When can I get paid tsaving energy? Will National Grid’s Demand Flexibility Service run during freezing weather

Major energy suppliers like British Gas, E.on and Octopus Energy are taking part in the scheme, which could reduce your energy

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

Hundreds of thousands of households across the UK were paid to reduce their energy consumption on two separate occasions in January.

The Demand Flexibility Service, a national electricity usage reduction scheme run by Great Britain’s electricity network operator National Grid ESO, kicked in on 23 and 24 January 2023 as the UK’s energy reserves were deemed to be too low. Some of the people taking part reportedly went on bike rides to take advantage of the scheme.

It was brought in to help get the UK through a winter of tight energy supplies, which it was initially feared would lead to blackouts. Poor relations between Europe and Russia as a result of President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 have forced most European countries to turn to a smaller pool of energy supplies in recent months.

While meteorological winter is now over, the UK is set to experience freezing conditions for much of the next month. Snow has already hit Southern England and Northern Scotland, with more wintry conditions expected to be on their way. The sudden cold snap has forced the National Grid ESO to fire up back up coal power stations.

But will it mean the Demand Flexibility Service will run - and if it will, how does the scheme work?

What is the Demand Flexibility Service?

National Grid ESO’s Demand Flexibility Service is a scheme that incentivises people to cut their electricity consumption when energy supplies across England, Wales and Scotland are deemed to be tight. It basically pays people and businesses not to use power at peak times of the day - typically from 5pm onwards - so that energy usage is more evenly spread throughout the day, and therefore more predictable for the National Grid.

By reducing energy demand, the operator has greater flexibility to ensure Britain has enough energy supply to power itself when demand threatens to outstrip supply. In the past, it relied upon power stations being able to up their output to avoid any shortfalls, but the country’s increasing reliance on renewable energy - an energy source that cannot be controlled - and a global shortage of gas has prompted the power network to launch the Demand Flexibility Service.

UK households will be able to get paid for saving electricity on Tuesday (image: Adobe)UK households will be able to get paid for saving electricity on Tuesday (image: Adobe)
UK households will be able to get paid for saving electricity on Tuesday (image: Adobe)

How much you stand to save depends on how much power you typically use at the allotted time, as well as who you get your energy from. For example, Octopus Energy customers can access higher payouts of around £3.37 per unit of electricity saved compared to the £1.60 to £1.70 most other suppliers are offering. It all depends on the contracts your provider has negotiated with National Grid ESO.

First launched in November 2022, it had only been tested by a small number of households prior to January’s first ‘live’ run. But now, up to a million households can take part when the scheme is scheduled.

How can you sign up to National Grid scheme?

Whether or not you can sign up to the demand Flexibility Service depends on who your energy supplier is. You must also have a smart meter installed in your property.

There are 26 suppliers taking part at present, but some are only running the scheme for business customers. The largest suppliers involved include:

  • British Gas
  • E.on Next
  • OVO Energy
  • Shell Energy
  • EDF
  • Octopus Energy

Each supplier is likely to run the scheme in a slightly different way, so you will have to check with your provider to see if you’re eligible to take part. Most energy firms offer the chance to sign up through their website.

Some may require you to apply to sign up well in advance of Demand Flexibility Service operation dates. Others will allow you to register right up until the scheme starts Once you register with your provider, you will have to opt in every time the scheme runs. Most suppliers will inform you when to do so via text or email.

Will the Demand Flexibility Service run today?

The Demand Flexibility Service ran for an hour on 23 January (5pm until 6pm) and 90-minutes on 24 January (4.30pm until 6pm). It coincided with peak times, when gas and electricity usage tends to be at its highest.

But despite the National Grid issuing an ‘electricity margin notice’ - a warning to the network that supplies are tight - as a result of freezing temperatures sweeping into the country from the North, the payback scheme is not scheduled to take place on Tuesday (7 March) or Wednesday (8 March). Instead, the power grid operator has called on four out of five coal-fired power plants to warm up in case they are needed.

The UK may have to burn coal to keep the lights on during the Arctic blast (image: Getty Images)The UK may have to burn coal to keep the lights on during the Arctic blast (image: Getty Images)
The UK may have to burn coal to keep the lights on during the Arctic blast (image: Getty Images)

It is understood to be because the Demand Flexibility Service has to be triggered by 2.30pm the day before it goes live so that people have more than 24 hours notice. Given how hard to predict the weather has been over the last week, National Grid’s operational assessment on Monday did not deem the scheme would be necessary ahead of the 2.30pm deadline.

This outlook changed overnight into Tuesday, with the grid having to rely on another tool it has at its disposal - coal. In a statement published on social media, it said: “The ESO has issued an additional notification that we will warm four of our five winter contingency coal units for potential use on Tuesday 7 March. This notification is not confirmation that the unit will be used on Tuesday, but that it will be available to the ESO, if required.

“The ESO, as a prudent system operator, has developed these tools for additional contingency to operate the network as normal. This does not mean electricity supplies are at risk.”

Coal power stations have to be given notice to warm up because they need to reach a ce

How can you save money through National Grid scheme?

You are only likely to make big savings through the Demand Flexibility Service if you tend to use a lot of energy during the times it runs for. So, say you usually cook your evening meal between 5pm and 6pm and the scheme runs for that hour, you could be paid more for holding off than if you usually do it after 6pm.

To work out how much you could save, you will need to know how many units of energy your electric appliances burn through. For example, a typical electric oven will use two units per hour, so you could save more than £6.50 if you usually have it on for an hour.

Renewables are less easily controlled than fossil fuels and hydro power (image: AFP/Getty Images)Renewables are less easily controlled than fossil fuels and hydro power (image: AFP/Getty Images)
Renewables are less easily controlled than fossil fuels and hydro power (image: AFP/Getty Images)

While turning everything off will help your cause, you will not necessarily save that much money. Electric fittings like light bulbs tend to use only a small amount of energy, which means it will take a long time for them to generate any savings.

To work out how much energy an appliance or other electrical item uses, you must first find out what its wattage is. To convert it into kWh (kiloWatt hours - i.e. one unit of electricity), divide the wattage by 1,000.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.