Octopus Group Reading time: 3 mins

What if energy meters ran backwards?

2 Dec 2021

Written by Jack Cracknell

Octopus Energy, making the energy transition faster and cheaper for our customers

Millions of households in Great Britain are facing higher bills for gas and electricity after a 12% increase in the cap on prices energy providers can charge for variable rate tariffs. Octopus Energy has long been in favour of the energy price cap, so it was no surprise that when I caught up with David Sykes (head of data science at Octopus Energy) as part of Octopus Climate Week, he was using the current state of UK energy to demonstrate why the grid needs a radical overhaul rather than higher costs.

It’s central to our mission at Octopus Energy, they’re using tech to accelerate the world’s transition to renewable energy. In the process they’re making the renewable transition faster and cheaper for tens of millions of customers.

The team is grasping a once in a generation opportunity to turn one of the world’s highest emitting sectors into part of the solution. A recent government attitude survey indicated that 80% of people are either concerned or deeply concerned about climate change. The challenge for consumers is knowing what choices are going to make a real difference. Octopus Energy is leveraging technology and innovation to drive down the costs for consumers, making decarbonising their lives a really easy decision.

They’re taking their customers on a journey that starts with great customer service, before introducing them to smart tariffs, a smart meter, leasing them an EV, installing their heat pump. Before you know these customers have got a more comfortable, lower cost, green lifestyle that’s good for the planet and great for them.

A keyhole through to a glimps of the future

A case in point is energy meters, they’re not especially interesting or exciting…that is unless you’re speaking to David. If you’re speaking to David, energy meters become a keyhole through which you can get a genuine glimpse of the future.

Energy meters don’t actually run backwards, what David is referring to is the process of getting paid for putting energy back into the grid when it’s not being used and it’s in demand. This could happen if you have a battery or an EV that can store surplus energy, or if you have a solar panel that generates electricity.

The problem is, in the UK there is very little value in selling your energy back to the grid. What you get paid as a consumer for putting energy back into the grid is significantly less than what you paid for it. The system isn’t set up to value a consumer in the same way as it values a power station. For this to work, we need to make sure that if you’re supplying energy to the grid at a time when it really helps the system, you get paid proportionally for the energy.

We need the energy system to work for consumers rather than the companies digging up fossil fuels from the ground. If we get this right, we can move away from our reliance on these big power stations which we turn up and turn down depending on energy demand. We can move to a model where we balance out supply and demand without the heavy reliance on fossil fuels that has contributed so much to the climate crisis we face today.

Making the impossible, possible

People said that EV’s would never work, they said there wouldn’t be enough chargers, and they said that we’d never be able to run the grid on 5% renewables. Today Tesla is a $1 trillion company and 40% of our energy supply comes from renewables. The same people will tell us that we can’t make energy supply more equitable, that we can’t turn off the power stations, and that people will always buy more energy than they sell. I guess that should give us hope…  


Related articles