Consumers are facing conflicting advice over whether to run their appliances overnight, as safety experts and the energy industry have split on the issue.
Fire chiefs have challenged plans to introduce surge pricing for electricity at peak times – part of Ofgem’s plans to shake up the smart-meter system later this year.
Under the energy regulator’s plans, smart meters will send information about customers’ electricity usage to suppliers every 30 minutes.
Providers will be able to use the data to adjust prices throughout the day, making it cheaper for households to use appliances such as washing machines, tumble dryers and dishwashers overnight and during other “off-peak” periods.
However, fire safety bosses have objected to the plan. People should not be encouraged to leave appliances running overnight as, if a blaze did break out, occupants would be at greater risk of becoming trapped in their home, they have argued.
Ofgem’s strategy also appears to be at odds with the Government’s own fire safety guidance, which advises against leaving electrical appliances running, or even plugged in, overnight.
Guidance issued by the Home Office states: “Unplugging appliances helps reduce the risk of fire. Unplug appliances when you’re not using them or when you go to bed.”
Not all white goods are designed to run continuously, and some could pose a safety risk when left unattended, London Fire Brigade warned.
“We understand that a balance needs to be struck between energy use, green issues and fuel costs but in our view, you cannot put a price on fire safety,” the fire and rescue service said.
“Some kitchen appliances such as fridges and freezers are designed to run 24 hours a day but while the vast majority are manufactured to a good standard and are perfectly safe, we would not advise leaving them unattended overnight.
“If a fire breaks out during the night, the risk to life is always greater as it’s very likely people will be asleep and have less time to react and escape the property.”
Consumer charity Electrical Safety First urged households to avoid leaving appliances running unattended overnight but said it was “inevitable” that people would do what they could to save money on their bills, particularly during the cost of living crisis.
“It is crucial that homes are fitted with working smoke alarms on every floor and that electrical sockets are not overloaded,” the charity said.
“Now, more than ever, it is imperative to ensure appliances are registered with the manufacturer so that in the event they are subject to a recall the consumer can be contacted directly.”
However, environmental experts and smart meter advocates insisted Ofgem’s plans would help the country meet its green targets and result in more accurate billing.
“Britain’s energy system is undergoing an upgrade, to make it greener, more efficient and less wasteful,” said Smart Energy GB, the Government-backed group responsible for encouraging smart meter uptake.
“Smart meters are key to this because they’ll gather the information the energy networks need to generate the right amount of power at the right time to meet customer demand.
“This will help the energy system better manage supply and demand, flattening the peaks which make it inefficient and expensive – allowing us to make better use of our renewable sources of energy and enabling cost savings to be passed on to customers,” it added.
Jim Watson, professor of energy policy and director of the UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources, said that while the fire chiefs’ warnings should be taken seriously, the onus was on manufacturers to make their appliances safer.
Providing suppliers with customer usage data in real time and introducing incentives that prompt consumers to use electricity during quieter periods will allow the National Grid to better manage its power network, Professor Watson said.
“We’ve invested a lot in wind and solar in the UK. They require the system to operate a lot more flexibly than when we had fossil fuels running the system,” he added.
Ofgem said its plan would “enable a more efficient, flexible and greener energy system which will save billions of pounds per year on all consumers’ energy bills.”