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Emergency measures allow networks to turn off household power

Officials have proposed a series of 'back doors' to the Smart Energy Code, expected to be legislated by the end of the year


The government is considering giving energy networks the ability to shut off a household’s energy supply without warning or compensation for those affected.

A series of ‘changes’ to the Smart Energy Code have been proposed by officials and are expected to be passed into law in the spring.

These include giving networks the right to decide when they believe the power grid is in an ’emergency’ and the ability to shut down high-consumption electrical devices such as electric vehicle chargers and central heating systems in UK homes. switch.

Officials have proposed a series of ‘back doors’ to the Smart Energy Code, expected to be legislated by the end of the year

According to the plans, all homes should have a third-generation smart meter installed, with a feature that allows meters in the home to receive and fulfill orders from the energy networks.

This would radically change the role of smart meters, which currently can only send data on energy consumption to energy networks.

If these ‘changes’ to the law are not challenged, electric vehicle owners could plug in at the end of the day and wake up without enough charge to travel the next morning.

Likewise, central heating systems in houses can be switched off over an entire area if, for example, there are too many electric vehicles connected to charge at the same time.

Currently, consumers are entitled to compensation if their power goes out, but under these plans, this compensation would likely be dropped.

There is also a question mark as to whether households should be forced to install the new smart meters, or to make it an opt-in or an opt-out scheme.

When energy networks are allowed to declare an ’emergency’, their right to shut down private household energy devices is also undefined as yet.

Hartshorn:

Hartshorn: “Electricity networks in Great Britain are not designed to meet the significant additional demand that certain consumer devices, such as electric vehicle chargers, provide.”

The changes, submitted earlier this summer by Richard Hartshorn of Scottish and Southern Electricity, state that networks must be given these powers to avoid major power outages as the UK switches from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.

What is an emergency?

Currently there is no definition of when networks would be allowed to report an emergency and therefore access household appliances.

However, it is likely in scenarios where the energy supply is under great pressure and cannot meet demand.

The only available definition of what this looks like is: ‘Emergencies can arise when the state of an energy system poses an imminent threat of injury or damage, or during a natural disaster or other emergency, or an actual or imminent situation. emergency situation that has consequences for energy supply. ‘

That scenario is more common than meets the eye – and will become even more so as the UK switches from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.

Last August, for example, one million customers lost power after two power plants went out.

While the power plants were back up and running within 15 minutes, the energy regulator Ofgem reported that 60 trains were shut down without warning after National Rail Services were shut down, Ipswich Hospital suffered ‘critical outages’ and Newcastle airport went completely dark.

He says: “Electricity networks in Great Britain are not designed to meet the significant additional demand that certain consumer devices, such as electric vehicle chargers, provide.

In some circumstances [energy] distributors will have to act to strike a balance between their obligation to operate cost-effective, safe and reliable electricity grids and the need to support customers wishing to adopt low-carbon technologies such as electric vehicles.

The distributors recognize the important role that providers of flexibility services and market solutions will play in delivering efficient future networks.

“ In the event that market mechanisms fail or fail to deliver to the extent they expected, the distributors will still have to protect physical assets from overload caused, for example, by domestic customers’ use of low-carbon technologies. ”

The paper claims that ‘smart distributor intervention’ would be a ‘last resort, stopgap measure to protect the security of supply of customers and network assets’.

But critics have rejected the proposals.

Clementine Cowton, director of external affairs at Octopus Energy Group, said: “ Network companies are monopolies where every pound they earn is added to the energy bill, and in return their only job is to provide the power we need, when we need it. need.

Some of them are now trying to twist the rules so they don’t even have to do this – they want to come to our house and turn things off when it suits them.

Major British companies have already developed ultra-cheap digital technology to avoid the need for it. Rather than using watch solutions in a digital world, companies like this should enter the 21st century or let someone else do the work for them. ‘

Any member subscribing to the Smart Energy Code has the right to make recommendations to implement such ‘value added services’ at Ofgem, which will then consult with industry and consumer groups such as Citizens Advice before approving changes.

Ofgem has previously indicated that appointing a flexibility supplier – an energy supplier that can bend the energy supply up and down with existing smart meters and without these extra powers – should always be the first choice to solve these kinds of challenges.

They want to come to our homes and turn things off when it suits them. – Clementine Cowton, Octopus Energy

While the plans have not yet been confirmed, a source close to the discussions told This is Money that Ofgem wanted to support the changes and that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy would be ‘open to’ proposing legislation that would affect customers to install smart meters with which networks can regulate the domestic energy supply.

A BEIS spokesperson said: “Network companies cannot” turn off “smart meters remotely, nor can they control the amount of energy supplied to homes without the explicit consent of the consumer.

“Any proposals from network companies to do this would be rigorously challenged by Ofgem, which serves to protect consumers.”

A statement from Ofgem said: “ The process to consider this proposal is underway and a decision is not expected before spring 2021.

“We make the final decision on whether to approve this proposal, taking into account our legal obligations to protect current and future consumers.

“We expect the petitioner to clarify the governance arrangements that apply, including the definition of an emergency and how consumer interests are protected, before submitting this change to us for decision.”

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Himanshu Singh

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