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For anyone who drives an EV.

Get paid to fill up? Impossible!

Nov 1, 2020

Old Petrol Pump

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In the current environment there are very few jobs where you get to own a vehicle and get paid to refuel it. There are jobs where you get reimbursed for fuel. There are jobs where the company provides a card to pay for your fuel. But in all circumstances a payment takes place to the fuel provider.

Recently I got paid to fill my car. I didn't pay anything. I didn't use a card. I didn't have to be reimbursed. My car was at 3/4 of a tank last night and this morning it was full. I have an app showing that I was paid real money to do this.

How?

How is it possible to be paid to fill up your car?

Is it some kind of magic? Is it sponsorship? How is it done!!?

The simple answer is economics. It made more financial sense for my fuel supplier to pay me to fill than to not have me fill up. Not only could I fill my car but I also got paid to do some clothes washing, run a dishwasher cycle, and recharge my phone, iPod, Kindle and battery bank.

How so?

Electricity.

All the items mentioned above use electricity - even the car.

What I was able to do was take advantage of time of day pricing to get the best rates.

The concept is simple. Very simple. My energy suppler only uses renewable energy. This is wind, solar, hydro etc. My tariff for electricity is not fixed. Every 30 minutes it changes. I am charged according to the wholesale price of energy. Luckily the rates are posted 24 hours in advance so I know what they are.

This provides two little quirks when it comes to pricing. The first quirk is that at peak times the price of electricity jumps quite severely. I can pay anything up to 35p per kWh. If I was on a fixed tariff with this supplier I would be paying 11p/ kWh. The reason the peak rate is so high is supply and demand; Between 4pm and 7pm is when the country tends to experience the peak demand for electricity. That's when wholesale rates are so high. But leave it a few hours later - usually after midnight - and demand plummets.

The second quirk is that when demand for electricity is low and the supply is so high, the price of electricity becomes negative. That's right the power companies will pay you to use electricity. Generally this happens at odd times such as 2 o’clock in the morning. But in some circumstances it can happen at 3 in the afternoon.

It’s all down to renewables.

One criticism that is often leveled at renewables is their transient nature . If the sun isn't shining or the wind isn’t blowing then solar and wind power stops. Whilst this isn't 100% accurate across all renewables it is, broadly speaking, true. To combat this power companies have what's called a base load provision. This is a power source which is usually working 24/7 to keep the lights on.

Ten years ago this would have been a coal-powered power station. Nowadays it's a nuclear or gas-powered one. At times of low renewables this system works fine. The problem arises when wind and solar are strong. We have a base load being produced and we have lots of renewables also being produced. So there is too much energy and lots of it will be wasted.

Unfortunately (or fortunately) you cannot turn off the sun or the wind so - in order to avoid wasting all that energy the power companies have two choices. Either they turn off some of the base load generation to reduce supply or they lower the price to increase demand. If they switch off the base load there is a large cost associated with starting it up again (Not to mention a time element) so it is often cheaper for the power companies to reduce the price of electricity to below zero rather turn off the base load generation and restart it.

That's how negative pricing happens. Up until quite recently this was a very opaque process. Consumers were usually on a fixed price tariff for their electricity. Some suppliers had an overnight tariff which was slightly cheaper (Economy 7) but nobody passed on the negative wholesale price to the end consumer.

Until now.

My supplier is Octopus Energy. They provide fully renewable energy that they have either generated themselves or bought in. However they charge according to the wholesale energy price set by the National Grid. Like many suppliers they have a range of tariffs. One of them in particular is useful for electric car owners.

It's called Agile Octopus and it tracks the wholesale price of electricity on a thirty minute basis. Luckily the price is set 24 hours in advance so there are no surprises. The downside of this tariff is that when demand is high - such as the evening peak between 4pm and 7pm - prices are much higher than normal. As high as 35p/kWh. This is over three times what I used to pay on a fixed tariff.

But the upside is that when demand is low such as in the middle of the night l can pay as little as 1p/kWh. This is a 90% discount on my old fixed tariff. Furthermore, when supply is high and demand is low the wholesale price goes negative and I get paid to use electricity.

Generally - as already stated - this happens in the middle of the night which is perfect for charging an EV. But it can happen during the day. Earlier on in the summer it happened. In the middle of lockdown were a couple of days that were very sunny and quite windy. This increased the amount of renewable energy in the system. At the same time electricity demand was low. With people staying at home there was a reduced need for power in many shops and businesses. This created a perfect storm for low demand and high supply. As a result the Agile Octopus price for electricity dropped to almost -10p / kWh. That meant I would have been paid anything up to £3 to recharge my 30 kWh Kia Soul.

Try going down to Esso and getting them to pay you to take their petrol.

Tariffs like this are great if you have a need for cheap electricity at a time where you can shift your usage. The examples I gave earlier are typical: Charging a car or a phone, or running a load of washing. They are also useful of you have battery storage at your home. You can get paid to fill these batteries then use that stored energy to power your home at the peak 16:00-14:00 time slot.

All you need to get onto a tariff such as this is a smart meter in your home and a quick call to the guys at Octopus Energy.

One of the other advantages to this sort of electricity tariff is that it helps with load balancing the grid. I've already mentioned several times that there is a distinct demand peak for electricity at tea time. This is due to people getting home from work and cooking their evening meals, switching on their TVs, computers and games consoles etc.

This peak demand can put quite a strain on the electricity grid. By using a time of day tariff such as Agile Octopus you are incentivizing people to move their electricity usage to other times of the day when demand is lower. Because peak demand needs to be met by fossil fuel usage (natural gas in the UK, coal in many other countries) flattening the demand curve and spreading the load across the day reduces the reliance on fossil fuels. In turn this reduces the levels of harmful CO2 and particulate matter in the air. The result is lower energy bills, cleaner air, less pollution and improved public health.

Why aren’t you on a time-of-day tariff?