We’ve seen a number of tweets and Facebook posts giving figures for the “average energy costs” in different countries across Europe, with the UK’s being the highest by far at £2,585 (around €2,960).
As others have noted, the list has appeared dozens of times on Twitter since December 2022, and has been retweeted by Labour MP Karl Turner.
But these prices aren’t “average energy costs” for consumers in those countries. They are wholesale electricity costs for suppliers which were correct for a specific hour on one day back in December.
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What do the figures show?
A map of Europe with the same figures was tweeted on 15 December 2022, with the caption “Comparative energy prices. What's going on?”
The map pictured was clearly taken from the day-ahead market data published on the website of Epex Spot, also known as the European Power Exchange, which is used by around 300 companies across Europe to buy and sell electricity at short notice to meet demand.
According to Epex Spot: “The Day-ahead market is operated through a blind auction which takes place once a day, all year round. All hours of the following day are traded in this auction.”
The exact mechanism by which prices are set, and the demand and supply of electricity is balanced is complicated, but in essence it allows companies to buy and sell electricity which will be delivered the next day at a specific hour.
We put the data to Epox Spot and asked them what date it came from (it only publishes the day-ahead prices for the current day on its website). A spokesperson said the data corresponded to day-ahead prices per megawatt hour (MWh) of electricity, for delivery on 12 December 2022, specifically for hour 19 (between 6pm and 7pm), and gave us the data that appears to back this up.
These prices are not what consumers pay for energy, or any type of average. They are how much electricity cost companies in those countries for delivery in the 19th hour on 12 December.
These hourly prices vary throughout the day, and the £2,585 used for Great Britain was the peak. On average, electricity on that day cost £675 per MWh.
Some of the posts also include prices for Spain and Austria. We’ve not been able to find the source of these figures, but they do not appear to come from Epex Spot.
We wrote in 2022 about one of these Epex Spot maps that had been shared for almost a year falsely claiming it showed ‘current prices’.
We have contacted Mr Turner for comment. When someone, particularly someone with a public profile like an MP, does share a false or unevidenced claim in public, it's important they correct it as quickly and clearly as possible, particularly in important areas of public debate like energy prices.
How do energy prices actually compare for consumers across Europe?
The Household Energy Price Index, a study funded by the Austrian and Hungarian energy regulators, measures consumer energy prices in the capital cities of 33 European countries.
In January 2023, out of the countries in the post, electricity cost the most in Germany at 54c per kilowatt hour, followed by Denmark, where it was 53c. In the UK it was 47c (42p) while the European average was 29c.
Energy prices in general in Europe have been going up since mid-2021 and then again after Russia invaded Ukraine. Domestic gas and electricity bills dramatically increased in the UK between 2021 and 2022.
Image courtesy of Hannah Wright