Million sign up to National Grids blackout-swerving scheme

Liz Truss discusses National Grid’s warning

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Millions have Britons have signed up for a National Gird scheme that pays consumers to cut their electricity use during peak hours as part of a plan to avoid a situation where the UK gets plunged into darkness during the coldest months of the year. Amid fears that the UK may not be able to shore up enough energy imports from Europe this winter as the mainland grapples with its own energy crisis, National Grid ESO’s unlikely “worst-case scenario” is an emergency plan that would involve planned three-hour blackouts that would be rolled out across the country to balance the grid. 

National Grid’s John Pettigrew has previously warned that the blackouts would come at peak hours when demand is highest (between 3pm and 7pm) during the “deepest darkest evenings in January and February”. 

But to avoid this horror scenario, National Grid’s Demand Flexibility Service will pay people to stop using electricity during those hours to ease pressures on supplies. The scheme has yet to be officially deployed, but there have already been five test runs. 

National Grid says it expects to pay out a total of £2.8million to energy suppliers that were involved, just for the testing period.  A further seven tests are also set to take place between now and March.

However, suppliers are expected to keep some of the money to keep hold of varying shares and make a profit, with only a portion going to end consumers. Despite this around a million customers have signed up to get hold of some extra cash this winter. 

It marks the first-ever time that households have participated in flexible usage on mass in the UK. National Grid said that the energy savings from participating customers in the first two tests were much higher than originally expected. It is still waiting for the latest data from the most recent tests.

Back in October, the grid warned it would need to be able to slash demand by 2 Gigawwatts through the scheme in order to avoid its planned outages. But with a million customers enrolled, the demand reduction available to date was still only in the “hundreds of megawatts”. However, it did expect that volumes would “continue to grow throughout winter”.

Craig Dyke, head of national control at the National Grid electricity system operator, said: “This service successfully proves that consumers up and down the country are standing by to get involved in flexibility solutions.”

Energy suppliers offering the opportunity for their customers to take part include E.on, Octopus, EDF and British Gas. Customers only get one day’s notice before the scheme gets activated.

Octopus Energy says it dished out £1million to its customers who were paid to reduce their energy usage during the first four saving sessions. Nearly half a million of its customers have signed up, and a quarter of a million of those have taken part in four-hour-long test sessions. A fifth session was also completed on Monday night between 5-7pm. 

Collectively, they slashed the energy demand on the grid during each of these peak periods by over 100MW  – the same amount of energy that is produced by a gas power station in an hour.

In the first four sessions combined, the customers managed to take 450MWh of energy consumption out of peak times. According to Octopus Energy, that is the same amount of energy needed to fully charge one smartphone per UK household.

Alex Schoch, head of flexibility at Octopus Energy Group, said: “This is a massive milestone – across just four hours, we’ve been able to pay out £1 million to our customers. Normally, this money would have gone to businesses or dirty gas power plants to balance energy demand, instead, it’s helping people lower their energy bills this winter.”

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This comes after National Grid’s emergency plan was pushed to the limit after plummeting temperatures saw a spike in demand and prices, while France requested to slash its nuclear energy exports to the UK. 

As a back up, National Gird ordered to cola units at the Drax power plant in Yorkshire to be put on standby, although it later cancelled the requested and urged people to continue to keep using energy as “normal”. 

Despite this, experts were still weary over the extended cold spell, nuclear issues in France, and low wind speeds, which threatened to overstretch the UK power system this earlier this week. 

But Jeremy Nicholson, energy market expert at Alfa Energy, told the Telegraph: “It’s still unlikely that we would experience any temporary power cuts or still less gas shortages. But the risk of it is significantly higher this winter than it’s been for many, many years.”

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