The Big Six refers to six energy companies in the United Kingdom who control the majority of the energy market by share. Combined, the Big Six serve over 50 million domestic and business customers with gas and electricity, along with other alternative fuels.
The big six are also invested in many other smaller energy companies, and so their stranglehold may be greater than many people think.
An even more startling statistic is that the Big Six have over a 90% share of domestic customers. But who are the big six? How do the big six operate? What are the alternatives to the big six?
The Big Six energy suppliers
The Big Six energy suppliers are made up of the following:
- British Gas
Founded in 1997, British Gas is one of the best-known energy suppliers in the UK. They serve 1 million homes and employ over 28,000 staff based across the UK.
- EDF Energy
Founded in 2002, EDF Energy employs 13,158 people and handles 5.7 million customer accounts, most of which are residential or domestic.
- EON UK
Founded in 1989 as Powergen, EON, or e.on, serves millions of homes and businesses across the UK with gas, electricity and other energy sources.
Founded in 2000, npower, or Npower, is German-owned with coal and gas accounting for 81% of their output as of 2005. They have a slick marketing strategy.
- Scottish Power
Founded in 1990, Scottish Power is a subsidiary of the Spanish utility Iberdrola and is heavily invested in energy wholesale. It serves millions of people in the UK.
Founded in 1998, SSE operates in Ireland (Airtricity) and the United Kingdom. It is one of the biggest and most successful companies of its type.
The Big Six – Criticisms
In recent years, the Big Six have come under fire. Because these suppliers control the energy market, they set the prices seen by most consumers. Throughout their history, the Big Six have been quick to increase prices but slow to lower them, in the event of wholesale prices falling. The Big Six always say that they buy their energy in advance in response to this allegation, but the evidence shows that despite this, profits always come first – not the customer, which has led to a backlash and many consumers switching to smaller providers.
Smaller energy suppliers competing against the Big Six
There are no real-world competitors to the Big Six energy suppliers, although there are a number of smaller suppliers. These include Ebico, Good Energy, LoCO2, Ovo Energy and Utilita. These smaller energy suppliers combined serve around 15 million domestic and business customers across the United Kingdom – nowhere near as many as the Big Six. First Utility is the best example of a company that has managed to compete with the big six in terms of share. First Utility is the largest independent energy supplier in the United Kingdom.