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Smart meters could SWITCH OFF your central heating without warning: UK Govt mulls emergency measures to let networks cope with demand surges


The Government is considering giving energy networks the power to switch off a household’s energy supply without warning or compensation for those affected.

A series of ‘modifications’ to the Smart Energy Code have been proposed by officials and look set to pass into law by next spring.

These include giving networks the right to decide when they consider the grid to be in a state of ’emergency’ and the power to switch off high usage electrical devices such as electric vehicle chargers and central heating systems in British homes.

Under the plans all homes would need to have a third generation smart meter installed, to include a function that allows meters in the home to receive and carry out orders made by the energy networks.

This would dramatically alter the role of smart meters, which are currently capable only of sending data on energy use to energy networks.

If passed unchallenged, these ‘modifications’ to the law would mean that electric vehicle owners could plug in at the end of the day and wake up without sufficient charge to travel the next morning.

Similarly, central heating systems could be turned off in homes across a whole area if too many electric vehicles are plugged in to charge at once, for example.

Currently, consumers are entitled to compensation if their power supply is cut off, but under these plans, this recompense would likely be scrapped.

There is also a question mark over whether to force households to install the new smart meters, or make it an opt in or opt out scheme.

When energy networks are allowed to declare an ’emergency’, triggering their right to switch off private domestic energy devices, is also so far undefined.

The modifications, tabled by Richard Hartshorn of Scottish and Southern Electricity earlier this summer, argue that networks must be given these powers if major power cuts are to be avoided as the UK switches from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.

What’s an emergency?

Currently, there’s no definition of when networks would be allowed to declare an emergency and therefore gain access to household devices.

However, it’s likely to be in scenarios where energy supply is under significant pressure and cannot meet demand.

The only available definition of what this looks like reads: ‘Emergency conditions might arise where the condition of an energy system poses an immediate threat of injury or damage, or during a natural disaster or other emergency, or there is an actual or threatened emergency affecting energy supplies.’

That scenario is more common than you might at first think – and will become more so as the UK moves from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.

Last August, for example, a million customers lost power after two power stations failed.

While the power stations 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 off, Ipswich Hospital suffered ‘critical failures’ and Newcastle Airport went completely dark.

He says: ‘Electricity networks in Great Britain were not designed to accommodate the significant additional demand that certain consumer devices, such as electric vehicle chargers, presents.