UK could face first planned blackouts since 1970s – national grid operator

The first planned blackouts in decades could hit parts of the country this winter if power stations don’t get enough gas to keep them running, the agency that oversees Britain’s electricity grid has warned.

Households are encouraged to avoid blackouts, “save money and support Britain” by using more energy off-peak.

In what it calls an “unlikely” scenario, the National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) said homes and businesses could face planned three-hour outages to ensure the power grid doesn’t collapse.

Planned blackouts hit the UK in the 1970s in response to the miners’ strikes and the oil crisis.

Here, too, there have been major unplanned outages during storms, including 1987 when over 1.5 million people were left in the dark.

But the lights will stay on this winter unless the gas-fired power stations, which produced 43 per cent of Britain’s electricity last year, can’t get enough gas to keep working.

It’s the bleakest of three possible scenarios ESO laid out on Thursday for how the UK’s power grid could weather the worst global energy crisis in decades.

In the other two scenarios, the operator hopes to offset the risk of blackouts by paying people to charge their electric cars during off-peak hours and by firing backup coal-fired power plants.

Margins between peak demand and power supply for this winter are expected to be sufficient and similar to the National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) baseline scenario in recent years.

But given the “challenging” winter for European energy supplies following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the grid operator is also planning what would happen if there were no electricity imports from Europe.

To make up for a loss of imports from France, Belgium and the Netherlands, two gigawatts of coal-fired power plants are on standby to be ramped up as needed to meet demand.

National Grid Gas Transmission said separately that while gas demand will increase this winter, the expectation is that the UK will be able to get enough gas to make it through a beast-from-the-east scenario or a long one to bring cold winter.

People are encouraged to sign up with their electric utility for a program that gives them money back on their bills to shift their electricity use away from peak demand periods and prevent blackouts.

According to data from Ovo Energy, households typically use a fifth of their daily energy between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. The supplier said on Thursday its customers could save £100 by subscribing to use off-peak energy.

In addition, larger companies are paid to reduce demand, for example by shifting their energy usage times or switching to batteries or generators during peak periods.

The ‘demand flexibility service’ will run from November to March and is expected to spring into action 12 times, whatever happens, to ensure people are rewarded for being part of the scheme – with additional usage if needed to protect supply is.

It is hoped to deliver 2GW of energy savings to balance supply and demand.

ESO’s Director of Corporate Affairs, Jake Rigg, said: “The demand flexibility service is the first of its kind and is a smart way for registered household and business consumers to save money and support the UK.

“If you turn on your washing machine or other electrical appliances at night instead of in the early evening peak, you can get some money back when we all need it.

“The service is scheduled to launch in November, so keep an eye out for more details soon. This is truly a window into the future where a flexible energy system will be cleaner and more cost-effective than alternatives.”

Without the program, there could be days when it’s cold and still – resulting in high demand and low levels of wind energy – when some customers may need to have their supply cut off for limited periods, according to National Grid ESO’s Winter Outlook .

ESO also warned that if there isn’t enough gas to keep the country’s power plants running in January, distributors could be forced to cut electricity to homes and businesses for three blocks of hours during the day.

“In the unlikely event that we find ourselves in this situation, it would mean that some customers could be without power for pre-determined periods during a day – generally assumed to be for blocks of three hours,” the said ESO.

The number of people left without electricity would depend on how many gas-fired power plants would have to be shut down due to a lack of gas.

While ESO does not see a “significant drop in consumer demand due to high energy prices,” according to National Grid Gas Transmission, households are expected to reduce their gas consumption.

Gas-fired power plants are expected to use around a fifth (22%) more gas this winter, according to National Grid’s gas transmission arm.

Because in the cold months, less electricity is expected to be imported from France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Some of the extra electricity generated by burning gas in the UK is exported to mainland Europe to help keep the lights on there.

The gas operator has designed several scenarios, including one in which the winter is so cold that demand increases to levels similar to winter 2010.

If that happens, the UK will have to start importing gas from storage sites on mainland Europe at high prices.

If another beast from the East strikes, Britain will have to tap its own gas storage facilities.

If the cold snap hits early in the winter, when storage is still relatively full, they can supply all the extra gas needed.

But if it happens later in the winter when storage levels are low, the UK will have to import more gas from the continent.

Reacting to the winter outlook, a government spokesman said: “The UK has a secure and diverse energy system.

“To further strengthen this position, we have put in place supply security plans and National Grid, in partnership with utilities and Ofgem, will launch a voluntary service to reward users who reduce demand at peak times.”

The spokesman said Britain is not dependent on Russian energy imports and has access to North Sea gas reserves, imports from Norway and via ports capable of processing liquefied natural gas, as well as clean energy sources.

Energy regulator Ofgem said: “We have one of the most reliable energy systems in the world and we are in a favorable position.

“However, it is incumbent on a responsible and prudent energy sector to ensure the right emergency response is in place.” UK could face first planned blackouts since 1970s – national grid operator

Fry Electronics Team

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