The National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) announced recently that the United Kingdom might face planned power outages during the winter months of this year. They warned on the edge of caution, saying it would be improbable, but the risk is still there.
A blackout is a total failure of the power supply due to an imbalance of power generated and power consumed. The term blackout tends to be used when there is a large-scale service interruption. A planned blackout is when areas of the grid are manually switched off to prevent a significant breakdown of the grid — which can take days to fix.
The planned blackouts would be a possible solution if our gas power plants could not keep up with demand due to the energy crisis. If, in the unlikely event that they did occur, they would be the first planned blackouts since the 1970s — households and businesses could expect to see three-hour outages at a time.
In response to the National Grid’s warning, Prime Minister Liv Truss announced that the United Kingdom “can get through winter” as we have “good energy supplies”. However, she did not guarantee that we wouldn’t see any power outages.
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Why Might Power Outages Take Place This Winter?
Typically, Britain has one of the most reliable power networks in the world and the only times it faces issues is when storms or other natural disasters cut cables. But, this winter, our gas generators may not be enough to keep the grid running consistently.
This is partly due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the UK’s inability to import energy from France, Belgium and the Netherlands. However, National Grid has informed us that they have plans in place to tackle the issue:
- They are currently organising two gigawatts of coal-powered power plants to be on standby, allowing Britain to get through a freezing and harsh winter.
- Engineers will be tasked with keeping the grid at equilibrium — meaning the amount of electricity pouring into the grid from power plants and sustainable energy sources equals the amount of electricity demand from businesses and homes.
Who Would Be Affected By Power Outages and Blackouts?
If the National Grid did carry out blackouts, it would affect the nation. The National Grid would give areas of the UK one or two days’ notice before cutting them off for up to three hours at a time. This would affect both households and businesses alike.
The National Grid would notify local and regional distributors first, and the distributors would then decide which areas faced power blackouts and which didn’t depend on how much energy needed to be saved at that time. The government may be tasked with helping people to ration their energy use or advise them on how to use less — similar to the hose pipe ban which took place over the summer.
Is There Anything You Can Do To Prevent Power Outages?
You can help the National Grid to prevent power outages this winter by using your electricity sensibly and trying to avoid peak energy use times. Here are some ways you can help:
- The first is to check if your electricity supplier has a cash-back scheme — where you could have money back on your bills if you don’t use electricity at times of high demand. For most areas in the UK, on-peak is 8 am to 11 am and 4 pm to 7 pm – so these would be the periods to avoid.
- Also, if you have solar panels or other renewable energy sources in your home, you should ensure that they are hooked up to a battery — as renewable energy systems can continue to charge the battery while the battery is powering your home during a blackout. If you do not have a battery backup installed, the National Grid will turn the systems off to prevent injury to grid engineers.
- If you are a more significant business, you will be paid for reducing demand by shifting the times of your energy use to off-peak hours; this may also include using batteries or generators.
How Do You Prepare For A Power Outage?
If, in the unlikely event that there are planned blackouts, we would recommend that you follow our checklist of things to do below to ensure your safety:
- Stock up on canned food and drinks – if you are due to blackouts, you should ensure that you have any food or beverages already cooked before the outage. When the energy goes off, you cannot use your electric cooker, appliances or microwave. You will also lose power to your fridges and freezers, so if you have any raw food, it will spoil.
- Wrap up warm – due to your heating being turned off in a planned blackout, it’s recommended that you wrap up warm with plenty of layers and clothes. The outage could happen anytime, but the National Grid will warn you.
- Block any drafts – you should make sure that during a power outage, you close any doors or windows to ensure that any currents are stopped. Your house will lose heat dramatically if not appropriately insulated.
- Bare necessities – ensure you gather essentials like candles, flashlights, battery-powered radios or portable chargers so you can see and contact people.
- Make sure you have fuel in your car – if you have a petrol/diesel car, you should make sure that you have at least half a tank in your vehicle in case you need to make a run to the hospital, help out any relatives or pick up the kids from school. The same goes for electric vehicles and hybrids.
- Portable generators & batteries – for both homes and businesses, one of the best ways to prepare for a blackout is using a portable generator or battery. A battery may be powered by solar energy, as mentioned, or could be charged by the mains before the blackout to ensure you have power during it. With generators, they can be fuelled by diesel, gas, hydrotreated vegetable oil and much more — which would allow you to top up the generator as and when you need it.
We spoke to Jonny Christie and Karl McArdle, co-CEOs of The Property Buying Company, about their thoughts on how to prepare for electric power outages.
Karl said “At the moment in time there is no need to worry about power outages in the United Kingdom, it’s just important that people understand that the risk of them happening is there, and also in case it does happen, how they can prepare for it.”
“The best thing the general public can do is make sure they have plenty of warm clothes, their homes are properly insulated and they have strategies ready for when their fridges and freezers are turned off. Because many people are bulk cooking and freezing due to the cost of living crisis, there could be a massive amount of wasted food — so it’s vital that people utilise ice baths and cold storage areas to keep their food frozen.”
Jonny went on to say “I think it’s also important to note that businesses should do as much as they can in order to help with preventing blackouts over the winter. If this means that they use generators or even just make sure they aren’t adding to the demand at peak times.”