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7 things I learned in 1 month at an energy retailer

Try and think about what an energy retailer looks like on the inside. You’re picturing the fiery depths of hell aren’t you? I knew it.

I did too. I’m one of those soft plastic-recycling pushbike-riding types. I know I need energy but it’s only begrudgingly that I give up my hard-earned for it.

But here I am. Now that I’ve sold my soul I’ll tell you what I’ve learned. And after what you’ve just read, the first one is going to shock you.

  1. The people here are people.
  2. Yes it’s an energy retailer, but it is also full of real humans. Who laugh and smile and do other normal stuff. One of our lawyers has pink hair.

    Was I expecting cigar-smoking fat cats rolling around on piles of money and coal? Yes. Yes I was.

  3. Discounts can be confusing.
  4. You see a lot of energy offers with big discounts kicking around. But companies can set their rates at whatever they want before applying that discount. It’s like putting a 99% discount on a t-shirt you’ve priced at $500,000 – the 99% discount sounds amazing, until you realise you’re paying $5,000 for a t-shirt.

    Now I get that you have to look past the sexy discount and work out the cost in dollar figures. It’s the only way to truly compare retailers which isn’t something people necessarily have time to do.

    This happens a lot in the energy industry. And depending on the plan they’re on, customers might only get the discount for a certain period, or only if they pay on time. So if they miss a beat, they could find themselves losing that discount and paying a whole lot more for their energy.

  5. Green is a complicated word.
  6. Hydro Tasmania is our parent company who just happen to be the biggest generator of renewable electricity in the country. Cool, so we can say we’re ‘green’ right?

    Not quite.

    There’s a government program called ‘GreenPower’ that lets your electricity provider purchase renewable electricity on your behalf. One of the criteria for the program is that your GreenPower prices go towards investing in new renewable electricity generators.

    But most of Hydro’s generators aren’t new. In fact some have been around more than a century (before all this enviro stuff was even cool). So if we say ‘green power,’ we have to make it really clear we’re not talking about GreenPower.

    (The PinkLawyer will come after me if I do.)

  7. Solar gives you money back.
  8. I don’t have solar panels. I knew almost nothing about them until a week ago (I’ve become an expert in a number of unexpected areas). What I now know is that if you don’t use all the solar power you generate, it goes back into the grid. And for every kWh (that’s ‘kilowatt hour’ – the standard measure of electricity) you contribute, you get solar credits.

    Some people, I’m told, produce so much solar energy that their bills are perpetually in credit. What a time to be alive!

  9. Energy companies don’t all do the same thing.
  10. The people you buy your electricity from aren’t all built the same. Some are just retailers – they buy it and sell it on to you. That’s what Momentum does. Some are also generators, which means they own power stations as well.

    In the middle is the distributor. Everyone in this industry calls them the ‘poles and wires’ which I think is cute. You can’t choose your distributor – who you get depends entirely on where you live.

    The money you spend on electricity covers costs set by the generator, distributor and retailer. Sometimes there’ll be an environmental charge from the government too. The retailer has to decide whether or not they absorb the cost of price increases from the other players – sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. At the end of the day, it’s a complicated business decision and it goes a long way to explain why the pricing team needs priority access to the coffee machine.

  11. Call centre staff are incredible.
  12. I sat next to someone in the customer care team two weeks ago and I watched him quite literally talk for an hour and a half. Even when the customer was on hold, he was talking to me, telling me what he was doing to fix their problem.

    I’ve never needed to call an energy retailer before but I got the sense that it would be a more positive experience than I’d previously imagined. Especially if they’re anything like these guys. Forgive this shameless plug for our wonderful call centre (they are really good though).

  13. No one here has forgotten that energy isn’t exactly a fun party conversation.
  14. Electricity is moving electrons. Gas is hydrocarbon molecules or something. Whatever – talking about them is not like hearing your friend’s story about the weird thing their cat did*.

    I thought that everyone here would have been tricked into thinking our industry was super interesting to outsiders.

    But no, even the people who work here know that energy can be a little dry (on which note, congratulations on making it to the end of this article). So most of them are working on new ways make it something you barely notice - they wouldn’t want to spend time thinking about their energy company**, so why would you? That’s why retailers all need to offer something else. Something that makes their customers feel good about who they’re buying from. There’s always more to do, but I think we do a good job of that here.

    * Now that you’ve read this, here is an article about weird things that cats do.
    ** Unless their energy company is Momentum.

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