National Grid unveils plan for three-hour blackouts this winter to tackle gas shortage

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Households and businesses across the UK could face planned power cuts this winter, if the country is unable to import electricity supplies from Europe, the National Grid has warned. The utility company responsible for the distribution of energy unveiled its plans to ration supplies as the UK struggles to secure enough gas imports to fuel its gas-fired power plants. Europe is currently gripped by a major fossil fuel energy crisis, triggered by Russia’s tightening of gas flows to the continent as retaliation to sanctions imposed by the West over the invasion of Ukraine. Over the past few months, fears have grown that Vladimir Putin will completely turn off the taps flowing to Europe, which has led the National Grid to prepare emergency measures should it fail to get a hold of sufficient energy supplies.

While the UK is not reliant on Russian gas imports, Russia squeezing its exports has led to increased competition for other suppliers, as European countries scramble to prevent a cold winter.

Under these plans, households in different parts of the country would be notified a day in advance of the three-hour blocks of time during which their power would be cut off, in an effort to lower the UK’s total energy consumption by 5 percent. 

This emergency plan would need to be approved by King Charles, on the recommendation of the business secretary, Jacob Rees-Mogg.

The National Grid also warned that  in the “unlikely event” that the company fails to secure gas supplies, consumers could face a situation where they are left without power  for “pre-defined periods” during the day, in a effort  to “ensure the overall security and integrity of the electricity system across Great Britain”.

READ MORE: UK household running costs vs Europe MAPPED

The initiative, which was first trialled by Octopus Energy last year, paid consumers with smart meters for using power during these off-peak periods.

The National Grid estimates that with enough participation, this scheme would free up a further 2 GW of electricity, which is enough to power about 600,000 homes in the UK.

To ease fears, the network operator stressed that it was “cautiously confident” that there would be enough electricity supplies this winter to meet the UK’s demands of businesses and consumers.

In its “base case” scenario, the company estimated that there would be around 3.7GW more of electricity generated than the UK needs, forecasting a “sufficient operational surplus throughout winter”. However, even under this scenario, the company expects tight margins from early December through to mid-January, excluding Christmas.

However, the National Grid also planned for two other scenarios, under the first, the UK would not be able to import electricity from France, Belgium and the Netherlands are cut for the whole winter. In such a situation, the coal-fired plants would be activated, and the demand flexibility service would come into place.

Under the second scenario, the UK would also face a shortage of gas, which shut down around 10GW of gas-fired power generation, which would then trigger “temporary rota load shedding”, where consumers are disconnected.

Fintan Slye, the executive director of National Grid ESO, said: “Under our base case, as set out in the winter outlook, we are cautiously confident that there will be adequate margins through the winter period.

“As an expert and responsible operator of Great Britain’s electricity system it is incumbent on us to also factor in external factors and risks beyond our control like the unprecedented turmoil and volatility in energy markets in Europe and beyond.”

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