Flick blog

Steve O'Connor on energy poverty

Whenever I talk about the drivers for founding Flick I always start with a set of numbers that paint a pretty grim picture.

42% - the increase in residential electricity prices over the past 10 years

5% - the proportion of New Zealanders who think their power company have their best interests at heart.

20% - the estimated proportion of New Zealanders living in energy poverty.

This story motivated us to find a better way to sell electricity back in 2013; and motivates our team every day to build a better type of business: one that is guided by creating value for our customers, especially the people in our community who are the most vulnerable.

WITH-GREAT-POWER

At Flick, we believe that innovation isn’t truly disruptive until it reaches the people that need it the most. The idea that there will be a ‘trickle down’ effect is a myth – we need to work actively to democratise technology.

We’ve spent the past three years building a retail model that, over time, cuts about 20% off a household’s energy bill with very little effort on their part. There’s no cost to access our technology. And we bill people weekly, with a daily bill tally, to help with cashflow and eliminate bill shock.

If Flicksters want to participate in demand-response (actively using electricity at times of day when prices are cheaper) then savings can be much higher.

Yes, there is a flaw, in that families need to be able to weather high market prices from time-to-time. But we’re working on a string of ideas to help with that and still deliver the savings we know are available.

But of course energy poverty is far more complex than simply the cost of electricity – it’s about low wages, poor quality housing and the cost of energy.

We need systemic change which means we need everyone in the system to recognise the issue and think about what they can do.

That’s why we’re driving awareness of energy poverty. We don’t want this critical health and wellbeing issue to drop out of the national consciousness. We want to challenge every organisation in the system to recognise and act on their responsibility. And we want to be part of ensuring all New Zealand households can prosper.

This is also why at Flick we pay, as a minimum, the Living Wage. We’re an electricity retailer with a responsibility to the community we serve; and we’re an employer with a responsibility to ensure our team’s wellbeing. It is, simply, wrong to ask people to subsidise a business by accepting wages on which they cannot live a well life.

Flick can’t single handedly solve energy poverty - and we’d never claim that we can - but we can, and must, do what we can to help.

We can develop products that reduce the cost of power, like we’ve already done and will continue to do.

We can make sure that the innovations that are rapidly becoming available as we enter the energy future get to the people who need them most.

Energy efficient lightbulbs can slash 80% off a home’s lighting costs (about 20% of their total electricity cost) but they’re expensive to buy – that’s why we’re fitting out a few hundred homes that really need to bring down their power costs.

And we can keep raising awareness of energy poverty and the collective action needed to ensure all New Zealanders live in dry, warm, safe homes. Housing related disease and death is unacceptable in a developed country like ours.

We’re a three-year-old business that’s not yet turning a profit and we have committed time and money to helping the most vulnerable people in our communities. But for every family we help, there’s another 10 that need it.

Our challenge is to every other person and organisation that has influence and resources in health and housing and employment to consider their ability, and responsibility, to effect change.


Steve is one of the founders and the CEO of Flick Electric Co. He saw a better way for Kiwis to buy electricity, and is motivated by a desire to help eliminiate energy poverty in New Zealand so Kiwis can lead prosperous, healthy lives.