Agile Octopus: laying the blueprint for a greener, smarter energy system
From the printing press to the internet, every great technological revolution has brought massive societal change, and the green energy revolution will be no different.
Humanity has found a way to get limitless clean power from natural resources like the sun, the wind and the waves. But there’s no point trying to send tomorrow’s renewable energy through a hundred-year old energy system built around dirty, outdated fossil fuels.
It’s time to build something completely new in energy – and we’ve already put together the blueprints. The future will be green, smart, flexible and decentralised – rewarding consumers for making the most of energy when the wind’s blowing, and creating innovative ways to store that green power to use when it’s not. Our mission is to bring that system to the world quickly, and make it accessible and affordable to all.
This isn’t some far flung dream. Real people are already experiencing the future of energy today thanks to smart tariffs like AgileOctopus. You can read about some of them here.
The future of energy
With variable half-hourly prices based on the wholesale cost of energy (i.e., what WE pay for it), AgileOctopus rewards customers massively for using more energy when the grid is chock full of green, renewable generated electrons, and for using less when the grid is at its dirtiest (usually between 4-7pm on weekdays).
Now, this certainly doesn’t mean that anyone would (or could) ever ‘switch off’ an Agile customers’ power.
Instead, it’s a bit like “peak” and “off-peak” train tickets. At peak times, when trains are busier, tickets can be a little pricier, but if you’re able to travel off-peak, you can often snag a real bargain.
Just like that, Agile customers are rewarded for being a bit more flexible with their energy usage – in other words, for travelling “off peak” by shifting their energy consumption by a couple of hours (running washing machines and charging laptops a little earlier in the day, or later in the evening).
Right now – as you read this, Agile is already allowing tens of thousands of people around the country to enjoy real cash and carbon savings by merrily making changes to how (and when) they use energy.
Another bill on #Agile from @octopus_energy - by shifting my heavy use like EV charging, laundry etc. to the cheaper & cleaner times, I get prices that average just 5.2 p per kWh over the last month!#SmartMeter #TimeOfUse pic.twitter.com/A9JgY8TzX3— Jesse Bryce (@jesseb4me) November 20, 2020
It's going to roughly be 2P for my car's charge tonight.— Ryan Walmsley (@ryanteck) November 15, 2020
Meet some of our Agile customers
Shan and Hannah
Shan and Hannah work full-time for the NHS, and live in Tyne and Wear with their three young kids. They've saved £238 in the last year by doing the washing later, cooking earlier later at night, and charging their EV overnight.
Hear from Shan how his family uses Agile.
Colin and Steve
Colin and Steve live in Milton Keynes, and due to the nature of their work, are in and out at random hours. They save hundreds of ££ by charging their cars overnight, and running home appliances at the cheapest/greenest times.
Read about Colin and Steve here.
Glyn and Amy
Glyn and Amy live together in rural Wales with no gas mains, so they're reliant on 100% electric power. They work from home 80% of the time during lockdown and have saved £700+ on Agile in the past year.
Shan and Hannah
Shan and Hannah live in Tyne and Wear with their three young kids. They both work full time for the NHS. With everyone out of the house during the day, they use most of their power at home in the evenings and overnight.
To make the most of cheap Agile prices, they move the times they use their washing machine and dryer, dishwasher to later at night, start cooking earlier, and charge their electric vehicle (and robot lawnmower, Robochop!) overnight to avoid the 4-7pm price peak.
Shan reckons they’ve saved £238 in the last year compared to the average ‘standard’ electricity price in the UK.
Shan is a keen smart home geek and has a great YouTube channel where he chats about all sorts of home hacks – check out one of his videos on Agile, give him a follow while you’re there.
The family became really aware of the environmental impact of their energy five years ago, when they made the decision to install solar panels on the roof. Ever since, they’ve done all they can to reduce their carbon footprint further by changing energy habits, and Agile has allowed them to save oodles of cash at the same time. But don’t take our word for it…
Colin and Steve
Colin and Steve live in Milton Keynes with their two pups. They both work out of the house and because of their shifts, are always in and out at random times and days. They’ve got two EVs and a hot tub and are eagerly awaiting the install of a home battery as part of a load-shifting trial with Milton Keynes council.
Why did you choose Agile?
Colin: I use Agile primarily to save money. I was on OctopusGo for a while before, which was nice as it gave some certainty around the cheap times, however I saw that we could save even more on Agile by quite easily shifting our demand.
Have you saved cash?
Colin: Yes! As I write this, I was about to put the stove on, but spotted on my OctopusWatch app that if I waited 20 minutes I could lower the cost of cooking from 14.33p to 12.79p. It's not a great deal, but it all adds up...
I'd genuinely say we're paying between 30% less than when we were on OctopusGo.
Between Mar-Dec 2020, our bills on Agile cost £834.48, and Go would’ve cost £1088.44 which is a smidge over 30% saving on Agile!
What do you do to shift your energy and save money?
Colin: Because we both work random shifts we get more opportunity to shift our demand around. We’re hardly ever in during the evening peak, which helps, and when we are we can easily push dinner til after 7pm. As well as the dishwasher and washing machine, the main things we try to load-shift are the cars and it's all quite easy thanks to timers and delay functions.
We use a few different apps to help with this. For the cars, we’ve got an app to set charging times, but it’s quite manual – it doesn’t ‘learn’/optimise charging, or automatically power on. It’s really easy to schedule though…
I also use apps to monitor my energy use, and best times to shift our consumption to. My hubby is more techy than me, so he does more of the research into what apps to use to help us both see when prices and CO2 are lower, and also for automating some of our functions – like using ‘routines’ in Google Home to turn lights on and off!
I found the Bright app was useful to use rather than the IHD which was supplied as you can be anywhere and see what your current electricity use is (I was finding it a nuisance to have to walk to the IHD!)
We love checking the OctopusWatch app too. It’s great for showing when's the cheapest period for a certain duration of use – it’ll tell you when’s the cheapest time to do a one hour wash in the washing machine, or a two hour dishwasher cycle, and then uses that info to programme the appliance to switch on.
We also just keep an eye on the weather forecast – if it looks like it's going to be windy in a couple of days we might hold off charging the car until then. Plus, we keep an eye on the forecasts and our rosters to figure whether we're able to use the hot tub – it's not much fun sat in it in a downpour! (I’ve shifted the tub’s daily automatic cycle to 8pm-9pm so it’s just off-peak as it’s really energy intensive to run).
Glyn and Amy
Glyn and Amy live in a super rural part of Gwynedd without access to mains gas. Agile powers all their electric heating, cooking and transport: they power up their storage heaters, immersion heating and a pair of EVs during cheap, green off-peak times and have saved £782 in the past year.
Glyn and Amy usually work out of the house most of the time, but have moved to (mostly) home work since the pandemic started. Glyn’s a bit of a smart energy expert himself: he co-founded OpenEnergyMonitor, a project to highlight open-source tools to help humans relate to their use of energy, the energy system and the challenge of sustainable energy.
They’ve got a fab solar set-up that exports surplus electricity to the grid (and earns them a few pennies thanks to OutgoingOctopus).
Why did you choose Agile?
Glyn: Primarily environmentally motivated, but it's even better when this also works out financially!
Have you saved any cash on Agile?
Yes, I've saved £782 compared to my old 'flat rate' (standard) tariff! Here's a graph of the savings per month.
I signed up to @octopus_energy Agile dynamic pricing tariff a year ago as an experiment, I've always tried to reduce the Co2 of my energy by using off-peak where possible, Agile rewards me for this, the result is a saving of £792 compared to my old tariff🤯💚 pic.twitter.com/bvHrDAhWtV— Glyn Hudson (@glynhudson) January 21, 2021
What do you do to shift your energy use and save money?
Glyn: I mostly just schedule our energy intensive appliances to run at an off-peak time – usually overnight. For our household that's easy to do – we live in a rural area with no access to mains gas, so our house is fully electric, with two EVs, storage heaters, and domestic hot water (immersion) heating. Plus, we’ve solar panels.
Here’s a look at our energy consumption (from both Agile and our solar panels) next to Agile pricing, so you can see how we've managed to move when we use power to when it's cheapest…
Most of the scheduling happens automatically with the help of OpenEnergyMonitor (I work there), and we’ve got a display screen at home so we can quickly see all info related to our energy use, as well as the cost of power throughout the day on Agile.
We still make tea during peak times – even at peak Agile price boiling a mug of water in the kettle is still only about 1.5p!
Why is greener power cheaper with Agile?
A world powered by 100% green energy isn’t out of reach, but we’re going to have to learn how to make the most of it, and Agile customers will be a big part of the picture. By turning down their energy usage when electricity is in high demand, Agile customers reduce the need to turn on so many fossil fuel power plants to meet that demand.
Recently, three government policies have been put in place to to help us avoid a climate catastrophe, and they’re going to affect the UK electricity market in a big way:
- The UK target for Net Zero CO2 Emissions by 2050
- All new cars sold will be electric by 2030
- Gas boilers will no longer be installed in new properties from 2025.
This is great news, but as we phase out coal, oil and gas, we’ll need to generate far more electricity to fill the gap – plus, as transport and heating are electrified, our demand is set to triple in the next ten years and we need all those new electrons to be green ones.
Thankfully, by 2030, renewable energy is forecast to make up over 40% of the UK’s electricity supply. This is also fabulous news – renewable sources are cheap and clean – they don’t require any fuel or release any carbon once installed. But they are also “intermittent”. In other words, wind turbines generate energy when the wind is blowing, and solar panels generate energy when the sun is shining – we can’t call on them whenever we want. You’ll occasionally come across naysayers who beat their drum about this – and intermittency does pose a challenge – but it isn’t the be-all and end-all that green energy sceptics make it out to be. We’re already one step ahead.
Together, the skyrocketing demand for electricity and the massive increase of intermittent renewable generation are going to have a huge impact on how the grid is designed and managed. We’ll have to account for big swings in generation – high peaks and very low troughs throughout the day. The answer involves moving away from large power stations to smart, highly decentralised generation, greater flexibility market capability and using energy “price signals” to influence behaviour, encouraging users to make the most of renewable energy when it’s abundant.
That’s where AgileOctopus comes in!
We take day-ahead electricity wholesale market prices, which fluctuate moment-to moment, and pass those prices (i.e what WE pay for it) on to consumers. We’re already demonstrating that people’s energy usage can be influenced directly by half-hourly price signals, encouraging usage when the grid is cheapest and greenest, with remarkable results.
Agile’s rates generally match up with carbon emissions. In other words, Agile is usually cheaper when the grid is greener, and more expensive when energy is dirtier (usually between 4-7pm, when the UK’s fossil fuel generating stations have been turned on to meet energy demand). This screenshot from the OctopusWatch app shows a clear correlation between how dirty the grid is, and AgileOctopus’ rates. (The blue line represents the intensity of CO2 emissions – from the Carbon Intensity API, and the pink line shows AgileOctopus’ prices).
During peak hours, AgileOctopus customers help take strain off the grid because they are incentivised to reduce their energy consumption (and therefore the need for generators to burn so much fossil fuel). This means they are typically much greener than other consumers. What’s more, when there’s loads of excess renewable energy in the grid, and not enough people are using it, Agile’s pricing goes negative, and customers are actually paid to use energy!
Here's what an AgileOctopus price plunge looks like in action ⚡️🌪️— Octopus Energy (@octopus_energy) October 27, 2020
Look at all those brill customers getting paid to make the most of massive amounts of wind power flowing through the wires 💚 https://t.co/ocVAFinDAZ
A friend on @octopus_energy agile tariff charged his car overnight and it cost him....err....nothing.— Alex Cooke (@TrustCooker) October 25, 2020
In fact....they paid him....37p pic.twitter.com/PYyysjAAfi
AgileOctopus doesn’t mean you can’t cook a meal between 4.00pm and 7.00pm. Instead, it’s about changing the energy use with devices that can consume energy at any time the day:
- Electric heating such as Air Source Heat Pumps (ASHP)
- Certain high-consuming appliances such as dishwashers, washing machines and dryers.
- Hot water supply; either as part of an ASHP or smart-controlled hot water tank
- Electric Vehicle (EV) charging; and where possible EV-discharge to the home known as V2G
- Home battery storage; usually connected to rooftop solar generation
- Heat Storage; either electric or by connection to an ASHP
What’s more, these are also the sorts of appliances that can easily be automated. Agile customers receive massive benefits from predicting their energy consumption and automating appliances (using our open Agile API) according to our daily price forecast. For example, you can use our Agile API to program a Powervault smart battery to fill up on electricity from the national grid whenever the energy in the grid is cheapest and greenest. Then, when grid energy is at its dirtiest and most expensive, the Powervault can rely on all that cheap, green energy it has stored up to power your home instead. This way, even without home-solar generation, Powervault and Agile work together to save the average energy user between £270 to £580 a year* and do wonders for your carbon footprint. You can find out more about how to hack your home for cheaper, greener energy in our smart home guide blog!
Building tomorrow’s energy system today
Of course, AgileOctopus is only one piece of the puzzle. We’re carrying out plenty of other groundbreaking work as we lay the blueprint for the energy system of the future. We do similar tests and behaviour-shifting trials with interested non-agile smart meter customers to see how ‘Agile’ pricing works on the large scale – read all about it in our Big Switch On blog. You can also find out about finding novel ways we’re working to store renewable energy and ‘balance the grid’ by using innovative chargers that can turn electric cars into giant 'battery packs' to power your home, or about our cutting edge research into smart-tech and energy consumption with the University of Salford at Energy House 2. While you’re at it, why not also read up on our plans for a Future Energy Research Centre, and find out more about what makes Octopus Energy so very Green!
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