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The standard definition of a utility is something which is usable and beneficial; designed to support and be used by one or many individuals or consumers. In the home utilities market, these are the things which we use every day – so much so that we rarely even think about them.
That is, until they go wrong.
In the household market, the utilities industry refers to those parts of the home that we have to continue to pay for in order to benefit from and enjoy a consistent service. Some of these utilities come with various providers and it is up to the consumer to select the best provider according to their need, the anticipated costs and fees associated with each provider, and the level of service promised both in terms of normal usage and in the face of an issue. Meanwhile, other utilities are assigned and provided based on location and local need – including the quantity of residential properties and businesses that there are in a certain area, and the number of residents that are utilising various services at different points during the day.
Why are these utilities so important? Primarily because, without them, society and the economy would quite literally come to a standstill. The provision of high quality utilities can mean the difference between poverty and a viable standard of life, with clean water being one of the primary supplies which charities petition for on a global scale to support and provide equality to communities all over the world. Not only that, but utilities are also responsible for driving forward technology and electronic development and are what keeps the world moving through transport and communications.
Outside of the provision of the utility itself, there exists an entire sector of the industry dedicated to servicing and the upkeep of reliable and safe utilities – such as boilers and water tanks. Most households undergo regular service checks on a seasonal or annual basis, depending on their provider and what is included as part of the original sign up agreement; for example, a new boiler may come with a free service 12 months later to ascertain whether it is still performing to the optimum level.
Top providers and retailers in the utilities industry
For those consumers who are seeking consistent and reliable utilities, for example a good supply of hot water across the course of the day and a safe level of gas provision which is enough to keep the home warm without overloading the pipes and causing issues, the standard list of top providers in the country tend to offer introductory deals and discounts to homeowners who switch to becoming customers with them – with consumers then being responsible for regularly checking their own bills in order to make sure that the costs are not creeping up as more time passes.
However, that’s not to say that every provider offers the exact same level of service quality to consumers in different areas. Just as mobile service dips and increases in various areas based on the proximity of a community to the nearest utility base or signal tower, so too does electric supply and gas supply dip and find issue in places where the pipes are not as well maintained, where damage has occurred to pipes and supply lines, and where demand has increased vastly and very quickly with the provision of new builds and large scale modern developments. Thus, it is up to the consumer to do their research and understand the positives and drawbacks of each of the utility providers particularly with regards to gas and electricity. Some of the top names in these two sectors of the utilities industry include:
- British Gas
- Octopus Energy
- Pure Planet
- So Energy
- EDF Energy
While the majority of these are determined by consumer ratings and popular comparison site rankings, it is worth noting that the top providers could be selected using a variety of different methodologies – including the level of customer service that is offered, the speed at which issues are sorted, the communications received from the provider, the quality of the service and its reliability, and the value for money. Gas and electricity is also often provided as part of a package deal, with many households benefitting from a combination package which throws together the gas and electricity under a cost effective deal.
And then we have the utilities that you do not get to choose – those based on location, for example water providers and the sewerage and waste disposal services. Water is a pinnacle utility for homes as it is this provider which is responsible for the supply of clean drinking water, as well as a constant supply to shower and bath taps and other household goods which use water, for example the washing machine and dishwasher. Households are sent an annual or seasonal water bill which they can pay in one go or in instalments, with little room for alteration once that bill is provided. However it is worth noting that a poor water supply will often be noted by providers, particularly in line with new developments and building sites which can affect and have a big impact on the quality of supply to a town or village, and thus which can lead to refunds and back payments for those whose supply was affected. When a water bill is received, it will likely be split into two different payments – one relating to water usage by a household, and one relating to the treatment and disposal of sewerage and wastewater. This will either be monitored with a meter which can present different costs depending on usage, or on a set tariff which is agreed at the time of the contract being drawn up.
These water providers are determined by location, and so for the most part consumers will find that their water is supplied by the local district provider. For those who are interested in the difference between hard and soft water, again this is something which depends on locality – hard water is treater with a higher concentration of minerals and will likely be found in more urban areas, while soft water tends to be found in more rural locations. Examples include:
- Essex and Suffolk Water
- Southern Water
- Thames Water
These three examples show how the water provider for an area is based on locality and the amount of residents and companies that are being served by any one provider company.
Trends in the utilities industry
One of the trends which cannot be ignored, particularly with regards to the gas and electricity sectors, is the rise in research and understand of sustainable sources and the impact that human practice and utility provision is having on the natural world and our climate. The best approach to creating more efficient usage is through deals which encourage and allow consumers to switch to eco-friendly providers without it impacting the quality of service they are receiving or the savings that they are making. The Green Deal is a government initiative which is committed to helping homes make energy saving improvements – for example installing solar panels to generate power in a more sustainable way, and using wind and water energy as a form of power rather than consistently drawing on fossil fuels which are damaging the planet.
Another trend which is changing the way that consumers interact with the industry comes in the development of online servicing and specific apps, which allow the consumer to channel their meter readings and payments into apps which calculate and monitor usage and inform the consumer of when their next service is due, or when their usage is higher than normal. The rise in technology is a trend which is having huge impacts on most retail and service industries, and the utilities sector is no different – with technology not only changing the way that utilities are managed but also the way that various job roles are performed and the way that consumers are able to keep track of and monitor their own bills and payments. The rise in consumer demand for a deeper understanding about what exactly they are paying for is linked with the increase in available information and education regarding how energy, water and other utilities work.
Similarly, the rise in technology is also starting to affect and impact the way that companies and providers are able to meet the constant demands of their customers, primarily through the development of Artificial Intelligence which is being used by multiple companies as a way of creating a 24/7 stream of communication whereby consumers can raise complaints or issues at any time and still receive some form of support or acknowledgement from their provider. As well as a strong line of communication, technology and digital support can also help companies and providers to ensure that their tariffs are as up to date and accurate as possible, taking smart data and predictive results and using them to generate the most cost effective and efficient costings for various utility provisions across a variety of locations.
One of the most beneficial trends in the industry for consumers is the rise in comparison sites and automatic tariff switching sites, many of which allow the consumer to sign up to a service whereby the site will automatically compare the tariff on certain utilities with other providers, and will perform a switch to a different provider if the site can prove it to be more cost effective. This is something which not only saves the consumer money but also provides them with a service which is built around convenience and usability, and which encourages the consumer to keep switching between different providers in order to get the best deal. We have already looked art how package deals are most likely to be the most cost effective approach to utilities, however consumers may find that this automatic switch approach separates their utilities out to different suppliers – thus it is worth keeping note of the movements of each utility bill and provider.
The need to protect the provision of various utilities and services is one of the leading issues which is responsible for much of the development which is consistently happening in the utilities industry – both on a national level and an international level. So many of our modern utilities are reliant on a fine balance between the professional servicing industry and the consistent supply of those utilities, with a broad range of job roles being created and safeguarded in the last few decades as integral to ensuring the reliable delivery of utilities to a growing population and to increasingly busy communities. New developments and new homes are not necessarily matched by a bigger supply of water or power provisions – thus it comes down to the utilities servicing sector to ensure that supply is balanced with demand and to keep the entire system ticking along for consumers. One of the ways that this is being supported is with the increase in apprenticeships and training programmes which are designed to bring young engineers and professionals into the utilities industry – putting new skills to work in an industry which needs to keep changing in order to remain relevant and in order to continue to meet the growing demand.
To sum it up, the utilities industry is not one which is ever going to disappear – rather, it is going to continue to grow as more homes are built, more businesses are founded and grown, and more consumers exist to demand reliable and efficient utility services. The growth of comparison sites and online blogs like Which? and USwitch seek to support consumers who are facing growing fees without a better provision of service – ensuring that consumers are aware of what they are paying and what they can do to find the best deals. Consumers may not be given a choice on the provider of some of the top utilities, but for those utility services that can be adjusted it is always worth putting cost comparisons to use in order to ascertain the best deal and to make sure that consumers are using the cleanest energy solutions in the future and beyond.