You can save as much on your natural gas consumption this winter as you like, but there is still a chance that you will have to pay hundreds of euros more than you should. Because of the way your consumption is calculated, there is a risk of over-billing. “Families that provide energy when prices are high are deprived of this system.”
Under the pressure of rising energy prices, many Flemish families view their energy consumption with a fearful heart. To keep the bill low, we all try to save money. From short showers to less cooking on the stove. But as for gas consumption, the effort will have to be made especially this winter, when heating will start or not, and at what temperature it will occur.
However, the savings many Flemish people realize on their bill will yield much less than they actually should. This is due to the way our gas consumption is settled on the annual bill. Since the meter reading is only taken once per year, your power supplier only knows what your annual consumption is – not what you actually use per month.
In order to spread your consumption over an entire year when calculating your annual bill, suppliers use so-called load profiles. They estimate depreciation over the months based on historical data. For example, for the average household that uses natural gas for heating, it is assumed that 36 percent of annual consumption is in the last three months of the year.
This is particularly a disadvantage for those who have a variable contract and adjust their use when the monthly rate is high. Because even those who, in theory, turn off the gas tap during the last three months of the year will still be paying 36 percent of their annual consumption at the rates for the three winter months. Due to the shrinking supply of fixed energy contracts, the proportion of Flemish people with variable contracts has increased in recent months. According to the latest figures from the Flemish Electricity and Gas Market Regulator (VREG), 50.7 percent of natural gas contracts are now variable.
Theoretical exercise for an average family, whose annual consumption is typically 23,260 kWh and whose annual settlement extends from January to December, illustrates the impact of possible over-billing.
If that family cut its consumption in half in the last three months of this year, it would pay €236 more when billed according to the load profile than when paying actual consumption. When this family reduces its consumption to zero in October, November and December, it will pay even 472 euros more than necessary. We assume that the price level will decrease in the last three months of this year after the September peak, but will still be higher than in August and the first half of the year, as it also appears at the moment.
Please note: This does not mean that saving is pointless. Each kilowatt-hour you use less will have a positive impact on your annual statement. However, this effect is less than if you were paid according to your actual consumption.
“Families that provide energy when prices are high are in a bind because of this system,” says Leen Vandezande of Flemish energy regulator VREG. “For example, a person who will not use gas in the coming months because he will spend the winter outside or switch to pellets, he will still be assigned a part of his annual consumption at the price of the winter months. If you assume that those months were more expensive, you are doing a bad thing.”
Although, calculating according to upload profiles – which are composed very precisely – is not that crazy. Not for those who have an analog counter. This consumption should be spread over the different months. There is no other choice then,” it seems. By the way: Those who pass the meter reading in person to their supplier each month will still be billed based on the annual estimate of the load profile.
However, the same also applies to those who have a digital meter. Even if, in principle, it already communicates the actual consumption continuously to the Fluvius network operator. But Fluvius’ software for making that data available to power suppliers isn’t quite ready yet. “This should be true by April 1, 2023,” says VREG’s Vandesande, who is threatening a fine.
“We are working on this,” says Fluvius himself. “Many new jobs will be launched in the energy market in the short term, and we’re rolling things out step by step,” says company spokesperson Björn Verdd. “By April, monthly consumption data from digital meters will also be redirected to the annual billing system.”
If you really want to make sure your actual monthly consumption is factored in, you have one option today. By asking the supplier about the monthly bills, the actual consumption is paid every month. An option that major suppliers have had to offer since April, but not all of them are doing so yet.
Contracts with the option of monthly invoicing can be found in the V-Test, Vandesande of VREG says. “In the meantime, we are making sure that suppliers who are legally obligated to provide the service are working on it as well.”
At the moment, the monthly settlement is not popular. At the end of August, 4,060 electricity contracts and 290 natural gas contracts were settled per month in Flanders.
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