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Sunny day, strong breeze? Octopus Energy offers customers free green power

British renewable energy group Octopus Energy is rolling out a new initiative: it's offering households free electricity when too much renewable energy is produced. Historically, electricity grids worked with controllable supply from power plants that could readily scale up or down to meet demand. But the sun and wind don't obey human commands, and as the share of renewable energy continues to grow — solar and wind hit a record 12% of global power in 2022 — grid operators are struggling to mitigate periods of overgeneration.

The new 'Power-ups' program by Octopus will help tackle the issue of what to do when there's a surplus of solar and wind power. When upcoming weather conditions indicate that electricity supply is likely to exceed demand, Octopus will give participating customers a heads-up one day in advance. Power-ups usually span an hour or two, during which households receive free electricity and can do their laundry, charge a vehicle, get some batch cooking done or run a heat pump. Customers must opt-in for each Power-up to allow Octopus to balance supply and demand on a hyper-local level.

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In essence, Power-ups by Octopus reward individuals for helping make the grid more resilient. One of the company's UK competitors is thinking along the same lines but in reverse. Last week, OVO introduced its Power Move product, which pays customers GBP 10 per month if they reduce their peak-time electricity consumption to 12.5% of their daily total. It's a more complicated proposition than "Hey! You get free power tomorrow from 1-3 pm!" However, as OVO explains, that reduction is roughly equivalent to an average household moving three dishwasher loads a week from peak to off-peak times.

A March 2023 global survey by YouGov found that 50% of respondents prioritize price over sustainability (another 31% neither agreed nor disagreed with that statement, and 4% said they didn't know). Since many consumers will always be price-conscious, the question for brands is: how can we reimagine value to embed savings while triggering planet-friendlier behavior?

Innovation of the day

Spotted by: Liesbeth den Toom