National Grid planning for three-hour blackouts from Novembe

People will be paid to use less energy at peak times in a bid to protect the national supply

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Planned three-hour blackouts could be held in parts of the UK this winter in a bid to protect the network, National Grid has said. People will be paid not to use their washing machines or charge their cars during peak hours in a bid to maintain supply for the country.

National Grids Electricity System Operators (ESO) said in the face of a challenging winter facing European energy supplies following Russias invasion of Ukraine, they are also planning for what would happen if there were no imports of electricity from Europe and insufficient gas supplies.

ESO said that households and businesses might face planned three-hour outages to ensure that the grid does not collapse.

Planned blackouts hit the UK during the 1970s in response to the miners strikes and the oil crisis. There have also been major unplanned outages in storms, including in 1987 when over 1.5 million people were left in the dark.

But the lights will stay on this winter unless the gas-fired power plants that produced 43% of Britains electricity over the last year cannot get enough gas to continue operating.

It is the most dire of three possible scenarios that the ESO laid out on Thursday for how Britains electricity grid might cope with the worst global energy crisis for decades.

In the other two scenarios, the operator hopes that by paying people to charge their electric cars at off-peak times and firing up backup coal plants it can offset the risk of blackouts.

People are being encouraged to sign up with their electricity supplier to a scheme which will give them money back on their bills to shift their use of power away from times of high demand to help prevent blackouts. That could mean putting on the dishwasher or washing machine overnight or charging an EV at off-peak times.

In addition, larger businesses will be paid for reducing demand, for example by shifting their times of energy use or switching to batteries or generators in peak times. The demand flexibility service will run from November to March, and it is expected to swing into action 12 times whatever happens to ensure people get rewarded for being part of the scheme with additional use if needed to protect supplies.

It is hoped it will deliver 2GW of power savings to balance supply and demand. To tackle a loss of imports from France, Belgium and the Netherlands, there are two gigawatts of coal-fired power plants on stand-by to fire up if needed to meet demand. The gas network operator also said that while gas demand will increase this winter, it expects Britain to be able to get enough gas to take it through a Beast from the East scenario or a long, cold winter.

The ESOs director of corporate affairs, Jake Rigg, said: The demand flexibility service is a first of its kind and a smart way for signed up consumers in homes and businesses to save money and back Britain. If you put your washing machine or other electrical appliances on at night instead of the peak in the early evening, you can get some money back when we all need it.

The service is due to launch in November, so watch out for further details soon. This really is a window into the future where a flexible energy system will be cleaner and lower cost to alternatives.

Without the scheme, there might be days when it was cold and still creating high demand and low levels of wind power when there would be a potential need to interrupt supply to some customers for limited periods, National Grid ESOs winter outlook said. The ESO also warned that if there is not enough gas to keep the countrys power stations going in January it could force distributors to cut off electricity to households and businesses for three-hour blocks during the day.

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 ESO said. It said the number of people left without electricity would depend on how many gas power stations would be forced to shut down because there is not enough gas.

But this was the worst-case scenario that the grid operator presented. Its base case assumes that when Britain needs more electricity, cables that link the country to its European neighbours will be enough to keep the lights on.

It does not assume that there is any material reduction of consumer demand due to high energy prices. Responding to the winter outlook, a Government spokesperson said: 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, in light of Russias illegal war in Ukraine. To strengthen this position further, we have put plans in place to secure supply and National Grid, working alongside energy suppliers and Ofgem, will launch a voluntary service to reward users who reduce demand at peak times.

The spokesperson said Britain is not dependent on Russian energy imports, and has access to North Sea gas reserves, imports from Norway, and via ports which can handle liquefied natural gas, as well as clean energy sources. National Grid Gas Transmission, which is a separate business to the ESO, said Britain will use more, not less, gas this winter, despite soaring prices.

Households and small businesses whose meters are not read every day are expected to reduce their consumption by 5%. Demand from larger businesses and some heavy industry is also expected to drop as they seek alternatives to expensive gas.

But the amount of gas needed to power the UKs electricity grid is expected to rise by nearly 22% offsetting the household and business savings. Some of this extra electricity will go to France, where the nuclear power fleet has faced trouble in recent months.

The gas operator set out several scenarios, including one where the winter is so cold it pushes demand to similar levels as in the winter of 2010. If this happens Britain will need to start importing gas from storage sites in mainland Europe at high prices.

If another Beast from the East hits, the UK will need to tap into its own gas storage sites. If the cold snap happens early in the winter when storage sites are still relatively full they can supply all of the extra gas needed.

But if it happens later in winter when storage levels are low the UK will need to import more gas from the continent.

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