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UK at risk of electricity blackouts for 10 hours this winter

National Grid Electricity Blackouts Energy Crisis
National Grid Electricity Blackouts Energy Crisis

Britain’s power supplies risk running short for 10 hours this winter if it is unable to import power from the continent, according to the latest forecasts from leading energy analysts.

LCP explored the “very possible” scenario that Europe won't be able to meet Britain's electricity needs this winter due to its own shortages.

That could mean power supplies failing to match demand for ten hours, it said, rising to 29 hours if ministers had not already stepped in to keep coal-fired power plants open.

LCP’s analysis contrasts with National Grid Electricity System Operator, which said in a provisional forecast published early in July that electricity supplies are at risk of running short for only six minutes this winter.

Unlike LCP, however, National Grid’s analysis assumes that interconnectors with Europe are able to provide up to 5.7GW when Britain needs it.

Critics immediately questioned that assumption, given the stress on the European system. National Grid is set to give a fuller outlook soon.

LCP’s analysis does not necessarily mean blackouts will occur, as in times of stress National Grid ESO steps in to try and balance the system.

But if its efforts fail, National Grid would be “required to take drastic action and disconnect customers, such as energy intensive industries, from the grid”, LCP warned.

The analysis highlights the risks to the electricity system this winter due to gas shortages caused by Russia's war on Ukraine, as well as droughts affecting hydropower and nuclear outages.

France has been importing power from Britain due to outages on its nuclear fleet, while Norway has warned it may have to curb exports due to falling hydropower reserves.

Chris Matson, partner at LCP, said: “As Europe baked during this summer’s heatwave, it was simultaneously sowing the seeds for further pain this winter.

“As a result of the extreme droughts and the lack of water that is hitting hydroelectric systems in key interconnector markets like Norway, coupled by the issues we are seeing in France with their nuclear reactors, there are significant doubts about the availability of electricity coming into GB from the continent which is critical to our security of supply.”

Electricity traders are already factoring in tight supplies this winter, LCP warned, with forward prices reflecting shortages of “up to 70 hours”.

Britain has been preparing for a potentially difficult winter, however, given the uncertainty over gas supplies due to Russia's war on Ukraine.

The Government asked coal fired power plants that were due to close this September to stay open to help with power supplies during winter.

National Grid ESO is also bringing in measures through which households could be paid to use electricity outside of peak hours.

Britain’s reliability standards allow for up to three hours each year when power demand exceeds supply.

When that happens, National Grid steps in to try and balance the system, such as by turning down the voltage or calling on generators to ramp up output.

It says shortages are generally managed without major impact on consumers.

A National Grid ESO spokesman said: “We have published an early view of winter outlook to help the industry prepare for this winter.

“In early autumn we will publish a full winter outlook that will be based on verifiable market data as well as extensive engagement with stakeholders, including system operators in other countries, to ensure our analysis is as robust as possible.”