Almost two years ago, I wrote a series of posts on the “We Close Doel” campaign of the Flemish Greens. To recap, they ran this campaign to “break the monopoly” of energy provider Electrabel (the owner of the nuclear plants in Doel). They wanted to close the two smallest reactors (Doel 1 and 2) and because the government wasn’t keen on taking that decision (it was decided that these reactors will be kept open longer), the Greens claimed that they would close those reactors since the Government failed to do it. Hence this campaign.
They claimed that people could make the difference by switching from “gray to green”, meaning switching (from Electrabel, the provider that manages our nuclear power plants) to a green energy provider. Participants who signed the petition declared that they would do the switch and also had to provide how much electricity they consumed per year. A counter on the campaign pages then kept tally of the yearly energy consumption of those who declared that they would go from gray to green. The more kWh on the counter, the bigger the “signal” to Electrabel and to the Government.
What caught my attention during this visit was that no starting date was shown on the campaign pages. This means that visitors didn’t know whether this campaign had just started or it even could well be that it is at its end. There is no way to know. When I was blogging about this campaign two years ago, this didn’t matter since I knew when it started. Now after those years, it seems odd that this campaign page was still there, as if it was still running. The two forms still seem to be active and nowhere was said that this was a campaign of the beginning of 2016 and therefor might not be relevant anymore today.
More importantly, there was also no mention of the result of this campaign. It has been almost two years ago, so the impact should be rather clear by now. Did the campaign eventually succeed in what it wanted to achieve? Did the Government and Electrabel received some signal? How clear was that signal? How many customers left Electrabel over this campaign?
Since the Flemish Green party didn’t provide such an analysis, let me just do this for them. Since I started this blog, I am used to figuring out things. Finding an answer to these questions should be rather simple.
Let me first start with the obvious: at this moment there are 4,179,926 kWh’s on that counter:
If this is the sum of all values entered by the participants of the petition, then this number shows the yearly consumption of all those who had the intention to switch provider. This is the energy that could be allocated away from Electrabel, therefor the signal that the Flemish Greens want to sent to our Government and energy provider Electrabel (look how many people agree with this). At first glance, a consumption of 4 million kWh might seem a huge number, but keep in mind that the unit is kWh and it is the consumption over 1 year. The capacity of nuclear plants are shown in MW and Belgian yearly energy production in GWh or TWh.
When I calculate the capacity needed to produce this on average over a one year period, then the result is 4,179,926 kWh / 365 days / 24 hours = 477 kW or 0.48 MW (assuming no downtime and average consumption). I realize that people don’t have an average consumption, but consume power with peaks and valleys, so in real life the needed capacity will be somewhat higher to accomodate the peaks. But still waaaaaaaaaay less than the capacity of the reactors that were subject of the campaign (both have a capacity of 433 MW, so 866 MW in total).
It is clear that the yearly consumption of those who showed their intent to switch provider wouldn’t be enough to close the smallest reactor, not even close. Let alone closing both reactors. If this is the signal they wanted to give, then nor the government nor Electrabel would be impressed. On the contrary, by this campaign the Flemish green party showed that they can’t mobilize enough people to make the difference.
Somewhat more than 4 million kWh is roughly a couple thousands of people who indicated that they would switch to a green provider. However, some nuance is needed. The counter kept the tally of all those who declared that they wanted to switch provider, but also those who already had a green provider. These participants were also asked to give their yearly consumption of electricity and it is a mandatory field:
Why would they even need the yearly consumption of those who already have a green provider? In this campaign (to give the signal to Electrabel that they might lose customers), this is not even needed. It is even misleading because it is overstating the number of consumers that want to make the switch. So part of the registered yearly consumption are from consumers that will never make the switch anyway, because they already have a green provider. They just signed the petition because they want to show solidarity with the campaign.
It is also not clear that those who claimed that they would switch provider, actually did so in reality. Declaring one’s intention to switch provider is not the same as actually doing it.
It was also not asked to/from which provider one would switch. They could as well switch from another provider than Electrabel or even switch from another (green) provider to a green product of Electrabel. No distinction was made between all those, yet that is important to know when one want to “send a signal” to Electrabel. One needs to look very carefully to the FAQ to know that the campaign was against specifically Electrabel and our government. It was not even mentioned in the form.
So did Electrabel receive a signal because of this campaign and how big was that signal? It couldn’t be large, because only a couple thousands people signed the petition and some of them might not switch at all or not switch from Electrabel. Could we see the impact in the number of customers that Electrabel lost in the months after the campaign?
I knew that VREG keeps records of energy production/consumption and yes, they also keep record of the market share of energy providers. This is the graph of the market share of Electrabel in 2016:
There is a small decrease in January, then a sharp drop from February until August.
Hey, was there a signal after all???
But then no, the campaign started on January 26, 2016, so the decline in January could never been from this campaign. Even the decline in February could not be from the effects of this campaign either, since it takes at least one month to switch provider. If there is an effect, then I would expect it to become apparent at the earliest somewhere in March. So, did this drop originated from before 2016? Let’s look at the data. If I add two years to the graph, this is the results:
Now we see that the market share of Electrabel is declining already for many years. By the way, this is also mentioned in the FAQ of the campaign page: the market share of Electrabel dropped in five years time from 64% (in 2010) to 42% (in 2015).
Most importantly, there is also a similar drop in the market share around 2014 – 2015. So most likely this drop has other reasons than the campaign, for example customers that want to switch at the beginning of the calendar year? Or a campaign of another provider at the end of the previous year?
Another question I had: how many customers switched in that period? If there weren’t many customers doing the switch, then even a small number of customer switching could send a visible “signal”.
I needed the number of customers that actually made the switch, yet I only had the market share of the providers. Luckily, I found this web page detailing the market share of electricity providers January 2015. It learned me that the number of customers serviced by Electrabel was 1,170,450 in January 2015 with a market share of 43.35%. This allowed me to calculate the total number of customers: exactly 2,700,000 (probably already rounded or an estimate). If I calculate back the customers of Electrabel and put that in a table (assuming the total number of connections stays the same) then I get this:
|Year||Month||Market share (%)||Connections (#)||Difference (#)|
This means that Electrabel lost around 10,530 customers in March 2016 and they lost almost 1 percentage point or 32,138 customers between March and July. With only a couple thousands who claimed that they would switch provider, this is just a neglectable share. There aren’t enough participants to make the difference, even if we assume for the sake of the argument that all the participants actually switched away from Electrabel. If the effect started in March 2016, then it disappears in the mass of customers who left Electrabel for other reasons.
Then I found a VREG report on the evolution of the electricity and natural gas markets in Belgium. Interestingly, the author(s) of that report also noticed the increased number of provider switches in 2016. The report explained the increased switches in 2016 as the increased competition between new energy providers (in addition to the competition between the traditional providers and newcomers). As expected, the “We close Doel” campaign was not even mentioned.
But what about the jump of customers in August 2016? Engie-Electrabel won a group energy procurement contract and that contract started on August 1, 2016 (when the jump occurred). By the way, the contract concerned delivery of natural gas and “100% green electricity”…
That the market share of Electrabel suddenly jumps because of an offering of “green energy” must hurt for the Flemish Greens. The campaign was based on painting Electrabel as a provider that needed to be left in favor of a green provider, so having to watch that Electrabel regains share with a, ahem, “green” product must be hard.
Concluding, the effect of the campaign was nothing or next to nothing when looking at the customer share of Electrabel. Even if it had some effect, that was canceled out after a couple months. Also our government didn’t reconsider their decision, so probably weren’t impressed by those couple thousand people participating in the campaign.
Was it a bad campaign after all? Well, it depends. If one looks at the actual results, then yes, that result will not impress anyone. It is no wonder that they abandoned their petition and didn’t bother to do the analysis of the results.
On the other hand, they got a couple thousands of email addresses of people that are interested in the subject. Some of them might not been known yet by the Green party, so extra addresses they could send mailings to in their next campaigns or in the running up of the election.
That might not be a bad result of the campaign after all.
Update 1 (December 23, 2017)
The campaign page seems to be (finally) offline:
Do the Flemish greens read this blog after all?
Update 2 (December 25, 2017)
Probably not. They have recycled the campaign into a new campaign with the same name and goal. Therefor they probably terminated the 2016 campaign page.
I like this article because you clearly express the difference between actual results relative to the objective and the appearances. On a global scale, national governments are sought to pledge emissions reductions to “save the planet”, with no checking on the scale of the pledges relative to the target, and no proper monitoring as to whether the pledges will be met.