Operator of Britain's electricity grid warns of possible power cuts this winter

Three-hour rolling cuts similar to those in the 1970s could hit the UK

Dungeness B nuclear power station on the south Kent coast, England. PA
Powered by automated translation

The operator of Britain's power grid has said that parts of the country could be hit by power cuts this winter if plants do not get enough gas to keep running.

In what it called an “unlikely” scenario, the National Grid Electricity System Operator said that households and businesses might face planned three-hour cuts to ensure that the grid did not collapse.

The planned cuts would be the first to hit the country since the 1970s, when there were miners' strikes and a global oil crisis.

British Prime Minister Liz Truss on Thursday called on Europe to keep energy exports flowing during the winter, and is likely to heap further pressure on the government after she ruled out rationing in Britain.

Countries across Europe are drawing up winter contingency plans against the disruption of flows of gas from Russia because of the war in Ukraine, which could lead to rationing and a curb in exports of energy to other countries.

The British government said in response it was confident it would be able to secure power supplies for the winter.

“The UK has a secure and diverse energy system. We are confident in our plans to protect households and businesses in the full range of scenarios this winter,” a government representative said.

“To strengthen this position further, we have put plans in place to secure supply,” the representative said, pointing to Britain's North Sea gas reserves, imports from partners such as Norway and clean energy sources.

Truss seeks to play down power cut fears

Ms Truss on Monday said the UK “can get through the winter”.

She said the UK had “good energy supplies”, but she stopped short of explicitly offering a guarantee of no power cuts, in response to concerns from the body that oversees Britain’s electricity grid.

“We’re working very hard on energy security. It’s one of the reasons I am here in Prague today,” Ms Truss said outside the inaugural meeting of the European Political Community.

“We have interconnectors with our European partners, we’re working on more gas supplies, we’re working on building out nuclear energy, building out wind energy, so we do have a secure supply of energy.”

Pressed to guarantee there will be no power cuts, she said: “What we’re clear about is that we do have a good supply of energy in the UK.

"We’re in a much better position than many other countries but, of course, there’s always more we can do, and that’s why I’m here working with our partners, making sure we do have a secure energy supply into the future.

“That’s why we put in place the energy price guarantee as well as making sure we have as much supply as possible.”

Ms Truss has said she would not tell people to ration their energy use this winter, as Russian President Vladimir Putin limits gas supplies to Europe in retaliation for sanctions linked to Ukraine war.

A shortage of gas in Europe as well as maintenance issues with several French nuclear power plants have raised the risk that Britain could be unable to secure the gas it needs or the imports of electricity it typically receives from countries such as France, Belgium and Netherlands.

France launched a national energy savings plan on Thursday, banking on a push to turn off lights and lower thermostats to avoid power and gas cuts over the winter.

Although the country is less dependent on Russian gas than eastern neighbours such as Germany, French nuclear power production has slumped as the sector struggles to bring more of its ageing reactors online out of forced maintenance.

The government has set a target of cutting France's energy use by 10 per cent by 2024 from 2019 levels, a first step in a longer-term plan to become carbon neutral by reducing energy use 40 per cent by 2050.

Ministers rule out energy-saving campaign

On Thursday, Ms Truss ruled out launching an energy-saving public information campaign.

Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg is believed to have backed a £15 million ($17m) campaign this winter, with The Times reporting the idea was blocked by Downing Street.

It said the campaign was seen as “light touch” and included measures designed to help people save up to £300 a year, including lowering the temperature of boilers, turning off radiators in empty rooms and advising people to turn off the heating when they go out.

The paper quoted a government source describing the campaign as a “no-brainer” and said No 10 had made a “stupid decision”.

But it said Ms Truss was reportedly “ideologically opposed” to such an approach as it could be too interventionist.

A government source approached by PA said they were not denying the report contained in The Times.

Asked to comment on the report, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy insisted ministers were not launching a campaign and “any claim otherwise is untrue”.

Updated: October 06, 2022, 11:41 PM