News

Electricity retailers find a receptive audience

The Business Times by ANDREA SOH

Singapore

NEARLY a month after the Open Electricity Market (OEM) pilot started in Jurong, electricity retailers, who have been trying to outdo one another in prices and other benefits, say the response from residents have been positive and encouraging.

The development of the Jurong pilot bears watching as both government and retailers will be using the learning points of their experience for the nation-wide rollout later this year.

"I think that the retailers have been positively surprised by (Jurong consumers') willingness to switch to a retailer," said Red Dot Power chief operating officer Edward Hardman.

Retailers approached by The Business Times, however, declined to provide sign-up numbers for competitive reasons. The Energy Market Authority (EMA) also declined to disclose the total number of Jurong residents who have switched so far since the pilot started on April 1.

"Based on the feedback from the participating retailers, the response has been encouraging," said a spokesman. "EMA will continue to monitor and gather feedback from the Jurong consumers to enhance the OEM before extending it to the rest of Singapore from the second half of 2018."

Nevertheless, retailers describe the response at an EMA-organised roadshow at Westgate Mall held over April 20-21 as "amazing".

Thirteen of the approved 14 retailers participated in the weekend roadshow; Diamond Energy was the only one which did not participate in it.

Retailers said they received questions ranging from the practicalities of switching out from SP Services to the upcoming carbon tax.

Switching out of SP Services would not have any impact on the electricity supply, but some retailers such as Tuas Power have chosen to retain SP billing so as to minimise changes for customers.

The carbon tax, which would come into effect next year, is expected to affect consumers as generation companies have said they will pass on the costs; the government has said that it will result in a one percentage point increase in total electricity and gas expenses on average.

Those on green power plans would, however, be unaffected.

The transmission loss factor was another topic retailers said they had to explain to consumers.

The number, which takes into account electricity lost during transmission in the network and transformer, is applied to the consumers' metered consumption before the resulting number is multiplied by the tariff rate for the final bill, explained Tuas Power Supply deputy general manager Lina Chan.

PacificLight general manager of retail Geraldine Tan said the firm helped consumers to understand how the transmission loss factor is applied to usage data the retailers receive from SP Services for market settlement and billing.

"We were able to help consumers make comparisons between plans with and without transmission losses factored into their usage, clearing any doubts they may have," she added.

In an indication of the popularity of green power plans, solar energy firm Sunseap said it received recurring feedback to consider having a plan with a higher clean energy component. It currently offers a 100 per cent-clean energy plan - which 10 per cent of its subscribers are on - and another plan with 5 per cent clean energy, which the rest of its customers have subscribed to.

"Based on the feedback, we will definitely be looking at our plans and possibly tweaking our plans to include more variety in our green energy component," said Rob Khoo, its vice president of marketing and communications.

Many retailers said they will continue to monitor the market and may make changes to their plans accordingly.

"While the market has responded well to our plans to-date, depending on how the market progresses, Geneco's price plans may be adapted or changed accordingly as we move towards full liberalisation in the second half of this year," said YTL PowerSeraya executive vice president of retail Low Boon Tong. Geneco is a new brand launched by YTL PowerSeraya for the OEM.

Tuas Power's Ms Chan, however, is careful not to introduce changes too quickly. "For now because the market is still very new, if you bring in too many concepts to them they may be confused as well," she noted.

Amid the intense competition, Jurong residents are enjoying a buffet of options, especially with extra sign-up perks at the roadshow.

Retailers such as Sembcorp offered credit card rebates and complimentary home insurance from its partners OCBC and Great Eastern Singapore, while others such as PacificLight gave out free Tefal kettles for those who signed up.

"Sign-up gifts like rebates and vouchers were popular during the roadshow event," observed iSwitch managing director David Maher.

The firm received so many enquiries about a plan that gives customers a free iPad, it decided to make it a permanent offering, he added. The roadshow increased its sign-up numbers by 20 per cent in two days, making it "a pleasant surprise and a big success".

The event attracted such strong interest that Keppel Electric ended up having to mobilise more staff to the roadshow, according to its general manager Janice Bong.

"In particular, the public was interested in our tie-ups with our partners," she said, referring to the firm's partnerships with M1 and DBS.

Still, many residents took a considered approach, returning on the second day to sign up after doing their own comparisons on the first day of the roadshow, noted PacificLight's Ms Tan.

YTL PowerSeraya, referring to its Geneco brand, said it has received "lots of positive feedback" on the firm absorbing the installation fee for a smart meter which allows consumers to track their electricity consumption remotely.

Hyflux Energy, whose booth was located the furthest away from the main event area, said the response was better than expected as it had initially thought its booth location was not favourable.

"We are pleased with the general feedback that most of our retail plans are simple and easy to understand," said a spokesman. "Most residents are familiar with the Hyflux brand name as the company is not new in the consumer market."