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Energy firm plans could see smart meters used to turn off electric central heating

Sam Meadows
·2-min read
The measures would be chiefly used to target electric vehicle chargers - David Parry/PA
The measures would be chiefly used to target electric vehicle chargers - David Parry/PA

Smart meters could allow energy networks to switch off central heating systems under proposals being considered by the watchdog.

The plans, tabled by Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN), would allow distributors to contact consumers directly to ask for permission to temporarily turn off appliances with high usage, including heat pumps and electric vehicle chargers.

There are fears that mass uptake of these green technologies will put pressure on the energy network.

The proposals would be voluntary and any appliances would be switched off for a maximum of two hours per day, with the arrangement ending after 12 months if no permanent solution has been found.

SSEN stressed the measures would only be used in emergency situations and with the full consent of the customer, which can be revoked at any time. They would only apply to heating systems with a heat pump and not those powered by gas.

Smart meter technology would be used to implement such measures.

A spokesman said: “The proposed modification has been tabled to provide a last-resort contingency measure, protecting the security of customer supplies during an emergency scenario.”

He added: “Our preference for managing peaks in electric vehicle demand would always be a market-based solution such as a time-of-use tariff, provided by energy suppliers. This proposal provides an additional safeguard in exceptional circumstances.”

But Peter Earl, an energy expert at switching site Compare the Market, said: “I would have considerable concern about the impact of these measures.

“I would particularly be concerned about the more vulnerable households, and of course vulnerability is not in a constant state for individuals.”

He added: “We encourage creativity because we know there are potential issues coming with meeting peak demand, but the industry has to find solutions to these problems and not expect consumers and households to help.”

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The proposals are part of a wider piece of work to modernise the energy grid. Any final decisions will be made by Ofgem, the regulator.

An Ofgem spokesman said no decision is expected before spring next year and that consumer protection would be taken into account.

He added: “We would expect the proposer to provide further clarity on the governance arrangements that would apply, including the definition of an emergency situation and how consumer interests would be protected, before this modification is submitted to us for decision.”