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Electricity network operators seek permission to turn off your heating

SSEN’s recent request to the regulator for permission to remotely turn off customers’ central heating, shows the folly of moving away from gas central heating

The recent request to energy regulator, Ofgem, by Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) to allow them to remotely turn off customers’ central heating via smart meters, is driven by fears that high uptake of electric powered heat pump technology for domestic heating would overload the electricity network.

This is quoted in the Daily Telegraph:


“The plans , tabled by Scottish and Southern Energy Networks, would allow distributors to ask the permission of consumers to turn off appliances with high usage, including heat pumps and electric vehicle chargers over fears that mass uptake of these green technologies could overload the energy network.

SSEN stressed the measures would only apply to heating systems with a heat pump and not those powered by gas”

Heat pumps are not new technology, but most people in Britain have limited awareness of them.

There is currently a debate about the best way to move to low carbon heating for our homes. One suggestion is heat pumps. These are a very efficient form of electric heat, but a report by Element Energy for the Westminster government concluded that, even if the costs of heat pumps fell considerably, their lifetime costs would always be higher for consumers than gas.

There is also a question mark about the huge expansion of electricity capacity required and whether that would be sourced from renewables.

SSEN are clearly signalling that while the current electricity networks can cope with a marginal increase of demand from a few thousand new heat pumps, a wholesale switch by millions of consumers would overwhelm the current electricity network capacity. Not only would we need a huge expansion of generating capacity, but the substations and cabling would need to be upgraded in all our communities.

All of this would be paid for by consumers.

According to Michael Kelly (Emeritus Prince Philip Professor of Technology at the University of Cambridge and a former Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Department for Communities and Local Government.)

“The electricity grid will require upgrading from top to bottom. A typical house in the UK draws 1 kW of elec­trical power, averaged over the year, rising to 2–3 kW when the house is occupied with active people, and with peaks of the order of 5 kW in winter. If we are to electrify the economy, we will be adding electric vehicle chargers and heat pumps to almost every home.

A fast EV charger for a car draws 7 kW, perhaps for 6 hours, and a heat pump needs 3 kW, potentially for much of the day. But the cabling and substations in most suburbs were sized and installed before these technologies were even thought of. So while there is sufficient headroom for electrifi­cation of a few households, the whole distribution system will need to be upgraded if demand grows.”

SSEN’s proposal would be to turn off the heating for two hours per day, but heat pumps work most efficiently when they are on 24 hours per day, so this would increase their operating fuel costs.

What we are really concerned about is that the general public are not even aware of this debate about replacing central heating. Yet it could have huge impact on household bills.

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