Protests against the increase in energy bills across the UK have intensified in recent weeks, with one particular action getting significant media coverage.
The Big Power Off initially took place on 1 April, with people encouraged to switch off electrical appliances in their homes. Further switch offs took place on 10 April and 16 April, and a nightly switch off has been taking place from 22 April onwards.
A widely shared Facebook post made a claim about the impact of the protest on energy supplies.
Ferret Fact Service looked into some of the claims about the protest.
The initial protest action was organised by the Sheffield branch of Disabled People Against Cuts, which encouraged people to turn off, or turn down, gas and electrical appliances for the day.
Was the protest successful in Spain?
A meme posted on social media claimed a switch off protest in Spain had “reduced energy back to 2019 level”.
The UK’s Big Power Off protest action is inspired by a similar one, called ‘Not Another Minute’, which took place on 15 March in the Murcia region of Spain after energy price rises. People were encouraged to turn off their electricity for one minute “so that only the light of the moon and the stars” illuminated the region. Similar protests took place in other Spanish regions, as well as strike action by the transport sector over the spiralling cost of gas. A number of street protests also took place, including a reported 150,000 people demonstrating in Madrid against the energy prices.
The Spanish government later announced a package of measures to alleviate the impact of price rises, but it is not clear whether the ‘Not Another Minute’ action was the catalyst as it was part of a wider protest movement.
Could the protests “cause havoc” in the national grid?
Posts on social media made various claims about the impact of the protests, including a claim it could “cause havoc” in the grid system.
According to one widely shared social media post the power off leads to “an imbalance on the national grid”. To protect the system, power stations will be “temporarily disconnected” or told to reduce their output, the post claimed.
The national grid is a network of electricity infrastructure, such as power stations and powerlines, that transports gas and electricity across the country. Essentially it moves electricity from where it’s generated to where it’s needed.
Energy suppliers buy the electricity from generators, such as power stations and windfarms, and then sell it on to customers.
National Grid ESO, which operates the UK’s electricity system, uses a system to ensure electricity supply and demand are balanced within the network. Because energy needs to be used at the time of manufacture, the national grid must predict when there will be a difference between supply and demand. When this is likely to occur, the grid uses a mechanism to pay for increases or decreases in energy production, which balances the network.
Social media users claimed there had been a surge in energy created by the 10 minute switch off on 1 April. However, the National Grid ESO told FFS there had been no noticeable impact on the electrical system.
For any impact to have noticeable effect, experts say the protests would have to become much larger, as the grid is well-equipped to deal with small irregularities. Speaking to iNews, Professor Phil Taylor, from the University of Bristol, said for a surge to have an impact it would have to involve millions of people.
As the protests are advertised, the national grid can prepare for an expected surge, as it does for events such as live televised sporting events, known as ‘TV pickup’.
Verdict: Half True
Do the protests cost energy suppliers money?
One social media post claims that because the National Grid is “publicly owned”, but power supply is private, the switch off creates a “10 minute boycott” of private power suppliers, losing them £9m in revenue.
The £9m figure is alleged to be the amount of revenue private energy companies receive every ten minutes in the UK.
This figure is far higher than the reality, with the latest annual revenues for the big six energy companies, which account for 70 per cent of the market, at about £25bn. This would mean an average of £474,000 made every ten minutes which, while a substantial sum, is significantly less than £9m even with smaller suppliers included.
While we don’t know exactly how much revenue has been lost during the protests so far, it is unlikely that energy companies will sustain significant losses unless the protest actions become much bigger and more sustained. Energy suppliers typically buy a lot of their electricity wholesale in advance to allow for volatility in the market, so boycotts at the current level will be unlikely to change prices.
The national grid system is not publicly-owned, it is run by National Grid ESO, which is part of the National Grid PLC which is an investor-owned utility company. Britain’s energy network was privatised in 1990.
It is possible that costs incurred would fall more on the national grid ESO, which would need to pay to balance the power system, rather than energy providers.
Verdict: Mostly False
The protest is due to continue indefinitely, with people encouraged to turn off or reduce energy usage at 8pm every evening.
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