Last week a small energy supplier was in the news for offering its customers variable rate electricity. In one way there is nothing new about all this. People who used (or use) a lot of electricity at night (mostly those like my grandparents who had storage heaters*) had a system of variable rate electricity that involved two meters (economy 7 or economy 10). This was complicated to install but relatively simple on the maths calculations. The power at night was about a fifth of daytime and the system was a means of using some electricity at night in the days when power stations had to be left on all the time (or at least a lot more often). Now of course we have variable supply (renewables) and increasingly variable demand. People rarely sit down on mass to watch a particular TV programme.
One way to match supply and demand is said to be variable pricing and this is what the energy company is offering via a smart meter (so simpler to install). The electricity under this scheme is at its most expansive between 4 and 7pm when peak demand is highest and cheapest at night with at least another daytime rate.
Whilst this is the way we are going with smart meters there are some issues of concern. The first is if you are cooking using an electric cooker then this offer is not for you for obvious reasons. Second, following on from this point switching your consumption to cheaper times may not be possible. Third the whole idea works on the premise that you switch heavy usage to night. This is a concern for a number of reasons. Using washing machines and dryers at night is not recommended there have been a number of fires recently. Another problem is that their use could be antisocial affecting neighbours. Lastly working out how much your energy use is costing you and lowering its cost will involve a considerable amount of time and effort.
As this is the way we are going we are going we are going to have to live with it. It could be wider societal changes such as multiple TV channels, a more 24 lifestyle and electric cars will even out power consumption.
*actually thinking about this my Grandparents house was heated by a bizarre mixture of heating methods. Depending on which bit you were in a coal fired boiler, night storage heaters and a coal fired stove in the lounge. The house was freezing – at least upstairs.