Ben Webster writes in The Times about an important trial underway in London to adapt energy consumption according to when electricity is produced from wind power.
How to save money: set alarm, get up and do the ironing
Getting up early just to boil the kettle or switch on the washing machine might seem strange behaviour but such disruptions to daily routines will become the norm under plans to vary the price of electricity by the hour.
Families paid up to 17 times more for each unit of electricity depending on when they switched on, in the first big trial of “time-of-use” pricing.
The electricity industry is planning to introduce the new way of charging customers to cope with the peaks and troughs in output from wind farms, which form a rapidly increasing share of Britain’s generating capacity.
Electricity demand tends to peak on cold, windless days when wind turbines contribute very little to the grid. On Monday, between 5 pm and 5.30 pm, demand was the highest this winter but wind farm output was at its lowest, meeting only 1 per cent of demand.
The new pricing system, also known as “wind-twinning tariffs”, would offer people cheap rates during windy periods to encourage them to use washing machines, tumble dryers and other power-hungry devices.
More than 1,100 homes in London took part in the year-long trial in which they paid three rates for electricity: 4p, 12p and 67p. They were sent text messages a day in advance informing them of changes to the high and low rate, allowing them to plan when to use electricity.
One man told researchers from Imperial College London, who conducted the research for UK Power Networks and Ofgem, that he got out the ironing board on Saturday morning while electricity was at the cheapest rate and raced to finish his shirts because the price rose at 11 am.
Another man set his alarm early to put the kettle on to beat the 67p rate, which on some days began at 5 am.
People were generally willing to change the time they used washing machines and dishwashers. More than a third of people with electric ovens also changed the time they cooked meals.
The average household saved £21 a year, and one “super flexible” family saved £148. However, a quarter of households made no saving and some would have paid up to £40 more – although they had been guaranteed the trial would not cost them money.
Four out of five people who tested the tariffs said they should be “standard for everyone”. A similar proportion said the tariffs motivated them to carry out domestic chores.