Retail banks have done much in recent years to make current accounts more user-friendly.
Several in the UK offer text alerts which let you know if you are getting close to your overdraft limit and others offer 24 hour telephone and online banking, and balance on demand, a real help to those of us who work long hours. Others still, such as the thinkmoney personal account provide customers with a breakdown of their spending so they can identify areas in which they might be spending too much and hopefully cut down.
Perhaps it is time for energy companies to do the same. Rather than offering fixed rate tariffs where you are likely to pay a premium for the security of knowing exactly what your monthly spend is, or a variable rate, which allows you to benefit from market fluctuations, but pay more if energy prices rise, why don't energy companies encourage more people to take control of their own electricity usage by using pay-as-you-go meters?
By adopting many of the features of bank current accounts, customers would have a far better idea of their energy consumption. They could set up a preferred limit, and have the energy company text them web they were nearing this usage, and they could let customers know on demand how much their bill was at a given point. Other features might include an app that could let customers know how expensive a particular branded item was to run. This way, consumers would be able to ration their energy, so if, say, a pensioner wished to use their central heating more often, they could check what else they might be able to turn off to avoid going over budget.
Energy companies would certainly need to educate people about the average usage for everyday tasks, such as boiling a kettle or doing a washing load, but this would be a huge step in the right direction for energy companies, and it might even improve the relationship between the much maligned energy giants and ordinary bill payers.