Group-buying of heating oil is a tradition in rural France, and the principle has now been extended to electricity and gas.
Etienne Jallet, managing director of Wikipower, which specialises in the concept, said: “Most people are unaware of how simple it is to change your electricity supplier, so by doing the administrative work, we make it easy.”
Wikipower, the Lyon-based French unit of a Belgian company, works mainly via communes. “We act as intermediaries to explain the concept to residents and then sign them up and negotiate a contract.
“In addition, for electricity, we stipulate that it must be green, which means it is good for the environment too.”
“Green” electricity either comes directly from suppliers using renewable sources, such as wind or solar plants, or those buying certificates from renewable source suppliers. The latter guarantees an amount of electricity from renewable origins equivalent to clients’ consumption is fed into the European grid. Savings can be significant: most households see an average fall of 18% in the electricity part of their utilities bill.
“For people in Chambéry, one of the first towns to sign up with us, it represented €220 a year, on average,” Mr Jallet said.
Wikipower makes its money by charging electricity suppliers a fixed sum to be allowed to bid for the group-buy offers. For households, the only thing that changes is the logo on the bills.
“If they pay monthly, most continue to do so and we can give them help if necessary to make sure it goes smoothly,” said Mr Jallet.
“Our reputation depends on there being no problems, so we take our after-sales service very seriously.”
Jimmy Bâabâa, the deputy mayor of Chambéry in charge of ecological transition, said contracts with Wikipower had been very straightforward.
“As a municipality, we already have a group-buy of electricity with other communes, and the idea of enabling our citizens to do so too was attractive, especially as the electricity comes from renewable sources, or where the suppliers buy in certificates of green electricity from renewable suppliers. It all went very smoothly and no complaints came back.”
Around 3,000 households have signed up and Mr Bâabâa said savings were “around €200” per year each.
As well as group-buying offers for communes, Wikipower has also started offering a national group-buying scheme – details at wikipower.fr.
“There was so much interest from people outside communes who were working with us, we thought we would give it a go,” he said. “So far, the interest in our first offer shows we were right to do so.”
Another new entry in the French electricity market is British start-up Bulb. It uses data from Linky electricity meters to continually adjust the price of electricity from renewable sources. It claims its bills are on average €177 a year cheaper than most other suppliers.