The UK could be on course for its first planned power cuts since the 1970s this winter, after warnings that the country could run low on energy supplies. It comes as the Russia-Ukraine war has already driven up the price of energy and squeezed supplies in Europe - sparking fears of an international power supply crisis.
While Liz Truss has announced that UK households will effectively have their energy bills subsidised by the government for two years (a scheme that has been matched for businesses), she has been criticised for not raising the need for potential energy rationing measures.
Now, the National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) - the firm in charge of keeping the energy grid supplied - is calling for people to sign up to an off-peak electricity scheme so that demand can be moved away from peak times.
But when are off-peak hours? Here’s what you need to know.
When is off-peak electricity?
Off-peak hours are when national energy demand is at its lowest. So, it will be of little surprise to learn that the specific hours for these quieter periods tend to fall between 10pm and 8am every day.
However, some energy suppliers are now offering off-peak power during daytime hours, typically between 11am and 5pm.
Off-peak hours can be useful for UK energy supplies, given peak times can often see the country’s demand spike and almost outstrip supply. This is particularly true in winter, when households tend to rely more on heating and hot water.
What electricity meter do you need for off-peak electricity?
Until the new off-peak energy scheme kicks in, the only meters that offer off-peak electricity prices are Economy 7 (E7) and Economy 10 (E10) meters.
While all suppliers offer standard day rates for electricity, having these meters allowed you to opt for tariffs - known at Time Of Use (TOU) plans - that charged you less at off-peak times (but tended to have a high peak rate).
They are typically found in properties that use electricity for both their heating and hot water.
The difference between E7 and E10 is how long you have access to the off-peak prices for. E7 means you get seven hours of off-peak prices per day, while E10 means you get 10 hours.
However, suppliers are beginning to phase out these meters and their specific tariffs in favour of smart meters.
The only suppliers offering Time of Use tariffs through smart meters have been Green Energy UK and Octopus Energy. Other suppliers had been trialling the tariffs, with some targeting them at specific markets - like electric vehicle owners.
Green Energy UK’s Tide tariff offers four rates for weekdays and two at weekends:
- Weekday ‘Low Tide’: midnight to 7am
- Tide Weekday: 7am to 4pm
- ‘High Tide’: 4pm to 8pm
- Tide Weeknight: 8pm to midnight
- Weekend ‘Low Tide’: midnight to 7am
- Tide Weekend:7am to midnight
Octopus Energy’s TOU plans split weekdays into three and weekend days into two:
- Weekday peak: 7am to 11am and then 5pm to 9pm
- Off-peak: 11am to 5pm and then 9pm to 11pm
- Night rate: 11pm to 7am
- Weekend off-peak: 7am to 11pm
- Weekend night rate: 11pm to 7am
Octopus has also offered incentives to 100,000 customers who reduced their consumption at peak times as part of a trial that took place earlier in 2022.
Agile Octopus saw a minimum of 20p paid back to its customers for every kilowatt hour (kWh) of usage they saved at peak times. This money was paid back either in the form of credit on energy bills, or as cash that would go straight back into their bank accounts.
What is new off-peak electricity scheme?
Now, you can access off-peak electricity discounts through your energy supplier. National Grid ESO has encouraged consumers to seek out these schemes as part of a ‘Save Money and Back Britain’ campaign launched on Thursday (6 October).
While ESO believes the UK will get a sufficient amount of energy this winter, it has released several worst-case scenarios for what could happen if it doesn’t. As well as switching on coal-fired power stations and stopping EV owners from charging at certain times, one of the scenarios involved planned blackouts.
To lessen the likelihood of these situations, the power grid operator has urged consumers to shift demand away from peak times - and it will offer financial incentives to do so.
A ‘demand flexibility service’ will run between November and March and will reward people for taking part. It’s hoped it will save 2GW of power to help balance supply and demand.
The ESO’s director of corporate affairs, Jake Rigg, said: “The demand flexibility service is a first of its kind and a smart way for signed-up consumers in homes and businesses to save money and back Britain. If you put your washing machine or other electrical appliances on at night instead of the peak in the early evening, you can get some money back when we all need it.
“The service is due to launch in November, so watch out for further details soon. This really is a window into the future where a flexible energy system will be cleaner and lower cost to alternatives.”
According to OVO Energy, a household could save £100 a month if they sign up to transfer the bulk of their energy use to off-peak hours. NationalWorld will bring you more detail on the scheme as soon as it becomes available.
Meanwhile, larger businesses will be paid to lower their demand. They may do this by switching to batteries or generators at peak times.
How do I get a smart meter?
To take part in any off-peak electricity scheme, it is likely you will have to have a smart meter installed.
More than half of residential and commercial properties in the UK now have a smart meter. But NationalWorld has previously reported that the government is unlikely to be able to meet its 2025 target to install one in every UK home and business.
Your energy supplier may have already been in touch with you about getting one installed. If not, you can contact them to arrange an installation.
The process is free. For more advice on getting a smart meter, you should visit the Ofgem website - or that of your energy supplier.