Is electricity cheaper at night? Our energy expert reveals the truth

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  • Wondering if electricity is cheaper at night and whether this is a way to keep your bills down? We explain everything you need to know.

    If you’re worried about how much your energy bills will cost in light of the energy price cap increase you’re not alone. You may be looking at the handful of energy tariffs where electricity is cheaper at night than during the day. But is electricity really cheaper at night and how do these tariffs work?

    Gareth Kloet, energy spokesperson at GoCompare, says: “For some consumers, energy can cost less at night. This is because suppliers sometimes charge you a cheaper rate in off-peak periods, which typically fall overnight – when the majority of people are sleeping and therefore using less energy. But, you need to be on the right tariff

    Is electricity cheaper at night?

    This depends on the type of tariff you are on. To benefit from cheaper energy at night you need to be on Economy 7 (E7) or Economy 10 (E10), a ‘time of use’ tariff, or an electric vehicle (EV) tariff. The majority of energy tariffs charge a flat rate for electricity, regardless of what time of day you use it. So, if you’re putting your washing machine on a night to save a few pennies, we’re sorry to say it might not be making much of a difference. 

    If you do have a ‘time of use’ electricity tariff, it will operate on-peak and off-peak times, with electricity cheaper at night. What counts as peak and off peak can vary depending on your provider, where you live, and the time of year. Off-peak is usually between 11pm and 7am, but make sure you check you bill or speak to your provider to find out what is classed as off-peak for your specific circumstances. 

    GoCompare’s Gareth Kloet explains: “In order to benefit from these varying rates, customers need to have what’s called either a two rate meter or a smart meter.  These meters are capable of recording how much electricity you use at different times of the day and will allow your supplier to potentially charge you a cheaper rate in off-peak periods.

    Households can take advantage of this type of tariff by using appliances such as washing machines and dishwashers at night. They can also save money by charging gadgets such as smartphones and laptops overnight. EV energy tariffs make it cheaper to charge your electric car overnight.

    Why is it cheaper to use electricity off-peak?

    The reason electricity is cheaper off-peak comes down to supply and demand. The UK’s energy supply can run more efficiently, and cheaply, if we lower energy demand during peak periods and use more in off-peak periods. Energy firms offer time of use electricity tariffs because the cost of wholesale energy varies with the time of day due to changes in demand.

    Electricity demand can sometimes outstrip supply during peak periods – i.e. during the day. Typically, gas or diesel-powered plants are fired up to meet that demand. This adds to the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions and costs both the National Grid and energy suppliers money.

    Do I need to be on a particular tariff to benefit from off-peak prices?

    You need to be on a ‘time of use’ tariff to get cheaper electricity at night. Most people aren’t on these tariffs and so pay a flat rate for electricity. In the past, most time of use electricity tariffs was either Economy 7 (E7) or Economy 10 (E10). The number relates to the number of cheaper hours each day. Alex Hasty, director at Comparethemarket.com, says: “Generally, off-peak cheaper hours sit between 23.00 and 07.00, with this being a cheaper period to use energy than during peak hours. To get the most value out of E7 meters, you could try and distribute your main electricity usage during off-peak hours.”

    According to Ofgem, about four million out of a total of 29 million domestic electricity customers in the UK are on E7 or E10. You might have these electricity meters if you use storage heaters to heat your home and a hot water tank for hot water. The heaters and water heat up overnight for use during the day.

    However, this is an expensive way to heat your home as peak rates on E7 or E10 can be much higher than standard rates on normal energy tariffs. As a result, some energy suppliers have stopped offering E7 and E10 deals.

    If you find that you use more energy in peak times, a fixed-rate tariff may be more suitable. Gareth Kloet from GoCompare agrees: “If a significant percentage of your energy use falls in off peak times, you may indeed benefit from the cheaper rates. However, if you use the majority of your energy when demand is highest, a fixed rate may actually be better for you.”

    Time of use tariffs

    There are also a small number of more modern time of use tariffs that work with standard electricity meters and gas-fuelled heating and hot water. Green Energy UK launched its Tide tariff in 2017. Tide works in conjunction with a smart meter and offers cheaper electricity rates between 00.00 and 07.00 every day. Households on the Tide tariff who avoid using electricity between 16.00 and 20.00 on weekdays can also lower their bills. However, Green Energy UK is not accepting new customers at the moment. 

    A Green Energy UK spokesperson says: “The price of wholesale electricity varies with the time of day, so the Tide tariff encourages consumers to vary their usage in line with this and use electricity in periods of lower demand when the price is cheaper.”    

    Another option is Octopus Energy’s Agile tariff which offers access to half-hourly energy prices, tied to wholesale prices and updated daily. ‘Plunge Pricing’ alerts customers to cheap rates and enables connected smart devices to come on when electricity is cheapest.

    Specialist EV energy tariffs also offer cheaper electricity at night in a bid to encourage drivers to charge their cars overnight. However, many energy providers have withdrawn their EV tariffs due to the energy crisis. British Gas and Octopus were both offering EV tariffs at the time of writing.

    Is it safe to run appliances at night?

    The London Fire Brigade advises against leaving washing machines, tumble dryers, or dishwashers on overnight and unattended. Electrical Safety First’s position is one of mitigating risk. It says people should ensure appliances are registered with the manufacturer in case there is a product recall. Appliances should be kept in good working condition, any filters cleaned regularly, and extension leads not overloaded. It also urges households to fit working smoke alarms on every floor of their property.

    Martyn Allen, technical director for Electrical Safety First, says: “Where practically possible we advise everyone to avoid leaving appliances like washing machines, tumble dryers or dishwashers running unattended overnight. But we fully understand it is inevitable that those who are struggling to pay for energy will have little choice but to opt for running large appliances during cheaper tariff times.”

    Is an off-peak tariff a good idea?

    Amid the current energy crisis, probably not. E7 or E10 tariffs are usually more expensive than standard tariffs, and most suppliers have withdrawn their E7/E10 deals anyway. If you have E7/E10 and find it expensive, you can ask your supplier to change you to a single-rate meter and tariff.

    If you are tempted by a more modern time of use tariff, you should compare deals with standard tariffs. But the current energy crisis means these tariffs are unlikely to be good value at the moment. Octopus is very transparent about the fact that rates on its Agile tariff are ‘consistently high’ at present. It admits most households would be better off on a standard variable or fixed tariff. 

    Not every household will suit a time of use tariff even if energy prices fall. For example, if you work from home, you’ll need to run your computer during the day. If you own an electric vehicle, it might be worth investigating EV tariffs once energy prices fall (whenever that may be). But experts generally don’t advise switching to an EV tariff at the moment.

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