British Gas to supply free electricity to consumers on Saturdays

British Gas plans to supply ''free electricity'' to consumers on Saturdays, when national power demand is low, in a radical step that could ease the strain on the power grid during the week.

The move, aimed at rationing power during the week, has also been supported by Centrica, as a cheaper solution to the energy crunch than putting up new power plants.

According to Sam Laidlaw, chief executive of parent company Centrica, the tariff, which it already offered to customers in America, could benefit the poorest families while actually cutting carbon emissions.

He went on to add that large businesses needed to be paid to ration their electricity usage on weekdays to beat a looming energy crunch than putting up new power plants that would only run ''for a few hours a year''.

Under the 'free electricity Saturdays' plan, customers would need to install 'smart meters', which send automatic usage readings back to the company. British Gas has installed 1 million smart meters in UK homes and businesses to date.

Laidlaw, who faced questions from analysts over whether the tariff would be seen as irresponsible by encouraging higher usage at a time when ministers were attempting to cut carbon emissions, said the company would think very carefully about how it was launched [in the UK], he said.

Meanwhile, an unusually long and cold winter helped push profits for energy suppliers.

Centrica has warned that UK domestic energy bills might go up this winter, as it reported a rise in half-year profits.

According to finance director Nick Luff, the "upward pressure on costs" continued.

He said the company would keep prices as low as it could for as long as was possible. If prices needed to go up, the company would delay it for as long as possible, he added.

The warning comes with the residential arm of the company seeing profits rise 3 per cent to £356 million, up from £345m a year earlier.

Centrica's adjusted operating profit was up 9 per cent to £1.58 billion for the six months to 30 June, up from £1.45 billion for the same period in 2012.

Energy minister Michael Fallon said companies needed to show restraint - there had been big increases in bills.

The company drew criticism after raising energy prices for UK households by 6 per cent in November 2012.

This saw the average dual fuel bill up from £1,260 to £1,340 a year, according to energy comparison site Uswitch.

Speaking to the BBC, energy minister Michael Fallon urged big energy companies to show "some restraint" in their consumer pricing after "big increases'' in bills in the last couple of winters.