UK households are being urged to reduce energy use to avoid blackouts in winter

Millions of UK households are being urged to cut energy use by National Grid this winter as it warned them to prepare for rolling blackouts in the “extreme” event of gas shortages and reduced electricity imports from the rest of Europe.

The company responsible for the UK’s electricity and gas systems will next month introduce a voluntary scheme that will offer financial incentives to household customers with smart meters and businesses to reduce electricity consumption during peak periods when supplies are scarce.

The aim is to reduce peak demand by more than 2 gigawatts, equivalent to the output of two of the UK’s five nuclear power stations.

National Grid on Thursday released several reports detailing possible scenarios for the winter as Britain and the other European countries it normally relies on for gas and electricity imports during the coldest months face what the company called an “unprecedented” Energy crisis struggling through Russia put pressure on natural gas exports.

Europe’s gas crisis was compounded by other problems, including outages at France’s large nuclear reactor fleet and low water levels at Norway’s hydroelectric power plants. France recently warned that it would be dependent on electricity imports, including from Great Britain, in the winter.

National Grid said its “baseline scenario” was unchanged, under which supply would meet demand. But for the first time it conceded that it would have to impose continuous blackouts in what it called an “extreme scenario” that saw producers fail to secure enough gas or electricity imports from countries like Belgium and the Netherlands.

The UK government would need to approve the company’s emergency blackout plan, which would see supplies cut in three-hour blocks at different times in certain regions.

It said it would aim to use the voluntary scheme in a slightly better supply scenario where gas-fired power plants – the mainstay of UK electricity generation – could operate but could not secure enough electricity imports.

In the event of a prolonged cold spell, the UK would likely need imports from other European countries to meet demand, according to the documents. That warning alarmed analysts, who are increasingly concerned that EU member states would likely struggle to cope with the same weather conditions and would have no supplies on hand.

Watt-Logic analyst Kathryn Porter said National Grid’s assessment was “unduly optimistic,” adding that the company “now concedes[d] some chance of supply disruption, it still seems[ed] underestimating the risks”.

Niall Trimble, chief executive of consultancy Energy Contract Company, questioned whether the EU could be counted on for winter gas imports: “Is that likely when Europe is very tight on gas even in cold weather? Now that we are outside the EU, will they be willing to supply us if it means running short themselves?”

National Grid does not assign a probability to any of the scenarios. “Under our base case . . . We are cautiously confident that there will be sufficient margins [between supply and demand] through the winter period,” said Fintan Slye, executive director of the National Grid subsidiary, which oversees the country’s electricity system.

But he added: “As a competent and responsible operator of the UK electricity system, we also need to consider external factors and risks beyond our control, such as the unprecedented turmoil and volatility in energy markets in Europe and beyond.”

Under the voluntary scheme, households could be paid more than £10 a day to reduce their consumption at peak times, and potentially even more if they own an electric vehicle whose battery can be used for storage.

National Grid’s assessment is likely to increase pressure on the government to follow other European countries in launching a public information campaign to encourage households to save energy. Industry chiefs have privately questioned why ministers have refused to do so.

The Government said the UK has a “secure and diverse energy system”, adding: “Given Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine, we are confident in our plans to protect homes and businesses in all scenarios this winter.” UK households are being urged to reduce energy use to avoid blackouts in winter

Adam Bradshaw

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