Shoreditch based Bulb promise something different as an energy company and we were curious to find out what that means. So we sat down with co-founder Amit Gudka to chat about the company, the UK energy sector at large, and his hopes and fears for our energy future.
Tell us a bit about Bulb, why did you set it up?
Bulb is a renewable electricity and gas supplier. We launched a year ago with a focus on making renewable energy truly mainstream through making it affordable. We want to drive real demand for renewable energy because that’s the best way to sustain and support it, far better than being reliant on changeable government policy.
But we’re also focused on delivering the best customer experience possible. We really want to shake up how customers are served and provide an experience to rival others in different industries, not just the energy sector.
You hit on customer experience. It's fair to say most people don’t have the best opinion of our energy sector. What’s the main problem with it at the moment?
I think there are a range of problems centred around inertia in the industry which are leading to customers receiving incredibly bad service. The Big Six are essentially just the old regional electricity companies merged. So we have these big, patched together energy companies running off old technology who are unwilling and have no incentive to change the status quo or how they serve customers.
It can’t all be bad, what positives have you seen?
Definitely technology - it's opened the gates for us. Technology is allowing us to deliver affordable renewables to our customers. You might think large companies would have economies of scale over us but we started out with some really smart tech that has made us really efficient. Through this we can really compete, we can drive down operating costs and most importantly pass those savings onto our members.
You must be excited about smart-meters, what impact do you think they’ll have?
We think they’ll be a game changer. They’ll really unlock the power of the home as an energy hub. Imagine a house with solar panels and home battery storage. That household could either store that energy for later or export it back. Smart meters unlock this and it’s huge because it breaks the old, one-way customer relationship of big companies we have now.
It can also be a big driver of behavioural change. Rather than current inaccessible energy bills, smart meters will give consumers detailed information on their usage patterns. This can drive some powerful conscious and subconscious changes.
You’re using the hydro and green gas for your energy sources - what’s cool about these two?
We started with one hydro facility in North Wales. We felt this small, independant generator fitted really well with us as a company and since then we’ve teamed up with two more. But really we’re supportive of all renewable technologies - wind, solar and tidal - and we’re looking to build up our range.
We’re into green gas too. The government wants to electrify the UK’s heat and install more heat pumps. But installing heat pumps is a huge operation and rolling them out nationally would take ages. It’s taking long enough to put 27 million smart meters into homes. Green gas allows us to be pragmatic - we might not get rid of gas any time soon but we can green up the supply and that’s far better than exploiting shale gas.
So where exactly do you get your green gas?
Pig slurry! We get it from a farm and have it anaerobically digested to produce gas. They used to use it as manure and they still can when we’re done with it. But now, apparently, it smells less since we remove some of the smelly gas - an added bonus for locals.
What are your hopes for the UK energy sector?
Going back to smart meters, they gives us amazing opportunities and I hope they achieve their potential. That detailed data could help us incentivise consumers to reduce their usage at peak time and thus demand. The scale of that impact is so huge it could save us building Hinkley Point.
But the technology has to be standardised, we can’t have the big companies monopolising it. We need clever regulation that enables innovative companies to flourish - then we’ll see real benefits.
And what are your fears?
For me the current political uncertainty is a definite fear. The coalition government were more supportive of renewables and new energy companies. But the current political environment has become quite uncertain, particularly post-referendum. The signals we’re getting from the government aren’t great, not least with the Department for Energy and Climate Change being merged into the new Business department.
Hinkley epitomises a lot of these issues. There are much smarter alternatives and better places to get investment in our energy needs. Likewise shale gas, it just doesn’t make economic sense.
Aside from switching to a better energy company, what can the average person do to help improve our energy sector?
There are some other easy wins on this one. For example we’re running a free trial with energy monitors. They’re cheap, easy to install devices that give you data on your energy usage. People can then make smarter, more informed choices about their energy usage. The combined effect of people doing that would be amazing!
To find out more about Bulb why not check out their website at www.bulb.co.uk