Will there be blackouts this winter in the UK? What the National Grid has said about controlled power cuts

The National Grid Electricity System Operator has warned that homes and businesses could face three-hour blackouts to help ensure the grid does not collapse this winter

Households are being warned of potential blackouts this winter after fears power plants will not be able to run to full capacity, the National Grid has said.

The National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) has said that power plants in certain parts of the country may not be able to source enough gas to operate at full power throughout the winter months, leading to three-hour planned blackouts in some areas of the country. However, the group has also inisted that this situation is “unlikely” in the current circumstances.

The potential planned blackouts would be the first since the 1970s, with these a result of the miners’ strike and oil crisis. The warning comes amid an energy crisis, fueled by the war in Ukraine and soaring wholesale prices of gas and oil. However, Prime Minster Liz Truss has said that the UK has “good energy supplies” and the country “can get through the winter”.

What has the National Grid said about the power cuts?

The National Grid has warned that if gas is cut off from Russia throughout winter and the UK also experiences extremely cold weather throughout this time, the country’s electricity supply could dwindle. Unless the gas-fired power plants find enough gas through the winter period, planned blackouts may happen. These power plants produce around 43 % of the UK’s electricity.

A statement from the National Grid said: “In the unlikely event we were in this situation, it would mean that some customers could be without power for pre-defined periods during a day – generally this is assumed to be for three-hour blocks.”

The National Grid has said that it is “cautiously confident” that this will not be the case however. In the “base case” scenario - without these external factors - the group has said that it forecasts a “sufficient operational surplus throughout winter”.

Customers are being urged to “save money and back Britain” by using more energy at off-peak times. The peak time in the UK for energy consumption is 4pm until 7pm, with some energy suppliers offering schemes which gives money back to customers who shift their energy usage away from this time period.

The ESO has recommended that households take advantage of this offer to relieve pressure on the grid at peak times. It could also save households around £100 if they sign up to this kind of scheme.

Where could be affected by blackouts?

If controlled blackouts are introduced, the National Grid will notify local and regional energy distributors well in advance. As of yet, there is no information on which parts of the country are at risk of being hit by the blackouts.

The decision will come down to these distribution network operators, who will decide which areas will be cut off and which areas will not be affected. Either way, those in affected areas will be notified of the decision ahead of time, and will be told when electricity will be unusable.

What has been the reaction to potential power cuts?

The situation has undoubtedly caused anxiety for the general population. Liz Truss tried to alleviate conerns while speaking to reporters in the Czech Republic.

She said: “We’re working very hard on energy security, it’s one of the reasons I am here in Prague today. 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.”

Truss said the UK has a “good supply of energy”, adding: “We do have good energy supplies in the UK, we can get through the winter, but of course I am always looking for ways that we can improve the price for consumers. That’s why we put in place the energy price guarantee as well as making sure we have as much supply as possible.”

However, politicians have criticised the government’s handling of the energy crisis so far.

Labour’s shadow climate secretary and former leader Ed Miliband said: “Today’s report from National Grid shows our vulnerability as a country as a direct consequence of a decade of failed Conservative energy policy.

“Banning onshore wind, slashing investment in energy efficiency, stalling nuclear and closing gas storage have led to higher bills and reliance on gas imports, leaving us more exposed to the impact of Putin’s use of energy as a geopolitical weapon. Yet still the Conservatives fail to learn the lessons.”

The Liberal Democrats leader Sir Ed Davey also urged the Prime Minister to hold an urgent COBRA meeting to address the situation. He said: “We need stronger leadership from this new Prime Minister. The political squabbles in her divided Conservative Party must stop getting in the way of governing Britain.

“A failure to act now could see millions plunged into rolling blackouts whilst petrol and heating oil prices spiral even further out of control. We need real action from this Government, including a clear plan to boost energy supplies and secure the necessary energy resources.”