The joys of green power

EDF Energy has teamed up with Imperial College London to trial the new idea known as “day ahead electricity alerts”.

The year-long trial aims to find out whether people are prepared to do their washing, tumble drying, and other electricity intensive tasks on windy days or at off peak times when green power is cheap and plentiful.

Nothing like having Promethean power on tap and available as and when one desires.

Absolutely nothing like.

38 comments on “The joys of green power

  1. Well, at least they’re only trialling it. Although experience seems to indicate, however poorly the trial was received by it’s prisoners, they tend to get the incarceration anyway.
    But it does say a lot about the people who dream up these ideas. Was I that unusual, when I was UK side, in having an occupation that required long hours & frequent periods away from home? The washing got done on the rare occasions I had the opportunity. How the hell I’d factor in doing it only on windy days is beyond me. It’s similar to rubbish collection. As far as I could work out, last time I stayed in the UK, I’d never have been able to take advantage of the service at all. Either not in residence on ‘bin-day’ or not there at the times the item has to be put out/taken in. So I can only presume the originators of the schemes must have household staff or maybe don’t work.

  2. But, Tim,

    It’s progressive and green and is going to save the world.

    Just hope my triple by-pass op takes place on the right day.

  3. Surprised no-one picked up on the phrase “when green energy is cheap and plentiful”.

    How plentiful will it need to be to cope with the spikes in electricity usage they are actively encouraging?

    How about we trial a system where we demand a fucking 21st century energy supply, you know, the one we had in the previous century?

  4. bilbaoboy

    …….Just hope my triple by-pass op takes place on the right day……

    If you eat what the fascists tell you to, you won’t need one of those.

  5. It’s days like this that I’m glad that the likes of Asimov and Clarke are no longer around to witness their dreams being trampled underfoot by the righteous charge of the green goddess zealots.

  6. Oh, and Serf, if bilbaoboy ate the scraps that the fascists were willing to leave him, he wouldn’t need the bypass because he would probably have died at birth as a result of his mother’s malnutrition.

    That, of course, being the way to eliminate the plague that is mankind. Well, that bit of mankind not born in to the elite classes.

  7. Barely a week after my comment about smart meters they are already talking about the post-midnight wash. This story does not mention smart meters but remember, if people tell them to cram it up their arse with walnuts (as even the weak and degraded UK population hopefully will) once they have smart meters they can force it on you . Also, despite all the bollocks about “tinfoil hats” that greeted my comment, the fact is that smart meters can cut your home off on an individual basis. Given the fact that the Greeks have already been threatened with being cut-off (the old-fashioned way) for refusing to pay a govt surcharge for debt–nothing to do with their actual utilities bills– does anybody doubt that that particular tool of coercion would not be taken up by the scum of the state over here should times get tough–as they will.

    Don’t accept a smart meter.

  8. Rob said: “How plentiful will it need to be to cope with the spikes in electricity usage they are actively encouraging?”

    It might descend into a terrible feedback of people saving up stuff to do until it is forecast to be windy and then all doing it at the same time, at which point the energy needs to be there or we have a problem.

    I wonder how lifelike they will make the test. Just a few people on the trial isn’t a problem – they’re never going to be in danger of depleting the available wind resources.

  9. @ Mr Ecks

    It DOES indeed mention smart meters..

    “The 1,000 customers taking part, who already have smart meters, will be told by text message or an alert on their smart meter display when they can expect electricity prices to be cheaper.”

  10. Zealots to the left of me, zealots to the right…

    Demand management is a key tool in load-balancing, generally. We don’t have enough demand management in the grid system at the moment, in my opinion, so it’s not a bad thing to call for some more, and explore ways in which it might work. Of course it’s nonsensical to claim it can solve all problems, but it’s basic common sense to encourage people to spread the load where possible – that’s the idea behind Economy 7 and 10. With better tech, it’s becoming possible to have a more nuanced system, so it’s only sensible that we talk about how that should work.

  11. The problem, Dave, with sensible engineering solution is that, once implemented, they can be taken out of the hands of sensible engineers and placed in to the hands of (never known to be sensible) social ‘engineers’, whether puritan or merely statist.

    The civil liberties point is not the opportunity but the requirement. And then, once sufficient coverage has been obtained, the mis- or abuse of the control you now have.

  12. if anyone wants to see the shiny-eyed end of Imperial’s environmentalism, google the IC Energy Club. Back in my day there were three and four year undergrad courses in mining and petroleum engineering and sod the environment. These days there’s a post-grad course only and the entire Royal School Of Mines seems to be devoted to knit-your-own-yoghurt and living in yurts.

  13. but it’s basic common sense to encourage people to spread the load where possible – that’s the idea behind Economy 7 and 10

    I lived in a flat in Liverpool with Economy 7 heating. It was fucking awful. It cost a fortune even when used as it was supposed to, largely failed to warm the place anyway, and if you got back after a weekend and you fancied being warm you had to wait until the next day.

  14. I have no idea if this will work, but in principle how us it different to the congestion charge – encouraging people by price mechanism to use a resource when it is plentiful, not when it’s scarce?

  15. Two reasons, Luke.
    With congestion, it’s possible to substitute. Use a different method of transport.
    Second’s there’s a shortage of road space. THERE AIN’T NO FUCKING SHORTAGE OF ELECTRICITY!!!. Apart from the shortage these shitheads are contriving.

  16. Yes, there’s not a shortage, but demand and supply vary. And so what if you can’t choose a different supply? Taxi drivers can’t choose a different supply of roads. You, with your irregular work patterns (see above) can (or could) charge extra for the fact that you can’t use ‘leccie at cheap times. (Or if not, the fact that you can’t will, by the magic of the invisible hand, funnel you into another job.)

    As I say, I’ve no idea if this great idea will work, bit to oppose it (and we’re only talking a trial here) is to oppose the free market.

  17. You’re missing the point Luke. Some of us have been banging on for years that renewables are not good enough yet for baseload and would inevitably lead to demand management of this type. And here it is.

    Yes, it’s a perfectly rational market response to scarcity. But the scarcity is artificially created. It would quite possible, and relatively cheap, to keep a system that didn’t require it.

  18. Gareth makes a good point above too – what if the weather forecasts are wrong? Let’s assume the wind doesn’t blow (or blows too hard, turbines have to shut down in high wind). Either the supplier reneges on their promise of cheaper rates, resulting in severely pissed off customers, or eats the loss.

    Of course they’re welcome to try it. I doubt it will work though, and it’s another example (see recycling) of a high-minded idea that may well end up becoming compulsory when it fails in the market.

  19. “You’re missing the point Luke. Some of us have been banging on for years that renewables are not good enough yet for baseload and would inevitably lead to demand management of this type. And here it is.”

    I don’t really disagree with any of this. But I come back – what’s wrong with demand management? Isn’t that what free markets are all about? Look, I’m happy with nuclear, gas , coal, whatever for base, or the rest. But why do supposed free marketers oppose differential rates depending on availability? I suspect because they don’t really want free markets if it isn’t in their personal interests.
    Tell me why I’m wrong. (FWIW, I suspect my thoughts are much in line with our blesses leader’s views on public choice – we’re all selfish really.)

  20. For one thing they could start a state washing service. You have to leave your washing out in the approriate bin and it will get washed and returned at an efficiemt date.
    As for heating just copy what they did in 1947.

  21. “For one thing they could start a state washing service. You have to leave your washing out in the approriate bin and it will get washed and returned at an efficiemt date.”

    No need. The glories of the free market already provide, in the form of the launderette service watch. You leave it, they wash it. Do they really wash it at peak times? Come on Hayekians, trust in what you preach.

  22. There are two separate questions here.

    1) Are windmills the future, and if so will they totally knacker the grid without doing something major about load balancing?

    2) Given the technology now exists to load balance by remote device control, and varied prices, does it work, and what (if any) are the moral implications?

    As far as 1) goes, I think we are mostly agreed that the nutjobs (and subsidy farmers) are running the madhouse.

    For 2) I’m keen to see it marketised within reason. If my fridge can be told not to kick in till after the ad break on Corrie, and my washing machine sets itself off at 3am when I left it loaded the evening before, and it all saves me a few £, that’s grand.
    There are practical issues to consider – e.g. running washing machines overnight will almost certainly mean more serious house fires, and I’m not wild about letting the government have any possiblilty of control over my meter, but broadly I’m in favor of marketising the problem.

    How popular (and successful) it is should depend in large amount on how the pricing works. Very high marginal prices at peak demand would probably level demand off quite well but be stinkingly unpopular, while very cheap overnight units would probably go down really well with high take-up.

    As a final note to the economy 7 haters – it works really well combined with solid fuel heating – you get up to a warm house, then light the fire and it stays warm all day. It also proves that some people will respond to price changes by behavor changes – my mum used to (probably still does) kick the washing machine, dishwasher, breadmaker etc all off timed to kick in at about 1am…

  23. Agree with Luke and the Prole here: everything should be priced according to supply and demand as much as possible. The only reason this hasn’t historically been the case for domestic electricity is that accurate measurement has been too difficult.

    Now that it’s near-zero-cost, of course pricing should be set to discourage you from boiling a kettle at half-time in the Cup Final, and to encourage you to run your dishwasher at 1AM.

    Windmills are a complete red herring here. Unless you’re in Iceland or Tasmania (where hydro supply exceeds domestic demand), electricity is a scarce commodity and needs to be price rationed. Doesn’t matter whether you’re making it from coal, uranium, or bunnies running on treadmills…

    running washing machines overnight will almost certainly mean more serious house fires

    I doubt this. Modern appliances *very* seldom go on fire, even compared to appliances a decade ago. And the number of people without a functioning smoke alarm (given that they’re compulsory in rentals and have been compulsory in new builds for donkeys’ years) is going to be pretty damn low.

  24. what’s wrong with demand management? Isn’t that what free markets are all about?

    No, Luke, there’s nothing wrong with demand management. When needed. Where’s this free market you’re talking about? The subsidies to windmills alone would have built enough coal fired plants that some would be sitting mothballed just in case. The explicit aim here is to change consumer behaviour – i.e. accept that electricity is not always available and that you should build your life around when it is. That’s not demand management, it’s social engineering.

    Lots of businesses already do sign up to electricity rates based on peak demand, or time of use, or whatever. And I’m sure that will get more finely tuned as technology advances. But they have accountants beavering away to work out whether it’s better to run their heavy machinery at night and pay operators overtime for night shift, for example. And for some manufacturing operations it’s not that big a deal to load-shed when rates rise – they make up the production later.

    But households typically don’t like that. The stress of dealing with the “is it ok to switch on the air-con now?” outweighs the possible cost saving. The same reason people prefer flat rate phone and internet, rather than planning their use around cheap times or otherwise. So the supplier charges them a bit more in cheap times but agrees to a flat rate and takes on the risk of expensive times (carefully calculated by their small army of accountants). That *is* a free-market response – consumers prefer certainty, so companies supply it.

    But what’s happening now is that because of distortions in the provision of supply to the grid is that demand management will become necessary, not choice. They’re framing it as a way to save money, but it’s really a way to avoid price rises caused by variable supply. And that’s ridiculous for something as simple as electricity production.

    But why do supposed free marketers oppose differential rates depending on availability?

    You say you’re not opposed to coal or nuclear plants – great, go build ten of them. Reliable, 24/7, controllable. Then this isn’t an issue. Availability is constant. Differential rates not required.

    Very high marginal prices at peak demand would probably level demand off quite well but be stinkingly unpopular

    And that’s exactly what will happen theProle – not because the demand has risen, but because the supply has suddenly dropped. Quite possibly at 1am when you’ve programmed your dishwasher to start. The day/night price differential comes about because it’s better and more efficient to run coal and nuclear plants constantly rather than ramping them up and down, so they sold power cheaper at night so people would do exactly what your mother does. As Luke would say, a Hayekian response. I’m an engineer, so I put it differently. Day/night demand vs 24hr electricity production is reasonably predictable. Wind won’t work like that. Ever. So your mum will be shit out of luck.

    I agree with our host. At some point, solar will be cheap enough to take over. In my opinion, for electricity production, probably thermal solar with insulated storage for overnight. But I don’t know. I do know we’re not there yet.

  25. Ltw, you say “I’m an engineer” and point out the engineering problems.

    Fine. But it’s a not just an engineering issue. It’s also an economic/human behaviour problem. Are the (probably miniscule) savings to be had by doing your washing or whatever during windy days enough to change people’s behaviour in any useful way (to them or EDF)?

    I suspect not. But if EDF are prepared to do an experiment with their own money, let them get on with it.

  26. “when they can expect electricity prices to be cheaper. ”

    Translation: “when they can hope electricity will be available”.

    ‘Cos when it’s not, your smart meter will switch you off.

    Unless you’re an “essential worker”, of course – meaning public sector.

  27. “I think I covered the economic/human issues as well – at length.”

    Yes, you covered your untested assumptions about them at length. Those untested assumptions may well be true. But why not let EDF test them? I’m sure the Soviet Union had lots of engineers who made lots of reasonable assumptions. Look where it got them.

  28. Untested? The preference for flat rate contracts for phone and data access is tested. Micropayments for content failed in favour of subscriptions. Even congestion charging doesn’t fluctuate, it’s a set charge, you drive in and pay it or you don’t. It doesn’t vary with the traffic conditions, which would be the equivalent of demand driven electricity charges. Consumers prefer certainty. That is not an untested assumption.

    I have no problem with them running the trial. Fine, go ahead. I never said they should be stopped. The trial is not the fucking point. The point is that it shouldn’t be necessary in the first place. And if wind gets pushed up to a third of electricity production as mooted in the article, it will become necessary – for everyone. There will simply be no way, with current technology, to balance supply to demand without massive load-shedding at times of low supply.

    The Soviet Union had plenty of good engineers by the way. It’s one of the things they were good at. They were let down by the central planners, the bureaucracy, and poor manufacturing and quality control. They were probably the least responsible for the collapse. If anything, they held it off.

    May I ask what your specialty is?

  29. “Now that it’s near-zero-cost, of course pricing should be set to discourage you from boiling a kettle at half-time in the Cup Final, and to encourage you to run your dishwasher at 1AM.

    Windmills are a complete red herring here. Unless you’re in Iceland or Tasmania (where hydro supply exceeds domestic demand), electricity is a scarce commodity and needs to be price rationed. Doesn’t matter whether you’re making it from coal, uranium, or bunnies running on treadmills…”

    It’s instructive to see the socialist coming out in his true colours. can’t you imagine John B as one of those people forcing teachers to work on farms in the 1960s in China…or fining villagers for not killing the song-birds in 1950s China, or informing on people in Nazi Germany or keeping a watch out for people who didn’t eat bacon in 16thc Spain.

    The crux is the comment that electricity is a scarce commodity. If he were not a control-freak socialist, he would have put in a thing about “at a price”. As the theory of quantum-thermodynamics says, there is an abundance of energy that can be converted to heat…provided we can afford to do so.

    the reason that power is not abundant at the moment is because the people like John B are deliberately taking decisions to ration it and make it scarce or very expensive. To serve his chosen religion of AGW, he wants to destroy proven ways of creating heat and wants us to rely on wind and solar power – really useful in the UK. But John B and his friends know what is in everybody’s best interests.

    Who says, apart from John B (convinced of his own rectitude, like any bureaucrat down the ages) that you should not have a cup of tea at half-time?

  30. “But if EDF are prepared to do an experiment with their own money, let them get on with it.”
    Why?
    EDF are in the business of producing & selling electricity. It’s in their interests to produce the smallest amount of electricity commensurate with the highest overall return. Consumers of electricity want the largest amount for the lowest overall cost. Those are pretty adversarial positions there. If EDF’s wanting to spend it’s own money on trialing smart metering, a little bird (not one wiped out in Chinese songbird pogroms) might tell one EDF sees a possibility of selling less electricity but making more money by doing so. Especially if it can rely on the global warming nutjob community to get some legislation passed to help it. So the the electricity consuming community may be well advised to recommend it sticks its trials up where the sun shinest not.

  31. Diogenes:

    1) maintaining the infrastructure that allows you to have a cup of tea at half time is really expensive. There are pumped storage and auxiliary plants that exist solely to deal with half time demand and similar spikes. Why the blazes *shouldn’t* the price paid for electricity reflect the cost of providing it?

    2) my entire fucking comment was about price. That’s the whole point. Nobody, apart from a couple of lunatics in this thread, is claiming power will be or should be rationed by means other than price.

  32. john B:

    maintaining the infrastructure that allows you to have a cup of tea at half time is really expensive.

    Answer -= only if you are a socialist or drivelling moron – those states being generally equivivalent.

    my entire fucking comment was about price.

    So where in your comment did you mention price? Another thing you forgot in your socialist desire to stop people enjoying their lives. this socialist desire to rewrite history makes you seem like even more of a prat than you really are.

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