7th May 2020

Introducing the Big Switch On

Pete Miller, Head of Customer Experience

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This bank holiday weekend, low demand for energy combined with lots of renewable energy means renewable sources might have to shut down.

So we’re running a special invitation only trial to see if home customers can help.

Smart meter customers who join in and help keep these generators online, will be paid for every unit of electricity they use for an hour or two on Sunday.

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 small scale trial – but we think this kind of thing will be far more common in the future. So by running a small trial now we can better understand how many people will respond and how they will 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. This is the first trial of its kind, so we can't invite everyone to join in – but there will be plenty more opportunities like this in the future.

Why is this happening?

This Bank Holiday weekend, the UK could face blackouts thanks 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.

image of Pete Miller

Pete Miller

Head of Customer Experience

Hey I'm Constantine, welcome to Octopus Energy!

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