Three questions to Monique Goyens
As Director General of BEUC, Monique Goyens represents 43 independent national consumer associations from 31 European countries in Brussels. This means having a strong consumer voice at the heart of EU policy-making, ensuring that consumer interests are given weight in policy development and raising the visibility and effectiveness of the consumer movement. This is her second year as an Ambassador for EUSEW.
How has the sustainable energy landscape changed since EUSEW 2016?
The ‘Clean Energy for All Europeans’ package puts flesh on the bones of the European Commission’s vision of an Energy Union. Seeking to put consumers first in energy markets is something we very much welcome. But the main challenge for policy makers – at every step of the legislative process – is to ensure consumers are not only accelerators of the energy transition but also true beneficiaries.
The energy landscape should also be seen in the light of the broader political landscape. Over the last twelve months, world-changing events – within and outside the EU – have shown that people feel detached from political decision-making more than ever. This package is a once-in a decade opportunity to reach out to people across Europe and must bring concrete benefits to them.
EU and national policy makers can increase trust in them by removing hurdles and improving transparency and clarity in consumers’ interactions with the energy market. Helping consumers to make sense of their energy bills should be just the start. They can help consumers own, and finance, the energy transition by providing security for their investments in solar panels. Making it easier for tenants to join communities and produce their own electricity can also enlarge the social dimension of this transition.
Last year you spoke of the need for better support for technology like electric vehicles and self-generation. What trends and actions are you focused on this year?
While digitalisation has transformed some aspects of our daily life, the way we use and are billed for electricity has changed very little over time. This is set to change with the development of a more dynamic wholesale and retail market, the roll out of smart meters or home automation, and electric vehicles. Digitalisation of the energy market features prominently in the European Commission’s proposals. The idea is to build a more flexible electricity system. But with a more digital system comes the generation of more personal data, which must be protected.
The proposals introduce the concept of the active consumer. One of the tools consumers can use to engage in the market is to opt for smart and flexible electricity services and tariffs. In practice, this could mean that a consumer is incentivised to reduce electricity consumption when demand is at its peak or increase it when there is abundant electricity in the system. Consumers could be incentivised either directly through price signals or through a service provider that does the job for them.
However, smart services and tariffs will fail if policy makers build policies based merely on the needs of the system. We all need electricity, to cook dinner for our family, to heat our homes or to communicate with our friends. We need a policy that works for people!
What do you hope to get out of attending EUSEW this year?
EUSEW will happen as politicians start talking about the Clean Energy for All Europeans package. EUSEW should be a forum to gather all the different ideas about the package and make sure that innovation and consumer needs are met.
To build more dynamic retail markets, politicians have to make it easier for consumers to navigate the energy market overall.
At this year’s EUSEW, we would like to see more debate on the practical side of flexible electricity consumption and how to make new services and tariffs work for consumers. Flexible electricity consumption sounds like a good idea which could help integrate renewables into the electricity system and reduce the need for centralised and often polluting power plants. However, to get consumers on board, policy makers will need to ensure that flexibility in electricity use comes with lower bills and that those consumers who cannot sign up to these kinds of offers can still power their lives in an affordable way.