26/11/10)
UK to review retail energy market after price rises Bloomberg, Business Week, Kari Lundgren (26/11/10)
Has the toothless energy regulator learnt how to bite? Independent on Sunday, Julian Knight (28/11/10)
How to beat the energy price rise Telegraph (20/11/10)
Ofgem must mean business this time Herald (27/11/10)

Ofgem Press Release
Ofgem to review the effectiveness of the retail energy market to see if further action is needed to protect consumers Ofgem (26/11/10)


  1. What type of market structure is the UK energy market?
  2. The BBC News article talks about barriers preventing new competitors from entering the market. What types of barriers exist in this sector?
  3. What is a profit margin?
  4. What is likely to be the impact on family income following such price rises? Illustrate this on a diagram.
  5. Britain faces a £200 billion bill to invest in updating the energy network. What sort of updates are being referred to?
  6. What power do regulators such as Ofgem actually have? Why won’t they be able to change the amount that consumers pay?