are helping people through the energy crisis
For a lot of people in the Netherlands and Belgium, 2022 was a year of serious financial worries. As inflation and energy prices soared, many looked for new ways to save money. DPG Media’s Online Services division, which includes Mijn Energie and Independer, helped households balance their budget and experienced an incredible year across the board, capped off in Belgium with the acquisition of Wikipower.
hen Russia invaded neighbouring Ukraine on 24 February 2022, igniting a war in Europe, a period of great uncertainty began. Because of Europe’s strong dependence on Russian gas, people feared that energy would become scarcer – and much more expensive.
As the continent plunged into an energy crisis, that fear came true. Everyone reading this will have been affected by it in the past year. Prices for gas and electricity went through the roof, and Dutch and Belgian consumers suddenly saw their monthly energy bills double or even triple. “People had to pay hundreds of euros extra a month,” says Kenneth Vansina, director of Online Services for Belgium.
The skyrocketing prices caused many people to look for cheaper – or, to put it more accurately, less expensive – energy contracts. Energy comparison websites saw traffic explode: in the Netherlands, Independer saw record-high visitor numbers (up 23 per cent from 2021), and in Flanders some 3.8 million comparisons were made on Mijn Energie, also an absolute record.
(35), Director of Online Services for Belgium
Netherlands: nowhere to go
But while the market remained open in Flanders, supply dried up completely in the Netherlands. “An unprecedented situation. We had never experienced this before,” says Joris Kerkhof, domain manager for Energy at Independer.
Energy suppliers stopped offering contracts altogether. While existing customers faced hefty rate hikes, new customers basically had nowhere to go. “This also dried up the supply on our comparison site. In the summer, some suppliers returned with variable contracts, where prices change on a monthly basis. Fortunately, that gave customers access to energy at ‘more realistic’ prices again.
The fact that energy prices dominated the public conversation did give Independer the opportunity to further strengthen its position as energy expert. “Through newspapers, radio and television, we were able to provide a lot of consumers with information about the energy market, prices and the options you have as a customer. After the Dutch government announced an energy price cap on Budget Day, we were the first comparison website – just a few days later – to offer an easy-to-use tool that allowed people to calculate how the price cap would affect their advance payment amount.”
(38), domain manager for Energy at Independer
Flanders: energy ecosystem
Things looked very different on the other side of the border. In Flanders, consumers were still able to get new energy contracts, but methodological differences made it very difficult to make accurate comparisons.
Mijn Energie saw itself forced to change course: the energy comparison site also started selling solar panels in 2022, as these were suddenly in high demand. Its stock of five hundred systems, with guaranteed installation in 2022, sold out within a month. Several thousand additional systems will be made available this year.
“We will build an energy ecosystem in 2023 by offering sustainable solutions, such as solar panels, insulation options, batteries and charging stations,” Kenneth Vansina explains. “So in addition to our comparison site, we will also offer a range of other services for everything to do with energy and saving energy. This will allow us to make an even bigger impact in the lives of our customers.”
“With the acquisition of Wikipower, we will hold a unique position in Belgium”
Acquisition of Wikipower
Mijn Energie also wants to focus more on brokering group energy purchases in Flanders. Customers can register for this service, after which energy suppliers will make an offer for the entire group through an auction. This will lead to more competitive prices for consumers.
To facilitate this, DPG Media acquired the Walloon company Wikipower at the tail end of last year, on 30 December 2022. “Wikipower has played a major role in the group energy purchases market for the past 12 years, especially in the French-speaking part of Belgium,” Vansina says. “This acquisition gives us access to their platform and know-how, which supports our ambition to become a major player in group energy purchases in Flanders as well. We intend to achieve this by leveraging our own strong brands and existing partnerships, and by launching collaborations with provinces and cities.”
Wikipower is the largest player in comparing energy online in Wallonia. The Liège-based company employs 35 people. “By bundling their Comparateur-Energie.be with Monenergie.be, we will strengthen our position, not only in Flanders but throughout Belgium,” Vansina says. “Wikipower is also skilled at helping consumers switch contracts by providing advice over the phone. We now want to use their call centre expertise in Flanders, at Mijn Energy and other Online Services brands.”
Reaping the benefits in 2023
At the time of writing, in 2023, consumers are increasingly finding their way back to energy comparison sites. That means that, as memorable as 2022 may have been, it’s time to move on. “We prefer to help customers by offering sound advice, but if there’s no available product it’s like we’re standing in an empty shop,” Independer’s Joris Kerkhof concludes. “I’m proud that we never stopped believing, and that we’re still excited about making energy a success. Before the energy crisis, we had two fantastic years of growth. When the market bounces back, we’ll definitely benefit from the foundation we have now. We’ve established ourselves as an authority when it comes to energy.”