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Joining the Agile Tariff in February – You’ve gotta to have faith

There are times in life when you get that feeling that your timing might be a little bit off. Like winning first prize in a raffle in 2020 when the prize is a round- the- world trip. And deciding to join the Octopus Agile tariff in February does rather feel the same.

Time of Use tariffs are not new in the residential sector but in the past were restricted to Economy 7- a cheap overnight rate for the recharging of storage heaters . The Octopus Agile Tariff brings a whole new level of sophistication with prices changing on a half hourly basis. Other providers are likely to follow suit shortly.

The prices are capped at an eye-watering 36p/kwh, more than double the standard tariff rate, but there are times when the prices dips very low, usually in the wee small hours. Prices are published the day before and the active consumer can make decisions about when to use power, particularly for discretionary uses.

February is a bold time to join the scheme but with our second pilot project that's exactly what we have done. The prices are at the mercy of the wholesale market. Dark overcast days with little wind, and cold temperatures creating high demand, are the worst combination of factors. Today’s prices are horrible, with a 3 hour peak price sitting majestically at 35p/kwh. Ouch!

So why do we still think that flexible, half- hourly tariffs are the right way to go? For the UK to come anywhere close to its Net Zero climate goals, the residential sector must be tackled.

Including the domestic customer in the drive towards sustainable consumption patterns, and balancing the grid is essential.

Being on the Agile tariff and actively trying to beat the numbers (eg pay less than being on a fixed tariff) has already become a bit of a preoccupation. In these long days of lockdown it has added a welcome bit of excitement. We have immediately started shifting discretionary use into the cheaper zones; programming the washing machine and dishwasher to come on at 3am. Some other more conscious usage, eg waiting 10 minutes before boiling the kettle has also helped. It’s possible that turning off the hob and balancing a frying pan on top of the wood burner in the living room was a little unusual, and whilst it was fun, the curtains now smell of bacon. That’s not going to be the way forward.

So, in the depths of winter, simple demand shifting is going to have its limitations. The true potential of the flexible tariff will be unleashed when we have installed solar PV and battery capacity in the property. This will enable us to really make some strides in avoiding peak hours. Filling the batteries from the solar and topping up in the cheap hours should see savings of around 80% in bills. Its also saves carbon too.

The truth is that fussing over half hourly data will not be a realistic expectation for the average consumer whose daily working life does not revolve around energy efficiency. What is clear, is that significant parts of the demand shifting will have to be done automatically. Switching the batteries to charge or discharge and getting prompts about other usage behaviour is something which Neutral Home sees as the essential ingredient. It will enable the flexible tariff to work for more households. (Not just the tariff-watching junkies like us.) The development of the “Brain”, which will quietly examine the tariff data, the weather and consumption patterns and make adjustments is the focus of our project at Neutral Home.

Half- hourly tariffs may not be for everyone, but for a certain type of consumer there is a real opportunity to redefine the relationship between the energy provider and the customer. Working in partnership with the domestic customer to cut the overall yearly cost, actively load shift and even balance the grid at times of high demand is an exciting prospect.

So, getting on to the Octopus Agile tariff in February is a touch painful, but we are in it for the long haul.

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