People in England, Scotland and Wales could be in for three hour power cuts this winter if it can't import enough gas and electric imports from other parts of Europe, the British National Grid has warned. The utility said that the scenario was "unlikely," but that a perfect storm of Russian gas cuts and a cold snap akin to 2018's "beast from the east" could result in the rolling blackouts - reminiscent of power outages experienced in the 1970s.
According to The Guardian, the pre-planned outages would be announced one day in advance, and would aim to reduce total power consumption by 5%. It would require the approval of King Charles on the recommendation of the business secretary.
The National Grid included the scenario as one of several that could occur this winter, as it prepares for a highly uncertain period for power supplies due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
"We’re heading into winter in an unprecedented situation. Even during the cold war, the Soviet Union kept the gas flowing so it’s very unpredictable," said one senior industry source.
National Grid has worked on a series of initiatives to attempt to manage supply and demand this winter. It is ready to call into action five coal-fired power plants, which can generate up to 2 gigawatts of power – after signing deals with Drax, EDF and Uniper at a cost of £340m to £395m.
It will also launch a “demand flexibility service” on 1 November that will encourage businesses and consumers to use power outside peak demand periods, including early evenings on weekdays. Consumers with smart meters will be notified the day before and will be paid for using power outside these time periods. The initiative was trialled by Octopus Energy earlier this year. -The Guardian
If enough households participate in the load-shifting scheme, it could free up an extra 2GW - enough to power approximately 600,000 homes. The utility says it's "cautiously confident" that there will be enough juice to get through the winter.
The Grid's "base case" scenario is that there will be a surplus of around 3.7GW energy, and forecast a "sufficient operational surplus throughout winter," notwithstanding tight margins from early December to mid-January.
Two alternate scenarios include a shortage of gas in Europe if Russia cuts supplies - or outages in another country's generation capacity due to interruptions in energy supplies.
In the first scenario, no electricity is imported from Belgium, France and the Netherlands - requiring coal-fired plants to make up the shortfall, and would trigger the demand flexibility service. In the more drastic scenario, a gas shortage would eliminate around 10GW of gas-fired power generation, and "temporary rota load shedding" (rolling blackouts) would be enacted.
A reduction in Russian gas supplied into Europe, including the cut off of the damaged Nord Stream 1 pipeline, has caused a rush for gas supplies in Europe. A European Commission target of filling gas storage facilities by 80% by 1 November looks likely to be hit, however a period of colder weather could push up demand. Although Britain is not reliant on Russian gas, importers are exposed to the knock on effects.
The majority of Great Britain’s gas supplies come from the North Sea and Norway, with the bulk of the remainder from liquified natural gas imports from across the globe. Imports from Europe, notably during winter, typically account for aabout 6% of gas supplies. -The Guardian
In all scenarios, the National Grid forecast gas and electric prices to remain high through the winter.