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The UK’s plan to shift household electricity use away from peak hours to slash utility bills

A smart electricity meter
Photo: Gary Stringer/Dreamstime.

The UK government says new measures aimed at creating a “smart”, flexible electricity system will help households to reduce their energy bills, strengthen the national grid, and rein in planet-heating emissions.

Among other things, the programme calls for minimum product standards that promote the adoption of smart appliances – which can be programmed to draw power mainly during off-peak hours, when electricity tariffs are lowest.

As an example, a smart charging point will wait for a period of low demand and prices – typically during the middle of the day or late at night – to charge an electric car. Similarly, a smart heat pump will pre-heat a home when prices are low, and curb its power consumption during costly peak hours.

This can yield meaningful savings for households. Consumers can also be paid if they allow their appliances to turn up or down their consumption at the request of the grid operator, which needs to constantly keep demand and supply in balance.

The government said in a statement that shifting some electricity use away from expensive peak periods will ease pressure on the grid and reduce the UK’s reliance on backup fossil fuel generators, while also reducing the need for new infrastructure like pylons. This will generate savings of up to £50 billion by 2050, it says, adding that 24,000 jobs could be created by the programme.

“Public participation in our energy system is not a ‘nice to have’ but an absolute imperative to reach net zero in a cost-effective and secure manner,” said Sarah Honan, head of policy at The Association for Decentralised Energy. “This publication marks another important step towards unlocking the value of demand flexibility through smart-as-standard devices and competitive customer offerings from a range of service providers.”

The new standards will help consumers to compare services while ensuring they aren’t unfairly locked into contracts. They’ll also ensure that appliances such as electric vehicle smart charging points and smart heat pumps can work with any supplier or tariff.

The programme mirrors global efforts to manage electricity demand and shore up efficiencies.

A 30-month study in South Africa’s Western Cape province, for example, found that smart water heater management systems can play a major role in reducing energy use, smoothing power demand throughout the day, and facilitating the broader shift towards renewable energy.

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