Apps

How do I keep track of electricity prices with Agile Octopus?

electricity pylon
Sunny prices: keep tabs on your electricity usage (Image by Markus Distelrath from Pixabay)

If you’re an Octopus Energy customer, you’ve almost certainly heard of their Agile Octopus tariff – a smart meter-driven tariff under which the price you pay for electricity changes every half an hour. The idea is that you adapt your electricity usage, performing energy-chugging activities such as charging your smart car or running a tumble dryer/dishwasher at off-peak hours when the electricity is cheap. There are even rare periods when electricity is free or Octopus pays you for using electricity.

I’ve had two long-running problems with this tariff. The first is that readings from my smart meters constantly go awry, meaning billing becomes erratic. Octopus’s support team have struggled to get a grip on this, although having recently been escalated through the support ranks, they now appearing to be getting on top of it.

The second problem is keeping track of the fluctuating electricity prices. Octopus is very good at sending you email or text warnings when electricity prices are plunging. It’s not so hot at telling you when prices are sky high, as they have been recently due to some supply problems with nuclear stations and renewables, which normally drive the prices down.

The little LCD monitor that comes with the smart meters is very good at showing current and historical usage, but it doesn’t show future prices that allow you to plan when to use those energy-hungry appliances.

Octopus’s website does provide a breakdown of forthcoming prices, as shown from the screengrab below, but you have to be pretty disciplined to constantly check a web dashboard.

I made this point to Kerry on Octopus’s support team recently and she pointed me to a brilliant app that has solved that problem at a stroke.

The Octopus Watch app

The Android app in question is called Octopus Watch, which is confusingly named, because at first I thought it was a smartwatch app.

That’s the only slight flaw I’ve found with this brilliant app, however. Octopus Watch is great, not only because it gives you convenient access to future electricity prices on your phone, but because it tells you how much you’re saving/losing compared to a standard tariff.

Let’s start with the future gazing. Because Octopus Watch is connected to your specific account, it can tell you the precise electricity prices you’ll be paying for the next 36 hours or so (prices vary by UK region).

Octopus Watch is much handier than the flat pricing data on the website, because it automatically finds the cheapest slot to run your appliances. So, for example, our economy dishwasher cycle takes three hours to complete. I can tell the app to find the next three-hour slot when energy prices will be at their cheapest, and then run the dishwasher at that time.

Octopus Watch app

Further down that page, there’s a full colour-coded breakdown of the upcoming time slots, so you can easily tell when it’s time to turn on the white goods and when to go round the house switching everything off!

Octopus Watch app

One super-convenient touch added by the developer is a persistent Android notification that shows how much the current electricity prices are at the top of the screen at all times. So when the other half asks if it’s a good time to stick the tumble dryer on, I can quickly check the phone and give her an instant answer, without having to fire up Octopus’s web dashboard.

Octopus Watch Android notification

The app is equally strong at reviewing your historical usage – much better than anything Octopus itself offers.

The app uses your personal Octopus API key (found in your account settings) to suck in the energy consumption data from your smart meters every day. This allows the app to give a precise calculation of how much electricity cost you and how it compares to the standard tariff, as shown below:

Octopus Watch app

And if you click on a day, say yesterday, it gives you a full breakdown of your usage plotted against Octopus prices, along with a load of other nice-to-know data:

Octopus Watch app

I honestly can’t speak highly enough of this app. I’ve only been using it for a week or so, but if you look at the historical data screenshot above you can see we’re starting to make decent savings compared to the standard tariff, because it’s made it so much easier to time when to put on those energy-guzzling appliances. On the downside, my family hate me more than ever for moaning that they’ve left the TV playing to itself when energy costs 30p per kWh, but that’s a small price to pay…

The Octopus Watch app costs £1.99 with a monthly subscription of £1.29 (£8.99 per year), which I think is more than reasonable given what it could save you in energy bills.

There’s an iPhone version of the app too, and this blog from Guy Lipman reviews a few iOS apps with similar features.

Other tips for Agile Octopus customers

My next step is to try and connect the Octopus API to a smart device/indicator, so that everyone in the family can find out what the electricity price is without having to nag me. Or me having to nag them!

There is an official Octopus app for Amazon Alexa devices, but that works very sporadically, in my experience. Likewise, Octopus works with IFTTT, which other Octopus customers have used to change smart lights to indicate when prices are high/low, but again I find that extremely patchy. Plus, you have to pay for IFTTT to do the really clever stuff.

One final tip for Agile Octopus customers, again relayed second hand from Kerry in Octopus support, is to join the Octopus Agile Chat group on Facebook. It’s full of very knowledgeable and helpful folk.

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About the author

Barry Collins

Barry has scribbled about tech for almost 20 years for The Sunday Times, PC Pro, WebUser, Which? and many others. He was once Deputy Editor of Mail Online and remains in therapy to this day. Email Barry at barry@bigtechquestion.com.

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