11th September 2019
An update on outgoingOctopus now that the Feed-in Tariff has ended
Phil Steele, Future Technologies Evangelist
On April 1st 2019, we launched outgoingOctopus, the UK’s first smart export tariff, paying people for the green energy they generate at home. This takes the place of the Feed-in Tariff (FiT) scheme, which ended on March 31st this year. Since then, thousands of customers have signed up to outgoing, and in June, the government introduced a Smart Export Guarantee, meaning all major suppliers would have to follow our lead in offering an export tariff from January 2020.
A few months on, it’s about time for an update on outgoingOctopus – including an insight into the process of getting customers set up on the cutting edge of export.
RECAP: Filling the gap left by the Feed-in Tariff
On March 31th, the government’s Feed-in Tariff (FiT) programme ended for homes with solar panels after nearly a decades’ success in incentivising people around the UK to generate their own green energy. Going forward, the onus would be on individual suppliers to pay customers for any surplus energy generated at home.
The problem was, suppliers weren’t mandated to pay customers for their own-generated energy (something called an export tariff). A Smart Export Guarantee was introduced in June, meaning all major energy suppliers would have to offer an export tariff from 2020.
But this left a nine month gap between the end of FiT and the January 2020 Smart Export Guarantee deadline. Climate change is a global catastrophe that requires action now, not in nine months. To decarbonise the UK’s energy supply, we need as many people contributing green, renewable power to the grid as possible. We need to encourage people to do their bit, and reward the people that do – not leave green micro-generators hanging for nine months.
The day after the Feed-in Tariff ended, we had launched our solution: outgoingOctopus, the UK’s first ever smart export tariff.
Within just a few months of launch we’ve had thousands of customers sign up. It’s amazing to be able to reward so many customers for exporting their excess renewable energy. As yet, no other supplier has released their own export tariff, and right now, customers on Outgoing can get paid for what they generate, months ahead of the SEG deadline.
The innovators’ challenge
outgoingOctopus was launched months ahead of any other supplier, and is far smarter than what’s required in the government’s Smart Export Guarantee (we break this down in detail later on).
- It features dynamic pricing, paying you at different rates every half an hour based on the wholesale price of energy at that time of day
- We’ll credit you for your ‘exported’ energy on your regular energy statements, right alongside the energy you’re ‘importing’ – not on a separate statement
- We offer two Outgoing tariffs – Fixed or Agile. Outgoing Fixed guarantees 5.5p per kWh for every unit you export. Outgoing Agile matches your half-hourly prices with day-ahead wholesale rates, helping you make the most of the energy you generate.
Our custom tech platform and dedicated dev team make this kind of innovation possible. We’re committed to customer-centric business and service but we’re a tech company, first and foremost. And we build like a tech company.
This means we like to launch beta products and engage directly with early adopters to polish the experience. This means stuff isn’t always perfect, right off the bat, but we get to evolve the product based on user experience and feedback.
However, the massive amount of interest from literally thousands of customers has meant that we haven’t been able to engage as directly and personally throughout the process as we’d like. I wanted to give a little detail about some of the challenges we’ve run into as we perfect the outgoingOctopus tariff.
Firstly, it takes a lot of manual work to get each customer set up, and means engaging with a lot of different energy industry systems.
It sounds simple: just start reading the meter data and calculate a credit to go on you statement. Unfortunately there’s a little more to it than that.
The four main steps to get a customer onto outgoingOctopus:
- Check the FiT register. As it’s not possible to receive both FiT export payments AND measured export we always check the national FiT register to see what you’ve already got. This is a manual step where we look at your account with us and search for your meter identity on Ofgem’s FiT register. If this shows the property is already on a FiT then we work with you on the options such as ceasing the Export part of FiT; this requires us to update the FiT register manually.
- Check we have the right documentation. Aligned with the new Smart Export Guarantee (SEG) we need a copy of the MCS (Microgeneration Certification Scheme) certificate, the DNO (Distribution Network Operator) Notification form and the DNOs response. For older installs we’re seeing a high level that haven’t been notified to the DNO which can cause several weeks’ delay and frustration and for very recent installs the DNOs may not have processed the notification causing us issues.
- Use the industry systems to request a new extra identity for the meter called the Export MPAN. This is another system that we log on to and manually enter all the details. Responses take between 2 days and 2 weeks. If the DNO notification isn’t recorded the request gets rejected, or if the equipment installed is not compliant it gets rejected.
- Add to your account and start receiving smart meter data. We have to set up our billing system with the new Export MPAN, preferred tariff and (where relevant) line up the FiT Export end date. Typically it takes 2 to 4 days for the different industry systems that our platform connects to to complete everything.
PLUS: as export requires a smart meter, we'll arrange the install for anyone that doesn't already have a Secure SMETS1 or SMETS2 smart meter. Typically we aim to install smart meters within one to two months. Once the meter is installed it takes up to 10 days for the various industry systems to catch up and for our platform to start to receive half-hourly data.
Currently, if all the steps above go smoothly, the sign-up process is around three to four weeks if you have a smart meter we can link to, and around eight weeks if we need to install one.
When we set out, we were anticipating those with a smart meter would be able to join Outgoing within one to two weeks. This is possible under perfect conditions (the simplest path), but it’s rare.
The sign-up process can vary drastically based on a few different factors – your meter (i.e. whether you’ve got a SMETS1, SMETS2, or no smart meter at all), whether you’re already on a Feed-in tariff, and if your solar panels meet the current SEG standards for safe install. Whether you have a SMETS1 or SMETS2 meter makes a difference when moving you onto export. SMETS2 meters communicate via a completely different set of systems, meaning we’ve had to work to enable export on both types – we don’t want Outgoing restricted only to homes with an existing SMETS1. (Read more about the UK smart meter rollout on our founder Greg’s latest blog.)
The many factors that come into play on an individual customer’s account, combined with the different industry third parties we need to get info from, means we’re a while away from fully automated comms to let customers know where they are in the signup process. The manual, trial-and-test nature of something this cutting edge is one of the challenges of a beta product like outgoingOctopus. It’s something we’re working to improve. In the meantime, we want to say thanks to the fantastic green early adopters on this tariff for bearing with us through any speed bumps that might come up.
Breaking down the Smart Export Guarantee
We’re still five months away from the SEG coming into force, but we wanted to look into some of the key points from the Smart Export Guarantee guidelines, and how outgoingOctopus fits in. To read SEG full, head over to gov.uk.
Which suppliers does SEG apply to?
All energy suppliers with more than 150,000 customers have to pay for their customers’ small-scale generation from January 2020.
How much will export tariff customers get paid?
There aren’t any real guidelines around the export price suppliers offer – other than that the tariff should be greater than zero! This means suppliers could, in theory, offer less than the standard FiT rate (5.24p per unit of energy exported).
Our flat export rate is 5.5p, and our “Agile” price varies, but at peak times can often reach 10p or higher depending on where you are.
Under SEG, the tariff must be half-hourly metered and registered for Settlement. What does this mean?
Energy suppliers have to report the renewable energy being exported to the grid each half-hour. This doesn’t mean that customers have to be paid per half-hour.
We CAN pay per half-hour – it's what makes our export tariff different – and therefore with the Agile outgoingOctopus tariff tracking the wholesale market, you get paid the best possible rate in each half-hour.
What kind of energy does SEG apply to?
Ultimately, SEG exists to increase low-carbon energy generation, so the obligation only applies to low-carbon sources like solar panels and mini wind turbines.
It’s up to individual suppliers to decide whether to pay for other sources including battery storage (we’re not restricting the source of energy for export, so those with home battery storage can benefit too).
What kind of rules are there around solar PV installation?
The Microgeneration Certificate Scheme (MCS)for safe installation is required under SEG:
“suppliers must be satisfied that exporters’ installations are suitably safe, which could in practice mean obtaining from exporters evidence that their installation is certified to the Microgeneration Certification Scheme, or equivalent, standards”
We’re accepting MCS and Flexi-orb install certificates and actively work with industry to ensure installations are done to a high quality. For older installs, and cases where customers don’t have an MCS certificate, we’ll work with them to see how we can help.
Can someone join an export tariff and still receive FiT payments?
SEG mandates that customers can’t receive both FiT payments AND export rates. We’re happy to talk this through with anyone considering moving from a Feed-in tariff to outgoingOctopus to help you make sure you’re getting the best prices for your homegrown power.
Our outgoingOctopus beta is a journey which we’re improving all the time and it’s great to have our customers helping us evolve the product. We have far more in store with this technology, and I’ll blog more about it as we continue to drive forward with changes in the energy industry.
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