Crypto mining is increasing in popularity all over the world as people realise the earning potential of large-scale mining. Despite its sceptics, crypto, like bitcoin, is here to stay. It is now accepted as payment in Microsoft stores and Starbucks in the US and is growing rapidly in the UK with 8.3 million more people owning cryptocurrency in 2021 than 2018.
In simple terms, crypto mining is creating new currency by solving a computational puzzle. To achieve this, mining has become increasingly sophisticated in recent years, using complex machinery to speed up operations. Whilst crypto mining is a legitimate practice, associated criminal activity such as energy theft to power crypto mines is on the rise.
According to Cambridge University’s Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index, bitcoin mining consumes 133.68 terawatt hours of electricity a year, a figure that has risen consistently for the past five years. This has led to miners looking for ways to lower their energy usage and the associated costs, leading to energy theft. Miners have discovered that it is possible to power their crypto mines for free if they bypass electricity meters.
A recent case in Leicestershire led to a prolific crypto miner being jailed for stealing electricity worth over £32,000 from British Gas. Energy theft is becoming a significant issue in the UK energy industry, with meter cheating costing suppliers and customers an estimated £440 million every year.
In the UK there is a worryingly low awareness of energy theft and the implications, with Grosvenor finding that 39% of people are unaware of the safety risks it poses. By working with experts in recognising and tackling instances of energy theft, like Grosvenor Services Group, energy companies could educate their customers on the implications of energy theft, the importance of spotting tampering, and how to report it.
Energy companies have a license obligation to Ofgem to do as much as they can to alleviate the problem of energy theft in the UK. Increasing awareness amongst energy customers as to what energy theft is, would be a good starting point to fulfil this obligation.
Low understanding of the true financial impact of energy theft leaves many people oblivious to the problem, with 80% unaware that, in effect, £20 is added to every customer’s bill annually because of it. Adding information to energy bills about additional costs associated with energy theft could increase understanding of the frequency of energy theft cases and the impact this is having on personal bills.
Another aspect of increasing awareness and concern about energy theft is educating customers on the warning signs that it is occurring. Ensuring customers know the signs of tampering is key to reducing the number of cases.
Research shows that many signs of energy theft are not well understood, with only 44% of people being able to identify extra wires attached to the meter, one of the more obvious examples of the practice, as a sign of tampering. This sort of information could be communicated more effectively by adding information to energy bills, or by engaging with customers by email or social media. Running a social media campaign on the visible signs of tampering is a simple way to educate people across all age groups.
Converting the non-reporters
Encouraging people to report energy theft is vital. Despite 92% of the public acknowledging that energy theft is morally wrong, just over half (54%) said they would report a known instance without question.
The potential for personal repercussions was named by 44% of people as a reason not to report suspected energy theft. This is understandable as people may be worried about naming neighbours that they suspect. Wider understanding that reporting energy theft is a completely confidential process could help to quash any qualms about taking action.
The Crimestoppers campaign Stay Energy Safe is an anonymous service which allows people to report suspected energy theft. Crimestoppers works in partnership with the energy sector so, by providing information about services like this, energy companies would equip their customers with the tools they need to report theft.
With the rising popularity of crypto mining in the UK, people need to be more aware of the dangers associated with trying to avoid the high energy bills that come with it. If people are crypto mining, they need to do it in a safe way that doesn’t place others in danger or raise their annual energy bills. Energy companies will benefit when customers have a clearer understanding of what energy theft is, how to spot it and, most importantly, how to report it.