By Iagan MacNeil, Head of Policy at Smart Energy GB

IF 2019 feels like the year of recognition of the climate emergency, then 2045 may well be the year of reckoning, with the Scottish Government committing to a target of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions within just 26 years. But how does it plan to do this? The simple answer is through a combination of low carbon technology and consumer behaviour change.

The low-carbon technology in question includes renewable energy generation, enhanced battery storage, smart meters, electric heating and low carbon transport. These innovations will form the smart energy system that is required to help meet the decarbonisation targets.

This system will mean a change in how and when we buy and use energy, and this is where the second part of the decarbonisation equation – consumer behaviour change – will come in. A smart energy grid will mean people being more flexible in the way they use energy.

Time-of-use tariffs have long been proclaimed as a way to encourage households to do this, by using energy at times when it’s most abundant, and to use less at the peaks. Smart meters, available from your energy supplier, are making these tariffs increasingly available with three suppliers now offering them to customers and more planning to do so in future. Smart meters, combined with these tariffs, mean that consumers are firmly in control of their energy use and have the potential to make financial savings.

People can save money using a time-of-use tariff if they are able to shift when they use energy to a time when demand is low, for example, using their washing machine later in the evening. Using smart home appliances will also make it easier for people to get the most out of their time-of-use tariffs as they can be programmed to work during off-peak periods.

A large part of the success of these tariffs will depend on whether people are willing to use them. A recent survey asking people what they thought of time-of-use tariffs found that the reaction was generally positive, with nearly half of people surveyed saying they found the idea appealing. In addition, over two-thirds said that the tariffs would be appealing if they were good for the environment.

The good news for these customers is that time-of-use tariffs are one of the significant ways we can support the use of renewable energy in the grid and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels – whilst also saving money.

We have limited control over how much energy can be produced from renewable sources, and when. It’s not always sunny or windy when we need it to be – and equally the ideal weather for renewables might mean that we are producing more energy than we need. Although some surplus energy could be stored in batteries, we could also have a situation where we are encouraged to shift our normal energy use to when there is a surplus of renewable energy in the grid through new tariffs.

For example, in Texas due to an abundance of wind energy at night, TXU energy offers a tariff where customers get free energy in the evening. This saves customers money and also means they are making the most of renewable energy.

Time-of-use tariffs are one important way to deliver the smarter, greener energy grid we need to meet the net zero target. Without them, and without the consumer behaviour change enabled by smart meters, it will be far more costly to decarbonise the energy grid. Taking small steps like getting a smart meter and taking up a time-of-use tariff when available will help us protect our planet, and our future.