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National Grid Plans for Winter Blackout Scenario






A ‘perfect storm’ of influences on the European energy sector has left the UK in the midst of an intense energy crisis. As Powerstar warned in June, fears that this crisis would peak this winter look increasingly likely to transpire. Here, we summarise what factors are putting the UK’s security of supply at risk, and what could National Grid try to attempt to mitigate the worst outcomes; namely, widespread, prolonged blackouts.

The Winter Outlook

Energy costs, and in particular the dramatic increases in the domestic energy cap, have been in sharp media focus for months. By April of next year, the price cap could reach as high as £5,000, reaching more than £4,000 in January and remaining above that level for the rest of the year.

While price is one aspect of the energy trilemma, another element could prove just as impactful for the UK this winter: security of supply. Both geopolitical and meteorological factors look set to impact on European energy supplies.

While peak demand for gas is typically associated with the winter months, European heatwaves and droughts have trigged unseasonably high demand for gas, a commodity that is already at the heart of the energy crisis following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

In this case, demand for gas is effectively a side-effect of major droughts, which have hampered hydropower and reduced water levels in key rivers used for the transporting of large amounts of European fuel, including biomass and coal. The Rhine, western Europe’s most important river for the transport of fuel and industrial supplies, hit record lows last week, forcing many transport barges to cease working.

All of this backs up into the typical winter spike in demands for gas, as stored natural gas is used to make up for the shortfall of other forms of generation. Britain’s lack of gas storage leaves us especially vulnerable, particularly given expectations that at some point during the winter, Russia will cut off gas supplies to western Europe entirely.

What can the UK do?

Many of the ways that this crisis could have been averted would have to have been long-term, strategic decisions that were implemented long before it came to this. The UK is lagging behind on several key aspects of a robust energy strategy, including improved energy efficiency for our housing stock, a more pronounced shift away from gas generation and greater amounts of grid balancing to allow inflexible wind and solar generation to meet changing levels of demand more effectively.

Instead, National Grid are modelling a ‘load shedding’ scenario, which would involve end users having their energy cut off for periods during the winter when gas and electricity supplies are low. The UK’s gas network is now over a month into this planning process, with the electricity network now thought to be following suit.

If Russia does go ahead with plans to cut off gas supplies, the potential result is the close-down of gas fired power stations, as well as factories that use large amount of gas for industrial processes. For many end users, a worst-case scenario could be enforced energy rationing between the hours of 7am and 10am and 4pm to 9pm.

For businesses already struggling with the energy price crisis, the coming winter is unfortunately likely to bring more pain. However, there are measures that can still be taken to mitigate some of the worst impacts. This includes on-site generation, such as solar, or bolstering energy efficiency across a site. Or, indeed, a combination of the two. In each case, reducing a businesses’ dependence on the grid supply, through our Battery Energy Storage for example, can help to alleviate the impacts of price increases. We have seen that this will give a site greater energy flexibility that allows them to run as close to normally as possible in the case that energy rationing or blackouts do occur.

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