21st May 2020
The Big Switch On: A smart trial to help balance the grid and stop green energy going to waste.
Pete Miller, Head of Customer Experience
This Bank Holiday weekend, low demand for energy combined with lots of renewable energy is putting real strain on the national grid. So we’re running a special trial to see if home customers with smart meters can help, and prevent renewable energy going to waste.
Customers who join in will be paid for every unit of electricity they use for two hours on Sunday.
This is one of several smart energy trials we're running at the moment. Find out more about our trials and what results we share.
Frequently asked questions
Is this legit? Will I actually get paid for using electricity?
That's right, participants will be paid for their electricity use. At this point, it's just a trial – but we think this kind of thing will be far more common in the future. Running trials now, while the UK is still under lockdown, can give us a better understanding of the future energy system as more and more renewable generation becomes available. Through this trial, we will better understand how many people respond and how they respond, which will help us create new products that can speed up the transition to a zero-carbon future.
How do I get involved?
If you've received an email invitation from us, you're on the list. You'll need to let us know you want to participate by clicking on the unique link in your email. We've invited as many people to participate as possible, but we can't invite everyone. That's because, as with any effective trial, we need a control group to measure results against. Secondly, this trial is pushing the technical boundaries of what is possible with smart meters, and we've had to be a bit selective around smart meter connectivity and reliability of receiving readings.
Participants will earn a few pennies from the trial - if you haven't received an invitation, but would still like some pennies, drop us an email to email@example.com and we'll pop a few on your account.
It's also worth noting the trials we are running at the moment are the first of their kind – but there will be plenty more opportunities like this in the future.
I'm an Octopus customer and I want a smart meter. How do I get one?
We've temporarily postponed smart meter installations in light of the government's social distancing advice. We'll be back up and running as soon as it's safe to do so — if you'd like us to let you know when we have an installer available in your area, register your interest in your online account.
Why is this happening?
This Bank Holiday weekend, the UK's grid is going to be placed under enormous strain, due to unprecedented changes in our national energy use brought on by the Coronavirus outbreak.
The UK’s energy grid has to be balanced in real time, matching supply (the energy being generated) with demand (the energy we use). Too much or too little power going into the grid, and the system becomes unstable, which can cause blackouts.
Social distancing measures have led to record low energy demand as businesses and factories shut their doors. This Bank Holiday weekend, the UK’s energy demand is set to reach new lows, and with sunny and windy weather on the horizon, there’ll be a huge supply of solar and wind power that the UK can’t use up.
Right now, the grid is a little like an overstacked shelf, with a shopkeeper loading on more and more tins at a time when no one is taking them back off again. Eventually, the shelf will collapse.
There’s two options to address this. The shop can either stop putting tins on the shelves, or, it could do something to encourage more people to take cans.
The problem with ‘turning down’ energy generation to stay balanced (i.e. no more new cans on the shelf), is that it will likely mean asking small solar and wind generators to switch off. It’s a waste of green power, and could even harm small UK renewable generators as they lose the opportunity to sell their clean energy.
So instead of turning down renewables, we want to collectively ‘turn up’, increasing our energy use during the times when there’s too much wind and solar power on the grid – i.e. taking the green ‘tins’ off the overstacked shelf.
How can it possibly be greener to tell people to use more energy?
It’s not really about using MORE energy – it’s about changing WHEN you use it. Every day, there are energy ‘rush hours’: times of day when most people cook dinner, put the tellie on, do the washing, have a shower. Usually it’s between 4-7pm, when it’s most convenient and most people are home. No matter what, the grid always has to meet our high demand during these energy ‘rush hours’ – and that often means burning extra fossil fuels.
Instead of adding to the demand at the busiest times of day, why not do everything you can to move your energy use into times when the grid has green energy to spare? You still get to do the washing, cleaning, charging, baking – but you just choose to do it when energy is low-carbon.
Is this a one-off?
No. This is a trial in what energy nerds call ‘demand side response’ – which is basically a consumer-led effort to shift energy consumption into times when there’s green power to spare, and out of the busiest (and dirtiest) times every day.
As the UK’s power gets greener and greener, with more wind and solar and less coal and oil, there’ll be more and more incidences where supply outmatches demand. The energy industry is scrambling to find ways to meet this challenge.
We reckon rewarding customers for doing their bit to make the UK’s energy system smarter and greener will speed up the big change we all need: bringing about a fossil-fuel free, sustainable energy system sooner.
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