4th November 2019

“Alexa, how green is energy right now?”

Phil Steele, Future Technologies Evangelist

alexa

You can now track how green the UK’s energy is, moment-to-moment, through our new ‘carbon intensity’ feature.

Did you know that coal-fired power stations produce nearly a bag of sugar’s worth (900g) of dirty carbon to deliver just one kWh of electricity?

The average UK household produces more than two sugar bags worth of carbon every evening in July, and nearly four per evening in December. Collectively, that’s A LOT of carbon, especially when we’re meant to be moving towards a zero-carbon future in the next 30 years.

We’ve come up with a way to let you know how green the energy coming into your home is, moment-to-moment, so you can always make sustainable decisions about when to power on.

The new feature uses the National Grid’s real-time carbon intensity data together with IFTTT and Amazon’s Alexa, so you can always find out how green energy is, just by asking.

How does it work?

First, I hear you ask – I thought all my electricity was green anyway?

All the power you use across an entire year is matched with green energy being pumped onto the grid, but there’s no way to get green-only electrons straight to your home. (Read more about how we make your energy green.)

The real-time energy coming into your home as you use it is based on the mix of sources being pumped into the grid at that time. At certain times of the day, there’s significantly more dirty energy going in. At other times, there’s more green energy.

If it’s really windy, or if we are basking in hot weather, wind farms and solar panels will produce a load of power, so the energy mix in the grid will be ‘greener’ and less carbon intensive. However, if it’s 6:30pm on a weekday, when people have come home to cook dinner and businesses are still open, the grid will usually have to rely on extra fossil fuel generators to meet the far-higher demand, and the energy mix gets dirtier.

The National Grid’s website reports on how carbon intensive the electricity that we’re using is from one moment to the next, and they have a public API which allows anybody to use that info. We think that's pretty flipping cool. But unless you're a serious energy geek, you might not know about it. Our new feature, integrating the National Grid's API with our software, means all anyone has to do is ask Alexa!

Using Alexa and the IFTTT (If This, Then That), you can now receive real-time updates that show how much carbon is being emitted by the energy you’re using.

Here's our new feature in action:

"Alexa, ask Octopus, how green is energy right now?"

And Alexa might respond...

“The energy mix is very green right now and is made up of 55% wind, 18% nuclear, 12% solar, 5% gas. Each kWh of energy generated results in 53 g CO2 being emitted.”

So, thanks to our integration, at any given moment, you can now ask Alexa to find out how green your energy is, what fuels are powering your home, and choose to run your appliances based on that.

You can also find out when energy is greenest and dirtiest for the day ahead, to help you plan.

"Alexa, ask Octopus: what time is the lowest carbon intensity today?"

And she'll tell you when the greenest and dirtiest times to run appliances are that day, for example:

  • “The energy mix was at its greenest at 1am today and was made up of 65% wind, 22% nuclear, 8% gas and 5% hydro. Each kWh of energy generated resulted in 31 grams CO2 being emitted
  • “The energy mix will be at its dirtiest at 7pm today and will be made up of 75% gas, 8% wind, 7% biomass and 5% hydro. Each kWh of energy generated will result in 346 grams CO2 being emitted.”

It’s a quick and easy way to get thinking about the real impact of your energy use. Why power your tumble dryer with majority gas-powered electricity at 7pm, when you could power it with wind energy at 1am?

Taking the example above (and assuming the average tumble dryer uses about 3.3 kWh each cycle) you could save a sugar bag’s worth of carbon just by changing when you switch on.

Here's a few different questions you can ask Alexa...

  • Alexa, ask Octopus what time is the highest carbon intensity today?
  • Alexa, ask Octopus what time is the lowest carbon intensity tomorrow?
  • Alexa, ask Octopus what time is the highest carbon intensity tomorrow?
  • Alexa, ask Octopus what is the carbon intensity at <time> today?
  • Alexa, ask Octopus what is the carbon intensity at <time> tomorrow?
  • Alexa, ask Octopus how green is energy now?
  • Alexa, ask Octopus how green is electricity now?
  • Alexa, ask Octopus how dirty energy is now?
  • Alexa, ask Octopus how much renewable energy is there now?
  • Alexa, ask Octopus how much renewable electricity is there now?
  • Alexa, ask Octopus what is the proportion of renewable energy now?
  • Alexa, ask Octopus what is the proportion of renewable electricity now?

Why not go further?

Start automating your home...

The greenest energy times are often overnight, or when most people are out during the day. To save users waking up at 3am, we've integrated with IFTTT (If This, Then That) to enable people to set up simple instructions to automate smart appliances to run at the greenest times.

All you have to do is head to IFTTT – it’s free – and enable an applet that will run a machine when carbon intensity is lowest.

Learn how to set up your own applets on our blog.

We’re on a mission to change the world’s consumption of energy, and so whether you’re with us or any other energy provider, this information is available to everybody. Anyone can enable Alexa’s Octopus Energy ‘Skill’, and ask when it’s the greenest time to use power.

It's a simple, accessible way of letting you discover how green energy really works, and get you used to making small changes to save carbon.

Want to benefit from avoiding peak energy times?

Go 'agile' and get the greenest energy for cheapest

For customers who ARE able to shift a lot of their energy use away from the dirtiest times of day, we have an incredibly cool tariff that actually rewards you financially for using energy in the greenest way possible.

On agileOctopus, the price of your power updates every half an hour based on the wholesale price of energy, with all your day’s prices published at 4pm the day before. This means that during off-peak hours, (when demand is lower and the grid greener), energy can be super cheap, but when the grid is busier (and therefore more dirty energy needs to be fired up), it’s more expensive. This tends to work out much cheaper overall when compared to standard tariffs.

One of our brilliant Agile customers Guy has put together an investigation into the connection between energy prices and carbon intensity. Read his piece here.

The general rule that the ‘cheapest’ times of the day are also the greenest means that we can really pass on the cost benefits of being an engaged, green energy user to customers.

If you're keen to make the most of Agile and automate your home to run in a more environmentally friendly way, check out this IFTTT blog for simple instructions! Automated commands (for example ‘run my hot water at the lowest carbon intensity’) make life so much easier, and they also help non-agile customers who don’t have time to regularly check the grid’s energy mix, but still want to optimise their appliances to do as much good by the environment as possible.

There’s a benefit to us, as well as to you and to the planet. We want our customers to use off-peak electricity because it’s greenest, to help them use less peak period (high wholesale cost) energy.

Saving the planet, saving money and getting smart. What’s not to like?

image of Phil Steele

Phil Steele

Future Technologies Evangelist

Hey I'm Constantine, welcome to Octopus Energy!

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