From This is Your Money
- Government is working with power firms to fit a smart meter in every home
- They will help gas suppliers to charge different rates at different times
- This could make it considerably cheaper to run appliances at night
Millions of lives will be put at risk by plans to offer all families cheaper energy during the night, firefighters say.
To help people cut their energy bills, the Government is working with power companies to fit a ‘smart meter’ in every home.
As well as recording how much energy you use every half-hour, smart meters will help gas suppliers to charge different rates at different times of day.
Disaster: A burnt-out washing machine in Cheshunt, Herts. The Chief Fire Officers Association says it was never consulted on plans to offer all families cheaper energy during the night
Families will see prices fall when demand drops and rise at peak times. This could make it cheaper to run appliances such as washing machines, tumble dryers and dishwashers at night.
However, Money Mail has learned fire experts have serious concerns about the idea. The Chief Fire Officers Association says it was never consulted on whether it is safe to do so.
It warns that running electrical appliances while you are asleep will put your family at greater risk of being trapped by fire.
Andy Reynolds, electrical safety expert for the association, says: ‘Never leave a tumble dryer, washing machine or dishwasher running when you have gone to bed or have left the house unoccupied.
‘If it is absolutely necessary to run one of these appliances during sleeping hours, then there should be sufficient working smoke alarms correctly sited to alert sleeping occupants.
‘Everyone in the household should know what the escape plan is in the event a fire breaks out.’
Energy experts also reacted with horror at the idea. Mark Todd, marketing director at price comparison site Energyhelpline, says: ‘It’s unbelievable customers are being told to run appliances at night to save money.
‘No one appears to have consulted the fire service.
‘Everyone in the energy industry advises it and the Government likes it as it spreads out usage meaning we need fewer power stations, but running appliances at night puts you at an increased risk of being trapped in a burning building as you sleep.’
As well as recording how much energy you use every half-hour, smart meters will help gas suppliers to charge different rates at different times of day
About two million people are signed up for a tariff called Economy 7, which offers cheap overnight energy. Prices are typically slashed for seven hours from 11pm, midnight or 1am.
For decades, people using Economy 7 have been advised to take advantage of this by running washing machines and dishwashers when they are in bed. Now this sort of pricing could be rolled out to millions of families nationwide.
More than a million smart meters have been installed and the Government wants them to be in every household by 2020.
The scheme will cost taxpayers £11 billion, but its backers hope to generate savings of £17 billion by encouraging people to be more energy-efficient.
Smart Energy GB, the national campaign for the devices, says they ‘are paving the way for a more energy-efficient future’.
Earlier this month, the National Infrastructure Commission, which advises the Government, said the meters would allow families to ‘manage demand for electricity in response to price signals’.
‘They might do this themselves or use automated systems to ensure their appliances operate at the most cost-effective times of day,’ it continued.
The country’s biggest energy suppliers are united in wanting to charge different prices throughout the day. In industry jargon, this is called a time-of-use tariff. British Gas has already tested a scheme that charges more in the day and less at night.
It raised electricity prices by 99 per cent between 4pm and 8pm in the trial with Northern Powergrid and the University of Durham and cut them by 31 per cent at night.
British Gas says on its website that time-of-use tariffs will mean you being charged less for electricity ‘if you can wait a few hours’ to do your washing.
The accompanying video promises that moving the time of one load of washing a week ‘can make a difference to your electricity bill’.
EDF has tested its version of the tariffs, Economy Alert. A study by university Imperial College said it should be ‘offered to everyone’ if it helps to improve efficiency.
A trial by Npower found that time-of-use charges persuaded nearly 90 per cent of people to run their washing machine at a different time of day.
Experts warn that running electrical appliances at night will put you at greater risk of being trapped by fire
Claire Maugham, director of policy and communications at Smart Energy GB, says: ‘Time-of-use tariffs will be an essential part of managing our future national energy supply by enabling energy use at off-peak times.
‘It will be every consumer’s choice whether they use one of these tariffs, and we should all carry on following fire safety advice in our homes, whatever energy tariff we’re on.
‘Britain’s smart meter roll-out has been designed with the consumers at its heart, including safety measures such as a carbon monoxide check on all gas appliances in your home as part of the installation.’
A British Gas spokesman says: ‘We have no plans to trial or launch any time-of-use tariffs that offer cheaper electricity at night.’
The firm says it is instead hoping to offer free electricity between 9am and 5pm on Saturday or Sunday. EDF would not comment and Npower did not respond.
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