British Gas has sent out a clear warning that energy prices are likely to rise again later this year, unless wholesale energy prices start to fall back again and quickly.
The wholesale markets are where energy suppliers buy the gas and electricity that they then resell on to us.
Wholesale gas prices have risen particularly strongly, driven by the higher price of oil and by concerns over supply disruptions as a result of violence in Libya and the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The latter has led to a diversion of LNG (liquefied natural gas) cargoes to Japan in response to a shutdown of nuclear generation capacity. Wholesale gas prices have risen by 78 per cent since their bombed-out levels of early 2010.
On a positive note, it is worth highlighting that we are not going to see a rerun of 2008 where some energy suppliers hiked gas prices by 50 per cent. That is because wholesale energy prices are still nowhere near their peak levels of 2008 yet retail energy prices are 20 per cent higher than were in April 2008 (the last time wholesale prices were at similar levels to today).
Wholesale markets are very volatile, which means that prices can move up or down very quickly. In fact, oil prices have fallen by 10 per cent just in the last week. Further prices hikes are not yet a certainty as wholesale prices could yet fall from current levels.
That is the good news. The bad news is that if wholesale prices don't fall from here, then we will see further energy bill hikes, and those hikes will likely take prices to new record levels.
In this environment, the best thing to do is to fix the rates that you pay for your energy, so protecting you from the potential increase for a period of a year or so. There are still several fixed rate energy deals available which are cheaper than standard bills, and which will look like great value when energy bills start rising again.
The important thing is that you don't delay. Once energy bills start pushing up again these rates will have long disappeared and it will be too late.
Joe Malinowski is the founder of the energy price comparison website theenergyshop.com.