British Gas does something great…

Yes, you did read the title correctly… and no I haven’t lost my mind. I’m about to congratulate an energy company for seeing the future and attempting to deliver it.

‘Free Energy at the Weekend’ reads the headline, ‘Gotta be a catch’ comes the reply. Well yes, and no is my observation. You may have seen that British Gas are now offering a tariff to households with smart meters which will give them ‘free’ daytime electricity on a Saturday or Sunday.

There is a huge degree of cynicism regarding energy companies, much of it justified. However, this time I think British Gas deserve some credit for taking a punt on what many perceive as the future of domestic energy – so what’s the deal?

Time of use tariffs are nothing new, as anyone who lives with storage heaters will tell you. Economy 7 tariffs, designed as a way of using the surplus energy that non-responsive power stations supply, have been in existence for years. Offering  cheap electricity during the night, and slightly more expensive electricity during the day, they have provided a make-do solution for the imbalance of electricity on the grid. Smart grids are destined to change that – with smart meters being the domestic device that allows this to happen.

The new tariff from British Gas aims to capitalise on the 2.89 million smart meters that have already been installed in homes across the country ( although you can’t yet switch supplier to BG if your smart meters were installed by another energy supplier).    The new tariff does not charge customers for any electricity used between 9 – 5 on either a Saturday or a Sunday (customers choice). Neither does it charge any extra for electricity at other times ( over and above other British Gas tariffs )

Can it save you money?

This is the key question, and it depends how much you can change your behaviour and your starting point. If I punch in my details to a comparison site, the BG tariff is 19% more than the current cheapest deal – the question I then need to ask is can I switch 19% ( or more ) of my electricity use to a Saturday between 9 and 5? The answer, for me, is quite simple – not a chance.

Different households will generate different numbers using the above approach, and for some this might prove financially worthwhile. British Gas conducted it’s own trials and found that the average customer saving was £60 – based on it’s own standard tariff. And that’s the rub of this, it is not the cheapest way to buy your energy.

So why the congratulations?

BG deserve recognition for introducing a tariff that actually has the legs to deliver behaviour change among UK households. Energy monitoring devices have been around for ages and whilst there are some ardent energy monitoring stalwarts (me included) the impact of these devices is rarely sustained after the novelty has worn thin. Improving on this by offering a ‘free’ period gives real control back to households. The joy you can feel by completing your 17th load of washing, safe in the knowledge that all you’ve paid is the 26p standing charge, is not to be sniffed at.

I hope the take up of this tariff proves a success for 2 reasons:

  1. It’s one of the first demonstrable and practicable uses for smart meters  -as such it has the ability to be used as an engagement tool on the smart meter shy.
  2. It has the potential to make households consider their energy usage as part of their normal routine.

What ever your thoughts on smart meters, or British Gas, this really could be the start of something big…..

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Contentment before Capacity

I have a new life mantra –  I found it, as I expect a lot of people do, in a pub. Though perhaps unusually it did not take several trips to the bar to discover, nor was it necessary to spend any cash to unlock the inner recesses of my mind. Rather disappointingly I saw it on a sign as I walked past, it simply read,

‘We welcome drinkers who reach contentment before capacity’

Clearly this is a sensible path to follow for anyone entering a pub – but what if we apply the ‘contentment before capacity’ principal to things that don’t contain alcohol?  Things like:

food ( don’t think anyone would argue with that )

work  (again, we’re onto a winner here)

technology ( do we need more tech in our lives?)

overdrafts ( who wants to reach the capacity of these?)

energy mix of national grid ( what…? )

reducing fuel costs by true community engagement ( I can see I’ve lost you now )

The last 2 points may not exactly follow suit but this is an energy blog after all, so what do I mean?

This is about a balance. It’s having realistic, but still ambitious, expectations of what can be achieved whilst accepting what can’t.  Let’s think about how this plays out….

Consider the energy mix of the UK. Who wouldn’t want it to be from 100% renewable sources, but how realistic is that? Is it an achievable aim? Can we only reach contentment if we have 100% renewable capacity? I suggest the answer should be no, we can’t, and with current technologies we never will. I’m not suggesting we should be complacent, or for a minute we accept that this is the ‘greenest’ government ever but spending resources focussing on unachievable goals simply reduces the amount of resource available to actually solve issues.

Fuel poverty is a key social issue for the UK. Can we only be content when no household is suffering from fuel poverty in the country? Of course we should always be championing the cause, highlighting the social injustice which has led to 15,000 of Plymouth’s households having to choose between heating and eating.  But ask yourself the question, can you honestly for-see a time when no household in Plymouth suffers from fuel poverty?

I think DECC asked itself this question when publishing the latest fuel poverty strategy. This sensibly puts efficiency improvements to the home at the heart of the issue. I don’t accept that it goes far enough quick enough – but I am content that it’s a realistic approach.

The bottom line, as far as I’m concerned, is that we need to be careful of the battles we choose. I have absolute admiration for anyone who can keep believing in a cause no matter how unlikely the desired outcome, and clearly some causes are so emotive, and so fundamental that to give up hope would be to destroy it’s reason for being.

I hope you don’t think I’m on an apathetic come down, there are a wealth of issues within PEC’s remit that demand the passion and attention they are given by PEC’s many contributors. My point is that by focussing on the ambitiously realistic we are far more likely to succeed in our aims and reach contentment before capacity. I’ll raise a glass to that – just the one…

The Black Hole of UK Energy Policy

 

One thing you don’t hear Amber Rudd or the big DC broadcasting is their incredible knowledge and ability in the field of Physics. It’s a little known fact but the whole Conservative team who concern themselves with UK energy policy are in fact expert physicists. “Nonsense!” I hear you cry .

Not so. How else could our current government have created an energy policy black hole in a mere 6 months of being office? Just so you’re clear, and thank you to Wikipedia,

‘A black hole is a geometrically defined region of spacetime exhibiting such strong gravitational effects that nothing can escape from inside it.’

The energy policy black hole created by the conservatives clearly has an insatiable appetite, consuming all manner of energy related policies – FiTS, Green Deal, Roc’s, Zero Carbon homes, chunks of ECO (the remainder of which is perilously close to the edge). The key thing about a black hole is that nothing gets out – all of these policies have gone for good.

“Not True” I can hear ardent Tory supporters shout, “FiTs are still here!”. In spirit perhaps, though you show me a solar scheme that’s viable based on FiTs and I’ll show you the greenest government ever……

I’m a firm believer in changing things that don’t work, but you can’t just stop something as critical as reducing CO2 emissions, or insulating homes occupied by the fuel poor, without replacing it with something better. We’ve had nothing other than a verbal rhetoric from our most esteemed physicists – a rhetoric that suggests ‘the Energy Company Obligation is concentrated on those in greatest need’.

Need in Amber Rudd’s eyes is defined as ‘the ones who live in damp and draughty homes’ – I’m not aware of any energy company who chose to meet their ECO obligation by installing draught proofing. The government also promises that 1 million homes will receive help over the next 5 years. To put that in context there are 4.5 million homes suffering the effects of fuel poverty in the UK right now – you can make up your own mind as to whether the Conservative’s target is ambitious enough.

We can not afford to plod on with what little existing energy policy we have. Globally climate change is there for all to see – locally people are dying because they can not afford to heat their home. So come on Amber, come on Dave, black holes are so 2015 – give all us community focussed do gooders something to get our teeth into this year.