Deregulation seeks to drive down costs and spur innovation by breaking up energy monopolies. In their place, two separate entities take care of 1) generation and 2) distribution. Electric Generation Suppliers (EGS) create electricity and set their own prices for consumers. Electric Distribution Companies (EDC), a.k.a., your local utility company, bring that electricity to your home.
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While there is a very strong argument for providing cheap, subsidized power for the poorest in society, this should be done in a way that limits subsidies to the really deserving and the system as a whole needs to be able to charge tariffs that on average cover all costs. If this doesn’t happen then all manner of bad things will follow. As you might guess prices have been set too low by African governments. These subsidies have also been made too widely available, benefitting the elite and middle classes more than the poor (who, not having good access to the grid in the first place, don’t have ready access to these subsidies).
Technology also provides a long-term answer, even if it contributes to the problem in the short-term, as described earlier. As renewable power and storage technologies become cheaper and more efficient they will gradually allow for the implementation of cheaper mini-grids and smart grids, increasingly within the reach of the really poor, even in urban areas. Perhaps, grids will one day become marketplaces allowing people to sell excess power from their solar installations to those who have a need for power at that time. Prices can be set dynamically to allow supply to match demand.
Canadian electricity is cheap at 10 US cents per kilowatt hour, which is reflected in their high average electricity usage. US electricity prices at 0.12 $/kWh are also quite cheap internationally. In India and China they are very cheap. The UK is in the middle at 20 cents. It’s relatively expensive globally but not too bad for Europe, where most countries pay a high share of tax on their power.
As you shop, you’ll see the rates advertised in terms of kilowatts per hour (kWh) — the energy used to power 1,000 watts for one hour. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average price per kWh for electricity in Pennsylvania is 14.52 cents, while the Public Utility Commission's “price to compare” currently hovers around 8.0 cents. Clearly, there’s a lot of price variety out there. And, given the hundreds of providers doing business in Pennsylvania, exploring electricity options can be pretty toilsome.
According to a 2016 J.D. Power national report, switching from the utility company to an REP is not as attractive as it once was. Deregulated markets aim to drive down costs and encourage innovation but has really only succeeded in the second — the price gap between utility rates and retail rates has actually been closing. But deregulation has been successful in championing green energy and improving customer service. This improvement shows up in some impressively high J.D. Power ratings.
Many people are aware that Iceland has the cleanest energy in the world by far. The island-nation generates 100% of its electricity from renewables such as hydroelectric and geothermal sources, and it’s also flirting with wind power. What those same people might not realize, however, is that this results in some of the cheapest electricity in the world.
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