In the News

Why Keep All the Lights On This Christmas?

Alice Griffiths

14th December 2022

It may sound like a plan direct from the Grinch that stole Christmas, but read on! UK energy companies are encouraging customers to get involved in saving energy at times of peak demand this winter. It's a small way in which you and I can respond to the current energy crisis and reduce the use of climate-changing coal in the UK this season.

Customers of Octopus Energy and other energy firms including British Gas and E.ON are being encouraged to sign up 'to help out' and earn a cash bonus, even a mystery prize, if their smart meters show they have cut down on their usage during so-called ‘saving sessions’.

Energy companies are suggesting that this is a great way for the general public to get involved in making the energy sector ‘smarter, greener and cheaper’. This is because on cold winter evenings, when demand peaks, the National Grid has to be boosted by switching on the UK's remaining coal-fired power stations. This happened on Monday of this week, when power stations not normally needed to supplement the Grid were readied for operation. (Apparently they take hours to fire up, before they can contribute power to the UK grid). In the event, they weren’t needed, it was reported on BBC’s Radio 4's PM programme.

I don’t want to blow my own trumpet, but having just signed up for the saving scheme we gave it a go in my house this week. So, from 5-7pm on Monday and with the snow on the ground outside, we opted to switch un-necessary lights and unused gadgets off. It seemed a good way to start. Apparently I’ll find out how much we saved in the next couple of weeks!

According to this report by the Guardian the National Grid’s emergency winter plan for saving sessions could save households that take part up to £100 off their bills this winter and reduce the risk of power cuts for everyone. This demand flexibility scheme, funded by the National Grid and UK Government, is only open to the UK’s 14 million households with smart meters currently, and the trial runs until March 2023. Commercial customers will also benefit from making savings at peak times.

National Grid warned in November that in a worst case scenario this winter, given the current state of geo-politics, such as if Russia cuts off gas supplies to Europe the UK could experience planned three-hour power cuts.

If you want to find out more about how people are helping out by saving energy this winter check out #SavingSessions on Twitter. In fact, academics are already doing this (see tweet below). They're studying the public's take on this new approach to energy provision.

And it's an approach which could play a increasing role in future, as the country works towards net zero:

'The electricity grid is facing increased pressure and smart technology plays a key role in managing peak demand - reducing consumption has the added benefit of helping consumers save on their energy bills.

'We'll be taking learnings ... with the aim of using our scale to roll out [this approach] to a wider customer base' said Chief Executive of the National Grid's Electricity System Operator, Chris O'Shea, in this report by Sky News.

Alice Griffiths

Alice has taught Geography over a period of twenty years. She is a published author and editor of a wide range of A level resources and has also created award-winning, online content for younger students. An occasional presenter at the GA’s annual conference, she was head of department at an 11-18 school until 2020.

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