Half of Shell’s energy mix to be clean next decade, CEO says

Royal Dutch Shell Plc’s head expects clean energy to make up half of the company’s energy mix “somewhere in the next decade.”

“If we do not make that type of process by the middle of next decade, we have a problem not just as a company but as a society,” Chief Executive Officer Ben van Beurden said in an interview with AXIOS on HBO.

Like its European peers, the Anglo-Dutch major has set itself an “ambition” to become a net-zero emissions energy company by the middle of this century. The feat involves producing less oil, more gas and renewables, as well as using technologies still in their infancy like hydrogen and carbon sequestration. Not everyone is convinced, with the energy giant set to clash with some shareholders on the matter at its annual general meeting later this month.

“If you want to get rid of hydrocarbons in the mix, you have to do something about the use of it, not the production of it,” van Beurden said. Speaking on the challenges of the transition, the 63-year-old Dutchman also said that people want to see results straightaway, but “don’t expect that tomorrow we will stop selling diesel to trucks.”

While van Beurden welcomed the U.S. rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, which seeks to limit global warming temperature increases to less than 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels, he questioned other policies. “What I also see is that the government is flirting with popular ideas that are clear, simple, and wrong, which is, ‘Let’s ban the production of oil and gas in our country.’”


Supplier Symbio Energy fined £100,000 for repeated late payments under the feed-in tariff and Renewables obligation schemes

On 05 May 2021 the Gas and Electricity Markets Authority (“the Authority”) decided to confirm its proposal to impose a financial penalty of £100,000 on Symbio Energy Limited (“Symbio”) for its failure to comply with Standard Licence Condition 33 of the Electricity Supply Licence, the Feed-In Tariff  Order 2012, Articles 68 and 74 of the Renewable Obligation Order 2015 and Article 49 of the Renewable Obligation (Scotland) Order 2009.

The Enforcement Decision Panel made the above decision having carefully heard and considered representations from Symbio and third parties which were submitted in response to the notice of proposal to impose a penalty dated 27 January 2021.

The Authority gives notice of its decision under section 27A(5) of the Electricity Act 1989.


Energy Assets acquires UK smart meter portfolio from Macquarie

Energy Assets Group has added more than 600,000 industrial and commercial meters to its growing portfolio of assets with the acquisition of a UK smart meter portfolio from Macquarie Specialised and Asset Finance.

Energy Assets has invested an undisclosed sum to buy Cortex Metering Solutions (CMS) from Macquarie.

Colin Lynch, Energy Assets CEO, said: “This acquisition complements our gas metering portfolio and aligns with our strategy to be a leader in technologies and services that support the journey to Net-Zero.

“We very much look forward to extending our reach in industrial and commercial metering assets on behalf of new and existing customers, working in partnership with more than 80 energy suppliers who have relationships with CMS.”

Julian Liddy, senior managing director and head of Macquarie Specialised and Asset Finance in EMEA said: “Having played an active and founding role in the UK’s metering industry for the last 18 years, we are proud of the contribution we have made in building out the I&C portfolio to this point and helping our clients to deploy smart meters across the country.”

Neil Denley, a managing director for Macquarie Specialised and Asset Finance in EMEA, added: “The sale of part of our industrial and commercial portfolio will allow us to focus on our residential metering business – where we have an important role to play in helping meet our customers’ ambitious smart meter rollout targets.”

Macquarie, which entered industrial and commercial metering in 2006, said it will continue to focus its efforts on the residential metering sector going forward.


British Gas owner Centrica warns financial outlook is uncertain

The owner of British Gas has warned investors it has faced a difficult start to the year, weeks after sacking hundreds of its engineers through a controversial fire and rehire scheme to help turn the business around.

Centrica told its shareholders its financial outlook for the year was uncertain after the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic continued to drag on the business, which has struggled in recent years due to rising competition in the energy market.

In the first quarter of this year, demand for electricity was 15% lower than the year before among the company’s business customers, the company said in a trading update ahead of its annual shareholder meeting. Home boiler repairs and installations were 11% lower than the same time last year because non-essential home service visits were postponed to help prevent the spread of Covid-19.

The slump in home energy services was also due to a long-running series of strikes by thousands of its engineers in response to the company’s plan to toughen its employment contracts in an effort to boost productivity and become more competitive.

Under the fire and rehire plans, most of Centrica’s 20,000 staff were told to accept the new conditions, which would increase working hours for its engineers, or lose their jobs.

The company confirmed that 460 engineers were dismissed last month, as a result of what the GMB trade union has called “a dirty, bullying tactic”. A survey by the union found that more than three-quarters of the public believe that fire and rehire schemes should be made illegal.

Chris O’Shea, who became Centrica chief executive last year, said his plans to modernise the company remained on track and “the difficult, but necessary process to move colleagues on to new terms and conditions is now complete”.

“We are pleased that 98% of UK colleagues have accepted the new contracts which will enable us to better serve the needs of our customers. Although the external environment remains uncertain, our tight focus on cash and on fixing the basics across the group leaves us well placed as we continue the turnaround of our company,” O’Shea said.

O’Shea hopes to save £100m in operational costs this year as part of a plan to stem the steady decline of the FTSE 250 energy company in recent years. British Gas has lost about 3 million household energy customers in the last decade following an influx of successful new energy startups. Centrica crashed out of the FTSE 100 after losing more than 70% of its market value in the last five years.


50,000 jobs by 2050: UK Government outlines plans to scale up carbon capture sector

Published late on Friday (7 May), the policy paper states that the UK will aim to capture and store 10 million tonnes of CO2 per year by 2030. Should this target be met, and progress continue accelerating between 2030 and 2050, the paper states, some 50,000 jobs could be supported.

The emerging CCUS sector is described in the report as a “great incubator of green jobs” as Ministers seek to get the UK on track to host two million such roles by the end of the decade. It is also described as a sector that can help deliver a “fair and equitable transition” for oil and gas workers who will likely need new roles in the coming years, given that many in the sector will have transferrable skills.

While the report describes itself as a ‘roadmap’, there is little detail on how the Government will support the skills, infrastructure and technologies needed to deliver on 2030 and 2050 targets. It states that a full map of opportunities and challenges, as well as Government supports, will be published later this year. This document will come alongside a ‘Fit for CCUS’ scheme for businesses, designed to help high emitters like oil and gas majors and heavy industrial sites to prepare to adopt the technology.

The document does state that BEIS will work more closely with bodies including the Treasury, the Department for National Trade, the British Business Bank and the National Infrastructure Bank (NIB) to develop the map. Ministers have faced multiple accusations in recent months of failing to work across departments to avoid net-zero loopholes. The NIB is notably entering operation this week, with questions still remaining about its climate remit.

It also reassures readers within the sector that BEIS remains open to supporting CCUS projects it is not currently aware of, through mechanisms such as the dedicated Infrastructure Fund. Announced late last year as part of the Ten Point Plan, the Fund’s remit was updated last week in line with the UK’s adoption of the Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) Sixth Carbon Budget recommendations last month. The paper also expresses the possibility of CCUS being included in future post-Brexit trade deals.

Existing projects, the policy paper states, should identify and advertise potential delivery contractors “as visibly and as early as possible”.

Clusters and dispersed sites

The paper comes after a report commissioned by BEIS, and published last year, concluded that the department is lacking a “comprehensive regulatory framework” to overcome challenges to “dispersed” sites that would be suitable for CCUS but that aren’t located in industrial clusters.

Indeed, the overarching target for CCUS to date has been for the UK to fully decarbonise at least one industrial cluster by 2040. Clusters are seen as less risky locations for deployment as, with dispersed sites, new transportation infrastructure will be needed.

The UK Government has increasingly focused on CCS since setting its legally binding net-zero target. Before then, the previous £1bn competition fund for CCS was actually scrapped by the now-defunct Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC).

According to the CCC, CCUS is a “non-optional” component of the UK’s transition to net-zero. However, some green groups would like to see Ministers doing more to prioritise technologies that are already mature, alongside nature-based solutions for sequestering carbon, in the short to mid-term.


‘93% of stakeholders back UK grid charging reform’

Over 90% of stakeholders support reform of the current transmission charging regime to support the UK’s legally binding net zero emissions target, according to a survey by SSEN Transmission.


The company said the existing regime currently results in Scottish generators paying a higher cost for use of the transmission network compared to other areas in the UK.


For example, while a wind farm in the north of Scotland pays £5.50 per unit of energy, an equivalent wind farm in Wales will get paid £2.80 per unit, it said.

SSEN Transmission said that following the publication of a Transmission Network Use of System (TNUoS) charges discussion paper earlier this year, it has published a follow up summary report this week which analyses and outlines the feedback received from stakeholders on the paper’s findings.


It said 93% of all stakeholders agreed that some form of TNUoS reform is required, while 84% told SSEN that TNUoS acts as a barrier to the delivery of their renewable projects in Scotland.


SSEN Transmission head of whole system Andrew Urquhart (pictured) said: “Our generation customers and wider stakeholders have been consistently telling us that charges for transmission access in the north of Scotland, as well as uncertainty about future charges, are acting as a barrier to the commercial viability of renewable energy projects.


“This, in turn, is making it difficult for us to determine system investment needs for our transmission network.


“It is clear from our analysis and engagement to date that there is overwhelming support for TNUoS reform and that urgent action is required to address current barriers in the context of the climate emergency.


“Given the level of concern raised by our stakeholders, we hope the feedback outlined in our report will help to encourage action on the need for an urgent review of the current regime to support the UK’s ambitious net zero targets and green recovery goals.”


UPDATE: BEIS follows through on CfD removal threat

UK Energy Ministry BEIS has confirmed it will pull the plug on supports for renewable energy developments that fail to live up to commitments made in their supply chain plans at future CfD auction rounds.


The move is a sweeping reform to a long-standing process that requires every developer chasing subsidy support for a project of 300MW or above to provide BEIS with plans outlining how developers will build the projects.


The changes are being sought to incentivise more local content, especially from offshore wind where the government is chasing a sector deal target of 60% local content by 2030.

BEIS said it will introduce a new ‘operational condition precedent’ allowing the government to terminate CfDs for projects which fail to follow through with promises made in plans.


As part of the changes, the review of each developer’s delivery of its plans will now be brought forward to the milestone delivery date, which is 18 months after contract award.


Projects were previously assessed for supply chain compliance at commissioning.


At this stage developers will need to provide ‘supply chain implementation statements’ which must be certified before power payments can commence.


Vattenfall UK country manager Danielle Lane said the earlier assessment date is “a positive step” that will help manage the threat CfD removal poses to multi-billion-pound projects.


“The changes make it more likely that investment decisions can be taken to keep projects on track to deliver significant amounts of renewables capacity by the mid-2020s,” she said.


Lane however warned the threat of removing CfD backing from failing projects may lead to adverse effects.


“The prospect of losing a Contract for Difference at MDD stage is still a significant investment risk however, and as such it is vital that a clear and transparent supply chain assessment process is put in place,” she said.


“Our priority is to deliver the best-value projects for bill payers, as well as supporting the growth of the UK supply chain.”


BEIS said the changes are being implemented following consultation with developers, renewables associations and trade unions.


The ministry is currently evaluating responses from a separate consultation over the introduction of a so-called ‘supply chain plan questionnaire’ for developers and will outline more detail on this shortly.


RenewableUK deputy chief executive Melanie Onn said: “The latest supply chain proposals set challenging new demands for project developers, so it’s vital that the guidance is clear on how we can demonstrate the contribution we’re making by creating thousands of jobs, developing skills and fostering innovation across the supply chain, as well as building vital new infrastructure.

“Project developers are already working with manufacturers to help them understand our projects’ needs and timelines, which will support investment in new facilities and the development of new skills in our workforce.


“Underpinning all this, we need large volumes of new capacity in the next CfD auction for new contracts to generate clean power to keep us on track for our 2030 target, quadrupling what we’ve already installed.”


EAC calls for minimum floor price for ‘flawed’ Smart Export Guarantee

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) is calling for the introduction of a floor price above zero for the Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) to help support community energy.

This follows industry feedback gathered through a call for evidence regarding community energy issued by the EAC in February that saw 57 responses. Industry representatives told the committee that in its current form, the SEG – which came into effect in January 2020 and requires energy suppliers to offer an export tariff – is “flawed because it provides no minimum export price, and no long-term certainty beyond 12-month periods”.

As a result, the EAC is also recommending that the government extends the guarantee on the energy export price. These recommendations have been issued in a letter addressed to energy secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, detailing how while the SEG has replaced the feed-in tariff (FiT), it puts the community energy sector at a disadvantage to larger renewable energy projects which receive long-term certainty from Contracts for Difference.

Indeed, the sector’s feedback included how changes to the subsidies available over the past five years have negatively affected the financial viability of community energy projects, particularly small rooftop solar and urban projects. Prior to its implementation, the SEG – and in particular the policy gap between it and the FiT – faced criticism from across the industry, with the chief ask being the introduction of a minimum floor price for the scheme, most notably from Solar Energy UK (then the Solar Trade Association).

The letter goes on to express the disappointment of the committee that the energy white paper only mentions community energy once and local energy twice, recommending that the forthcoming net zero strategy emphasises the importance of community energy and that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy develops a complementary UK-side community energy strategy including practical support measures.

Additionally, community energy and environmental groups, charities and electricity network operators suggested to the EAC that the current regulatory regime for energy distribution acts largely as a barrier for the growth of the sector in the UK. Grid connection costs and access charges can be too high for small groups and do not account for the wider decarbonisation benefits including education and social support that projects bring to their communities, the letter said.

‘Right of local supply’ was also identified as being in need of some work, enabling local energy markets to balance supply and demand at a community level and build energy resilience by harnessing edge-of-the-grid potential in the future.

Currently, the inability of a community project to sell their energy to their own community and accommodate local demand is a significant barrier to project development, according to the evidence gathered by the EAC, which said that while the Local Electricity Bill sought to address this, it will fall at the end of the Parliamentary session.

The government should therefore remove the regulatory barriers to allow community energy projects to sell their energy to their local communities, and Ofgem should also provide guidance to distribution network operators (DNOs) on how to incorporate community energy into the energy network.

EAC chairman, Philip Dunne, said that the committee’s continuing inquiry into technological innovations and climate change has shown there is no shortage of innovative ideas but “what is lacking is government support, a coherent plan and recognition of current barriers” with community energy no exception to that.

“For net zero Britain requires us to change our behaviour and adapt to a low-carbon lifestyle. Community energy can help achieve this – not only powering homes and businesses up and down the country but by engaging local citizens on the benefits of renewable energy and – in many ways – how we can do our bit to help keep the lights on ourselves.”


Symbio Energy rapped over ‘threatening’ responses to negative reviews

Symbio Energy has been hit with a formal warning from review website Trustpilot, after MoneySavingExpert.com brought to its attention the way the supplier responds to negative reviews, which left some customers feeling threatened.

Over the past few months, angry customers of Symbio Energy have complained on the MSE Forum, social media and online review sites, as well as contacting us, about customer service issues at the small electricity-only supplier.

Many of the complaints about the supplier were posted on the review website Trustpilot. Symbio Energy had been replying to poor reviews on the platform including a link – with no context or comment – to an unrelated BBC News article about a man forced to pay thousands of pounds in libel damages to a legal firm over a negative Trustpilot review.

Customers of the firm have told us they perceive this to be “aggressive” and “threatening”. Trustpilot has now launched an investigation – sending Symbio what it calls a formal ‘cease and desist notice’ after being alerted to the issue by MoneySavingExpert.com.

Symbio Energy told us it added the links to its Trustpilot responses to “remind parties that if they wish to leave a comment it must be true”.

Most of the complaints we’ve seen are around the estimates it uses to calculate bills, with many people saying it has ignored the meter readings they’ve provided and used inflated estimates instead. Many are also reporting they’re struggling to get a response to their queries from the company, which Symbio blames on “operational issues” within its back office in India, caused by the pandemic.

What does Trustpilot say?

A Trustpilot spokesperson said: “We expect everyone to be a respectful contributor to our platform. Amongst other things, our guidelines for consumers and businesses require everyone to ‘play nice’. Where consumers or businesses act in a way that is threatening, or is perceived to be so, we treat this as a breach of our guidelines and take steps to put a stop to it.

“In this instance, we have taken swift action, sending a formal cease and desist letter to the business demanding that all responses contravening our guidelines be quickly amended. As we investigate the business’s profile further, we have also placed a consumer alert to warn everyone of our latest actions. Should a positive response from the business not be forthcoming in the next week, we will take further action.”

Trustpilot’s alert on its Symbio review page says: “We strongly oppose any attempts to silence consumers’ freedom of speech. As a public, open review platform, we believe strongly in consumers having the ability to leave feedback – good or bad – about a business at any time, without interference.”

‘It’s outrageous that it replied to people in this way’

Gary Caffell, utilities editor at MoneySavingExpert.com, said: “It’s outrageous that Symbio replied to people in this way, leaving many feeling threatened.

“It’s important that consumers feel free to leave honest reviews based on genuine experiences. A good company will listen to the feedback and use it to improve its services.”

What are Symbio Energy customers saying?

On top of concerns at how it addresses negative feedback on Trustpilot, we’ve seen numerous emails and social media posts complaining that Symbio has continually ignored actual meter readings customers have provided, and instead used inflated estimates.

This in turn has led to requests for high direct debit payments, and has caused problems when customers have tried to switch away or settle final bills with previous suppliers.

Some of the feedback we’ve seen includes:

  • Tim emailed: “I researched the company on Trustpilot and was quite shocked to read their responses to reviews. Most of the reviews are negative, however their responses are quite aggressive, and seem to threaten customers by linking to a BBC News article about someone who was sued for leaving a negative review. They also link to an Apple News article and seem to infer that the negative responses are fake.”
  • Luke emailed: “I switched to Symbio around two months ago, and have had nothing but problems. To start they allegedly provided my previous supplier, Green, with a final meter reading 2,405 units above the reading (supported by a photograph) I provided Symbio as an opening reading.”Green have now billed me over £300 for energy not used… and advised me they cannot alter this until Symbio raise a meter read dispute. I have over the last three weeks emailed a number of times to attempt to instigate this, and also called with no answer (had to leave an answerphone message). I have not had a single reply to any emails or a call back.”

I’m having issues with Symbio Energy – what can I do?

While Symbio Energy is one of the cheapest electricity-only suppliers on typical use, if you’re unhappy you can always switch supplier. You may end up paying a bit more, but it could be worth it if customer service is important to you – see our Cheap Energy Club to do a full market comparison. Just remember to factor any exit fees into your comparison if you’re on a fixed deal. If you do switch, any credit Symbio Energy owes you would still be paid, and if you owe the firm you’ll still need to pay any outstanding balance.

Under Ofgem’s licensing conditions – specifically condition 21B of the electricity supply licence, which all suppliers must follow – if you provide a meter reading, Symbio “must take all reasonable steps to reflect the meter reading in the next bill or statement of account sent to the customer”.

If you don’t feel that is being adhered to, or if you’re generally unhappy with the service you’re getting from Symbio, here’s how to complain:

  • First, contact the supplier. In the first instance, it’s always best to try getting in contact to see if it can sort the issue before you go down the official complaints route. You can contact Symbio on 0333 050 9372 or email it.
  • Then raise an official complaint. If you can’t get an answer or don’t feel that your issue has been dealt with properly by the firm, you can lodge a formal complaint directly with the supplier, or use the free Resolver tool, which can help manage your complaint.
  • Finally, complain to the ombudsman. If you’re unhappy with the resolution, or you don’t hear anything for eight weeks, you can refer your complaint to the Energy Ombudsman, an independent body that handles disputes between consumers and energy firms.

What does Symbio Energy say?

A Symbio Energy spokesperson initially told us it is company policy not to respond to Trustpilot reviews. But after we challenged this, it backtracked and said the links it included in its responses “are to remind parties that if they wish to leave a comment it must be true and stand a judicial test for veracity”.

It claimed it was the victim of “corporate cyberbullying” and that many of the reviews weren’t from genuine customers, which it has reported to Trustpilot.

A Symbio spokesperson said: “The amount of calls we receive where customers seek to leverage bills, discounts and evade liabilities by threatening poor reviews or complaints [sic]. There is a published complaints route for [complaints, such as] the ombudsmans, litigation and [energy regulator] Ofgem. Cyber trolling is not in our opinion a socially acceptable route.”

On its service issues, a spokesperson said: “We have a back office in Goa, India, and due to the pandemic issues in India there have been operational issues resulting from curfews and lockdowns.

“We are undergoing a massive recruitment programme to increase our staff ratios as well. However, I suspect in the absence of a forum to vent displeasure, customers who have outstanding debt and ongoing litigation will seek to complain, as is their right.”

On the estimated billing issues, one of the most common complaints over recent months, Symbio says it follows “an advance billing system wherein we bill you one month in advance based on your estimated annual consumption. Upon receiving your meter reading at the end of each month, we reconcile the bill according to the meter reading submitted.”

What does Ofgem say?

An Ofgem spokesperson said: “We routinely engage with suppliers to secure compliance with their regulatory obligations, but we do not normally comment on the specifics of any such engagement.”


Source: https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/news/2021/05/Symbio-rapped-over-response-to-negative-reviews/