UK's National Grid warns of power cuts on ‘really cold’ winter evenings

Utility's chief executive says there is a threat of three-hour switch-offs due to Europe's continuing energy crisis

Electricity pylons in London. Britain will be particularly vulnerable to power cuts in early 2023 if there is a severe weather event. AFP
Powered by automated translation

The boss of the UK's power grid operator has warned that the UK faces power cuts on “really cold” evenings this winter due to Europe's continuing energy squeeze.

National Grid chief executive John Pettigrew said the rolling switch-offs could happen during “those deepest darkest evenings in January and February”, probably between 4 to 7pm.

Speaking at an energy conference in London, Mr Pettigrew said such measures were “unlikely” but warned that there were potential scenarios where Britain's power generators would fail to secure sufficient supplies from Europe.

Britain will be particularly vulnerable in early 2023 if there is a severe weather event, such as the “Beast from the East” cold snap that hit Europe in 2018.

Europe is attempting to increase its storage of natural gas before the winter months after the invasion of Ukraine sent energy prices spiralling upwards.

The attack on the Nord Stream 1 pipeline in September further exacerbated the energy crunch on the continent.

Although Britain is not as reliant on Russian gas, the country imports natural gas and electricity from the continent for its gas-fired power plants.

The energy shortfall will be even more pronounced if low wind speeds affect renewable energy sources, thus resulting in the need for more costly electricity imports from France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Mr Pettigrew said that the “base case” remained that there would be enough energy to sustain the UK through the winter.

“In the context of the terrible things that are going on in the Ukraine and the consequences of that, [it was] right that we set out what some of the potential risks could be,” he said during the event hosted by the Financial Times on Tuesday.

He also said there was a “huge amount of work” being done by energy suppliers and regulators to ensure that vulnerable customers received enough support if power cuts were imposed.

Britain's Prime Minister Liz Truss revealed earlier this month that her government was working on a plan to advise people and businesses how to “use energy more efficiently”.

Last week, UK energy regulator Ofgem urged consumers to cut their usage with winter approaching.

“All of us should be thinking about how to reduce our energy use where possible,” Ofgem chief executive Jonathan Brearley said in a speech published on the regulator's website.

“This is not only the most direct way to reduce our bills. It directly helps with security of supply, contributes to decarbonisation and saves money for the public finances.”

Despite massive government subsidies to cap electricity bills, households still face bills twice as high as last year, he said.

“And we are heading into winter, in the middle of a major European land war where Russia is using gas as a geopolitical weapon,” he warned.

Updated: October 18, 2022, 12:10 PM