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‘Vast majority’ of suppliers sign up to pay customers to not use electricity

Most of Britain’s energy suppliers have signed up to an innovative new scheme that will pay them not to use electricity and help avoid blackouts this winter, the boss of National Grid has said.

John Pettigrew, the company’s chief executive, said that “a vast majority of suppliers in the UK have now signed up,” to the scheme, which launched last week.

The programme is designed to encourage customers to switch the time that they use electricity to off-peak hours during some days when supply is tight.

It will mean less stress on the grid, making better use of the country’s electricity generation by ironing out some of the peaks, National Grid hopes.

Smart meter
Smart meters could open up new possibilities for the future of energy supply and consumption (Yau Ming Low/Alamy/PA)

Most customers use electricity at similar times, with a particularly big spike in the evening when people get back from work, start cooking and switch the TV on.

“We’re really pleased with the take-up. It will continue to grow as we move through the winter,” Mr Pettigrew told the PA news agency.

National Grid runs the project, but relies on suppliers to sign up so their customers can take part

So far only one major supplier of energy to homes – Octopus Energy – is thought to have started to sign up customers to the scheme.

Ovo Energy and Eon have launched their own similar initiatives that are not actually linked to the National Grid one, while British Gas has said it intends to sign up, but has not yet confirmed the details.

Mr Pettigrew said that the programme could help take pressure off the grid this winter, but also holds the key to how electricity might be used by homes in the decades ahead.

In future, experts hope that most households with electric cars will plug in when they get home, but that their smart meter will wait until electricity is most abundant – and therefore cheaper – on the grid before charging the car.

“In my mind it’s a little bit of a glimpse of the future. Because, with smart meters, customers can interact and provide services to networks that they’ve not been able to do in the past,” Mr Pettigrew said.

“So, for me, although it’s something that’s a useful insurance policy for this winter for the system operator, it’s actually quite exciting and it’s actually developing products and services that I think will be the norm going forward.

Asked about the risk of blackouts this winter, he said that little had changed in the month since National Grid published its outlook which said the risk is small.

His comments come despite unusually warm weather in recent weeks.

“I think the position that we set out in the winter outlook is exactly the same,” he said.

“What we’ve seen in the last month since we published it is actually incredibly mild weather across Europe and the UK, which I think indirectly has certainly helped make sure all the storage in Europe on the gas side is absolutely full.”

It came as National Grid reported a 45% jump in pre-tax profit to £1.6 billion in the six months to the end of September, largely due to acquisitions the business has made.

The business invested a record £3.9 billion in capital projects across the UK and the US, as well as work on a cable that will allow Britain to tap into Danish wind power.