Personal Finance

Brits could be hit with blackouts this winter - how to prepare

Blackouts could be imposed in the UK to deal with gas and electricity shortages this winter, National Grid has warned. NimbleFins explains how you can prepare for the worst.

The plan for three hour blackouts was announced in what National Grid's Electricity System Operator (ESO) called the "unlikely" event that gas supplies run low.

In a further update this week, National Grid chief John Pettigrew revealed the blackouts would be between 4pm and 7pm on weekdays during "really, really cold" days in January and February.

Not only is gas used to heat homes, but about 40% of the UK's electricity is generated from gas-fired power stations, according to Energy UK.

Rolling power cuts would be needed in the event of a cold snap if sufficient gas supplies could not be secured from mainland Europe to meet demands, Mr Pattigrew told the Financial Times's Energy Transition Summit on Monday October 17.

The war in Ukraine has seen most of the continent face gas supply shortages after sanctions were placed on Russia for the invasion. Russia responded to the sanctions by cutting off the Nordstream 1 pipeline into mainland Europe in August.

Although the UK doesn't rely on Russia for its gas, it does import gas and electricity from mainland Europe during winter and severe weather.

Mr Pattigrew said: “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.”

How to prepare for a blackout

Check smoke alarms: If you have a mains-powered smoke alarm check if it has a battery backup and if the battery still works. Jonathan Rolande, of the National Association of Property Buyers, said: “If in doubt, buy battery alarms, which cost about a fiver, and install at least one on each floor of your home. Power cuts do increase the chance of fire so this is vital."

Food, fridge and freezer: Think about what you can eat during a power cut. They are likely to be between 4pm and 7pm so you'll need to think about dinner. If you have a gas cooker or gas camping stove, plan a simple dinner such as pasta and sauce. If you don't have access to gas it may be worth keeping some boiled water or hot soup in flasks so you can have a hot meal. The hot water could be used for instant noodles or a cup of tea, for example. It is thought that any blackout should be announced in advance, giving you time to prepare food.

Charge your phone: Keep your mobile phone charged up where possible but more importantly consider buying a power bank and charge it up in advance so you have access to a charging point. A power bar that has more than one phone charge in it will cause less stress than the cheaper, smaller ones!

Keep warm: The blackouts are likely to be in the coldest months of the year so make sure you have something to keep warm like a blanket or warm clothing.

Fill your car: Some petrol stations can't operate during a power failure, according to SP Energy Networks, so consider making sure your vehicle has a decent amount of fuel just in case.

Lighting: Do you have torches and do they work? Do you need more batteries, or candles? You can buy wind-up torches which are handy for an unexpected power cut, and there are now rechargeable light bulbs that you can even screw into lamp shades and give off light for about six hours on a full charge. If screwing into a light fitting, just make sure the light is turned off at the switch ready for when the power comes back on. Alternatively, just use it as a source or light anywhere in the room.

Mr Rolande added: "Make sure you know where they are and consider leaving one by the front door, and another by the bed etc in case power is lost unexpectedly."

If using candles, keep away from children.

Switch off appliances: There is the risk of a power surge when electricity comes back so switch off everything unnecessary, especially sensitive items such as computers and fish tanks. It's worth keeping one thing plugged in or one light switched on so you know when power has returned.

National Grid's Electricity System Operator's contingency plan said it did expect supplies to be sufficient thanks to gas supplies from the North Sea and imports from Norway.

But in a worst case scenario case where there are shortages, the National Grid would react by imposing three-hour blackouts, as well as a number of other actions. These include restoring the use of coal generators that would otherwise have closed and asking big industries to temporarily stop using gas.

Customers are also being offered money from their suppliers to use energy outside peak hours to free up supply. The Demand Flexibility Service will see households earn £10 off their bills every time they take part in one of the scheme’s 12 dates.

To do your bit, and save money, have a look at our 11 ways to save on your energy bills.

Erin Yurday

Erin Yurday is the Founder and Editor of NimbleFins. Prior to NimbleFins, she worked as an investment professional and as the finance expert in Stanford University's Graduate School of Business case writing team. Read more on LinkedIn.


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