“Curtailment” is a word utility companies don’t like to hear. It means they have more electricity available than they need to meet demand. In the absence of some sort of storage medium, whether is is pumped hydro, a lithium-ion battery, or a trainload of concrete blocks going up and down a mountain, the excess electricity is wasted.
In the UK last weekend, a combination of a bank holiday, reduced demand due to the coronavirus pandemic, and sunny skies left Octopus Energy, a UK utility that uses only renewable energy, with an oversupply of electricity. So it paid some lucky EV owners to charge their cars in order to soak up some of the excess electricity it had available. One Tesla Model 3 owner was paid £4.51 to charge up his car. He used enough electricity to drive more than 650 miles (1,046 km). If he had been driving a conventional car like a BMW 3 Series, his fuel cost to drive the same distance would have been more than $120 (£97.22), says This Is Money.
Is there a catch? Of course there is. To get paid to charge, first you need to be an Octopus Energy customer who has signed up for its “Agile” pricing plan and own an EV you charge with an Ohme home charger. The Ohme smart charger automatically allows EV owners to charge only when demand prices are lowest. On May 23, prices were negative for more than 12 hours from early in the morning to the middle of the day. During those times, drivers we paid up to 11 pence per kWh to charge their cars.
Ohme’s smart charger turns the charging on and off to take advantage of lower energy prices. It chooses the best time for the car to charge based on how much battery capacity owners say they’ll need the next day and what the predicted power prices will be over the next 24 hours.
One customer says he took advantage of the negative prices to charge the battery in his Jaguar I-Pace. Then he invited his father, who lives around the corner and drives a Tesla, to come over and charge his car as well. Another electric car driver posted on Twitter: “I drive from Bath to Edinburgh… and Octopus PAY ME enough to buy 2 pints of cask ale and a bag of crisps.” Woo Hoo!
David Watson, CEO and founder of Ohme, told This Is Money, “Smart charging is obviously great news for EV drivers, reducing the total cost of owning an EV significantly by passing on energy cost savings. As well as being a more efficient cleaner mode of transport, EVs will have a profound positive impact on the grid, unlocking value by cheaply shifting demand to times where there is an excess of renewable energy on the system.’
Fiona Howarth, CEO of Octopus Electric Vehicles, added, “Drivers with smart tech like the Ohme cable were able to seamlessly take advantage of the negative prices without having to think about when to start and stop their charging – it just happened automatically — a great snapshot of a smart, green future.” Indeed. Just imagine how vehicle-to-grid and vehicle-to-home technology could disrupt the normal relationship between utility companies and their customers.