How would you like free power for your EV? That’s becoming the new alternative reality in Europe where grid electricity prices are going negative during the pandemic. The upside-down situation follows a recent period of oil prices falling below zero.

The New York Times reports today that it’s becoming “almost routine” for electricity prices to go negative in Britain, Germany, and other European countries. Utilities are encouraged to give away electrons, or pay consumers to use energy, because too much power on the grid can harm utility infrastructure.

In April, the price of power in Britain plunged into negative territory 66 times. That’s more than twice as often as in any previous month in the last decade.

With factories and offices closed during the lockdown, electricity demand fell by 15% in April. But wind, solar, and nuclear keep producing. The negative price prompted Octopus Energy, a British power retailer, to pay customers 2 to 5 pence per kilowatt-hour to turn on appliances or otherwise soak up the electrons. Consumers with EVs would get paid to charge their cars.

Greg Jackson, Octopus Energy’s chief, said:

This needs to become the normal. [It’s a preview] of what the future is going to look like.

In a real-life sneak peek of what’s to come, renewable energy sources are on the rise. And Britain, for one, has not consumed any coal for power generation for weeks.

Julian Leslie, head of networks at Britain’s National Grid ESO, said that matching demand and supply will become easier in about 10 years (hopefully sooner) when more electric cars can be charged on demand. He said:

We will be able to have much more control over the demand.

Electric vehicles are not a threat to the grid, as EV detractors sometimes argue. Instead, they will strengthen utility systems by providing managed energy storage. A smart grid system could also trigger businesses to turn on energy-consuming devices. Companies and individuals with stationary batteries could fill up their packs.

Analysts say that abnormal pressure in the market is not going to disappear overnight. Sunnier summer days are right around the corner. That means more solar output, more excess power, and more opportunities for EV drivers to charge up for free. Or to get paid to plug in.

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