Over the years we've often suggested that the way government and regulators cheerfully beat up on the big 6 energy suppliers isn't terribly clever. It's very handy for them to have big corporates to do their daft bidding in energy and climate-change policy; but simultaneously allowing them to be popular whipping-boys, and loading them up with onerous social and policy-delivery obligations, is inviting them ultimately to jack their hands in and step away from the table altogether.
It has also been clear that not all of the Big 6 necessarily have the financial stamina for the long haul, never mind the stomach for it. Margins in the residential sector are lousy, and the risks are great. Hanging on in there as a 'last-man-standing' strategy isn't a work of commercial genius. (Though, since most of the suppliers are still engineer-heavy at the top, and with truly dreadful track-records on both customer service and, perhaps counterintuitively, IT - trust me on that latter, I've dealt with all of them - commercial genius isn't necessarily to be expected.)
Three years ago we noted that RWE / NPower / Innogy (pick you prefered brand-name) was occupying the bed closest to the door, and so it has proved. They and SSE have had enough, and intend to merge their portfolios of residential energy customers and float them off.
Having reduced the competition at the big end of the sector by one sixth, will the government be inclined to think again, and cut them some slack? I doubt it. May seems determined on some kind of price cap. Ofgem is ecstatic abut how many tiny new entrants there are in the residential sector, notwithstanding their very patchy performance, inherent financal weakness, and parasitic dependence on the Big 6 keeping the main show on the road. (One of the canniest decisions Sadiq Khan has made was stepping back from a manifesto promise to set up a publicly-owned, fully-fledged London energy supplier.)
In all this mess, then, it's little surprise to see NPower and SSE look for an exit strategy. Of the rest: Centrica is, after all these years, still a remarkable survivor as a UK inde. It had shrewd and genuinely commercial management from the day it de-merged from the old BG 20 years ago. We've had issues with them over the years (check the Centrica thread from the tags below) but they're OK. EDF's continuing to play the game is of course 100% strategic for the French based on making sure nothing prejudices Hinkley. Right up until they decide that game's not worth the candle, either. On paper, EDF is bust already if you factor in all their nuclear liabilities. But the French government won't let them go under. (Check the EDF tag too, for various C@W stories over the years - starting with this pivotal one from 10 years ago which explains plenty.)
That leaves E.on and Iberdrola (Scottish Power). Neither are as strong corporately as they were when the turned up in the UK; and I can't see the UK being strategic for the Spanish. E.on are corporately sharp, mostly clear-sighted, and can be quite decisive when it comes to restructuring. But, EDF's special circumstances apart, they are the strongest of the lot.
Newby tiddlers notwithstanding, the landscape hasn't changed much for a decade, i.e. since EDF came to town in a big way. I couldn't begin to guess what it will look like in 5 years. But I can tell you electricity prices will be higher.