More than 300,000 sign up for scheme which pays households to cut energy at peak hours to help stave off blackouts

  • Octopus Energy said 320,000 of its customers had signed up to its ‘Saving Sessions’ scheme on Tuesday
  • It falls under ‘demand flexibility service’ scheme run by the National Grid’s Electricity Systems Operator (ESO)
  • British Gas has also signed up for five-month scheme, which will run from November until March 31 next year
  • ESO is paying up to £3 per unit (kWh) saved, meaning a maximum of £240 per household over five months
  • However the amount that will be passed onto consumers will be decided by each energy firm taking part

Hundreds of thousands of UK households have agreed to cut back on their energy usage in return for cash amid fears of rolling power cuts this winter. 

Octopus Energy said 320,000 of its customers (out of 1.4 million who were eligible) had decided to sign up to its ‘Saving Sessions’ scheme, which was expected to launch on Tuesday. British Gas has also announced it will launch a similar initiative. 

Both plans fall under the wider ‘demand flexibility service’ announced earlier this month by the National Grid’s Electricity Systems Operator (ESO), which manages supply and demand of energy in the UK. The scheme is set to run from November until March 31 next year. 

It comes as Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine and his tactical tightening of pipelines in Europe continue to wreak havoc on gas supplies – while weather experts are warning of potentially colder-than-usual temperatures in the coming months. 

The ESO previously said it expects to pay providers the equivalent of £3 per unit (kWh) saved. However the amount passed onto the average consumer will be decided by each energy firm. 

Households will be asked to reduce their usage on at least 12 separate occasions during the five-month period. If the entire proposed £3 per kwh rebate is passed on to Britons by their supplier, this could mean around £240 off their bills in total. 

Octopus, however, said it expects around one to two sessions per week, or 25 in total, with consumers earning up to £100. It said rewards will be paid as ‘OctoPoints’ which can be redeemed as credit in pounds. 

Bulb, So Energy and Utility Warehouse will not be taking part in the scheme, reports Moneysavingexpert.com, while E.on, E.on Next and EDF will be, but are unable to provide further details as of yet. 

In a bid to take stress off the electricity grid, households taking part in the ESO-run scheme could receive payments of up to £20-a-day if they don’t use washing machines, tumble dryers, dishwashers and even games consoles between 4pm and 7pm. 

It does not cost consumers anything to sign up to the scheme, and they do not get punished if they decide to use electricity during the periods when they are asked to reduce usage.

Octopus Energy said that 320,000 of its customers (out of 1.4 million who were eligible) had decided to sign up to the scheme, which was expected to launch on Tuesday

This is what Britons could be paid back if they take part in a scheme that will ask them to limit energy use at peak times on 12 separate occasions. The ESO previously said it expects to pay providers the equivalent of £3 per unit (kWh) saved. However the amount passed onto the average consumer will be decided by each energy firm. Households will be asked to reduce their usage on at least 12 separate occasions during the five-month period. If the entire proposed £3 per kwh rebate is passed on to Britons by their supplier, over five months this could mean around £240 off their bills in total (maximum possible returns pictured) 

It was unclear how many suppliers have signed up to the National Grid scheme, but OVO Energy is launching a separate programme with a similar goal. OVO said on Tuesday that a quarter of its eligible customers have signed up – around 7,000 households

Households will be encouraged to sign up to a ‘demand flexibility service’ that rewards them for using off-peak electricity. They could be paid for taking measures such as running appliances at night  – but they must have a smart meter

What are blackouts and why might they happen this winter?

National Grid has warned that there could be blackouts this winter if gas power plants are not able to keep running due to the energy crisis.

The electricity systems operator said it is still unlikely but winter could see the first planned blackouts, which the grid calls rota load shedding, since the 1970s.

But why might blackouts happen this year – who will be impacted and what can be done to avoid them?

Why would a grid ever plan blackouts?

Engineers working on the energy grid need to make sure it is ‘balanced’ at all times.

This means that the amount of electricity being put into the grid by power plants, wind farms and others should match the amount being taken out by households and businesses at any given time.

The grid plans for when it thinks demand can be high so it can ask generators to meet that demand.

But if there is ever an imbalance where demand is higher than supply or supply is higher than demand, it can cause major breakdowns in the grid.

That could cause actual physical damage to the grid that could take days to repair.

If the engineers know there will not be enough supply to match demand, sometimes they need to reduce demand by planned outages to avoid major damage.

Why might blackouts be necessary this winter?

Britain has one of the most reliable power networks in the world and unless cables are cut by storms or other accidents outages are rare.

But this winter, gas generators might not be able to get enough gas to keep running.

The grid said that if this happens, it still thinks that is ‘unlikely’, then it might have to cut power to some households and businesses.

Who will be impacted by blackouts and who gets cut off first?

If the grid realises that it has to cut off some parts of the country, it will issue a warning to the local and regional distributors saying how much demand needs to be cut.

It will be up to these so-called distribution network operators to decide who gets cut off and who does not.

But the DNOs have limited controls so most of the time it will be whole areas that are impacted.

How can we avoid blackouts?

If the blackouts are caused by a lack of supply, then the only way is to reduce demand at particular times.

Most demand happens during peak hours of between around 4pm and 7pm when people get home from work, put the kettle on, switch on their ovens and sit down to watch TV.

The overall amount of electricity that people use does not have to reduce if they just change their usage to other times of the day.

For instance, electric cars could be unplugged during these hours, switching the dishwasher could wait until 9pm and you could put the washing machine on earlier in the day or during the weekend.

The grid and energy suppliers will launch a new system in November to pay people if they change the time that they use energy.

The Government could also step in to ration peoples’ energy use or advise them to use less, similar to a hosepipe ban, but so far it has ruled this out.

 

The scheme was expected to launch on Tuesday, however, the official launch has not yet been confirmed.

It was unclear how many suppliers have signed up to the National Grid scheme, but OVO Energy is launching a separate programme with a similar goal.

OVO said on Tuesday that a quarter of its eligible customers have signed up – around 7,000 households.

The supplier is reaching out only to households that it thinks will benefit the most from the scheme.

‘We’re heading into a critical moment for the UK energy sector, and we need a resilient grid to support households through this winter,’ said OVO chief executive Raman Bhatia.

‘It’s testament to our customers’ willingness to support new trials and engage with their usage that we’ve surpassed the target of trialists.

‘We hope the results of this trial will give customers a deeper insight into how they can support the wider system, with potential savings to help over winter.’

Ovo customers will be rewarded with a flat payment of £20 per month if they commit to the scheme, up to a total of £100. 

The National Grid’s ESO hopes its ‘demand flexibility service’ scheme could save 2GW of electricity – equivalent to powering one million homes – and will help the see how much energy use can be ‘shifted’ from peak times to manage supply and demand. They want as many people as possible to take part.

But the scheme relies on users having a controversial smart meter, a device which automatically transmits your energy usage to your provider.

So far around 29.5 million smart meters have been installed in homes and small businesses around the UK – which means that just under half do not have one.

There have been many complaints about the devices, ranging from them logging inaccurate readings that lead to inflated bills to stopping working altogether.

The roll out of smart meters has been plagued by an industry-wide supply problem – but hundreds of thousands of households are unable to get one because they live in high-rise flats, old properties with thick walls, or remote regions with poor signal.

Some critics have said that it should have been rolled out to all homes, regardless of whether they have a smart meter.

Planned blackouts hit the UK during the 1970s in response to the miners strikes and the oil crisis. There have also been major unplanned outages in storms, including in 1987 when over 1.5 million people were left in the dark.

But the lights will stay on this winter unless the gas-fired power plants that produced 43 per cent of Britain’s electricity over the last year cannot get enough gas to continue operating.

It is the most dire of three possible scenarios that the ESO laid out earlier this month for how Britain’s electricity grid might cope with the worst global energy crisis for decades.

In the other two scenarios, the operator hopes that by paying people to charge their electric cars at off-peak times and firing up backup coal plants it can offset the risk of blackouts.

The margins between peak demand and power supply are expected to be sufficient and similar to recent years in the National Grid Electricity System Operator’s (ESO) base case scenario for this winter.

But in the face of the ‘challenging’ winter facing European energy supplies following Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, the grid operator is also planning for what would happen if there were no imports of electricity from Europe and insufficient gas supplies.

To tackle a loss of imports from France, Belgium and the Netherlands, there are two gigawatts of coal-fired power plants on stand-by to fire up if needed to meet demand.

The National Grid Gas Transmission separately said that while gas demand will increase this winter, it expects Britain to be able to get enough gas to take it through a Beast from the East scenario or a long, cold winter. 

It comes as weather experts at the Met Office are now warning of an increased chance of a colder-than-usual winter this year.

This could further up demand on gas and electricity supplies, as Britons turn up the heat to keep their homes warm. 

In one sign of hope, Mr Pettigrew today attempted to calm fears the UK could run out of gas and electricity this winter.

He said it was the National Grid’s ‘base case’ assumption was that the UK would have enough energy supplies to meet heating and lighting demand this winter.

But he added that short rolling power cuts were a possibility. Speaking to the BBC, he said: ‘There could be energy shortfalls in the UK and we will manage that very carefully.’

Britons are being told to brace for blackouts this winter if energy supplies run low – while weather experts warn of the potential for a colder-than-usual winter. Pictured: Library image of someone using a torch to check an electric metre 

John Pettigrew (pictured), the boss of the National Grid, believes British households will find the upcoming winter ‘financially very, very hard’

To make matters worse, weather experts at the Met Office are now warning of an increased chance of a colder-than-usual winter this year. This could further up demand on gas and electricity supplies, as Britons turn up the heat to keep their homes warm. Pictured: The Met Office’s long term forecast

Experts fear Russia ‘is plotting to sabotage Norway-UK pipeline’ in a move that could leave households freezing this winter 

Russia is plotting to strike a key gas pipeline between the UK and Norway to punish Britain over its support for Ukraine and leave households in the cold this winter.

Senior military and intelligence sources told the Mail that Moscow could try and sabotage the Langeled pipeline that provides one-fifth of the country’s gas demand.

The Kremlin has repeatedly weaponised energy supplies to Europe since it invaded Ukraine, slashing deliveries to the EU in response to sanctions.

A series of unexplained leaks to energy connections under the Baltic Sea, including Germany’s controversial Nord Stream projects, are believed to be the work of Russian saboteurs.

Any strike on Langeled would be a further squeeze on supplies to the UK and Europe.

Sabotage is the next step if they want to escalate by attacking Britain’s critical energy infrastructure because we are so fragile,’ said one NATO source.

‘And it’s no coincidence that Britain has been one of Ukraine’s biggest backers.’

Both the British and Norwegian governments have spoken about a general threat to North Sea energy infrastructure in the past.

But officials in Oslo and London have refused to be drawn on specific targets.

Another NATO official who works directly on threats to critical infrastructure said the 725-mile-long Langeled pipeline is an ‘obvious target.’

However he said it was ‘not time for people to panic’, adding: ‘What we’re doing is making sure that the infrastructure that we have and the networks are robust and ready for the winter, and I’ve got thousands of engineers making sure that the network is ready for whatever weather we see over the winter.’ 

Mr Pettigrew said the National Grid was working on a number of emergency plans to protect the UK against an energy shortfall from Europe.

Gas supplies had already been disrupted post-Covid lockdowns, as countries battled to resupply for the big restart, leading to a huge increase demand and subsequently prices.

And this has been compounded by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with gas supplies from Russia being limited to Europe.

Although the UK gets much of its gas from other countries, and gets nearly 40 per cent of its energy from gas, it is still impacted by the disruption to the European energy price market.

Mr Pettigrew told the BBC that one emergency option to help power Britain this winter if fuel supplies drop is to restart mothballed coal-fired power stations.

The UK is already looking at delaying the closure of part of a coal-fired power station in Nottinghamshire due to fears about energy.

Mr Pettigrew added: ‘The next step would be to pay households and businesses to reduce consumption during peak times, with short rolling regional outages a last resort.

‘If we saw that shortfall coming, the most effective way to manage the rest of the network is to ask the distribution companies to reduce demand and they would do that over that rolling period of around 4 to 7pm.’

It comes as the Met Office has published its latest three-month long forecast – which covers this month, December and January.

The Met Office warns that the chance of a colder three month period overall is ‘slightly greater than normal’ – by around 1.3 times.

It means there is a 60 per cent chance of a normal winter, a 25 per cent chance of a cold winter and a 15 per cent chance of a mild winter.

The Met Office also warns of a higher possibility of a slightly calmer winter in terms of wind – also by around 1.3 times. 

The Met Office warns that the chance of a colder three month period overall is ‘slightly greater than normal’ – by around 1.3 times. It means there is a 60 per cent chance of a normal winter, a 25 per cent chance of a cold winter and a 15 per cent chance of a mild winter

The Met Office also warns of a higher possibility of a slightly calmer winter in terms of wind – also by around 1.3 times

Mr Pettigrew told the BBC that one emergency option to help power Britain this winter if fuel supplies drop is to restart mothballed coal-fired power stations. Pictured: Library image of a coal fired power station in Lincolnshire

A calmer winter in terms of wind could impact on the ability to fill energy shortfalls with extra wind power capacity. 

The prediction comes from the Met Office’s three-month forecast, which is used for emergency planning.

The forecast itself does not look at day to day weather or spells, but at the weather overall over three month period. 

According to the Met Office, its prediction of a higher possibility of a slightly colder winter comes from its tracking of global weather patterns, including El Nina.

It says the weather phenomenon this year could bring colder spells, particularly when combined with other long term patterns over the Indian Ocean.

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