Britain will be more dependent than ever on imported power supplies to help keep the lights on this winter, National Grid has said, sparking fears the country will be at the mercy of Russian leader Vladimir Putin as he strangles energy supplies to Europe.
In its annual outlook on winter electricity supplies, the Grid says it expects to be able to draw on undersea cables sending power from the Continent this winter, but warned of “tight” periods in early December even with this support. One analyst warned that UK households risk paying £500 for power in January alone as energy supply struggles to keep up with surging demand.
Experts warned that depending on the free flow of power from abroad this winter is a high-risk gamble, potentially leaving the UK in danger of blackouts if Mr Putin cuts off the supply of gas.
Energy generators across the Continent are already being stretched by low nuclear power output in France, as well as reduced flows from Russia.
Russia has further restricted flows to Germany this week, while Ukraine is thought to be on the brink of a counter-offensive to take back the city of Kherson, triggering fears that success could provoke further retaliation from Russia.
High wholesale energy prices because of gas supply shortages have pushed household energy bills in Europe and the UK to record levels.
BFY, an energy consultancy, predicted on Wednesday that UK households could be paying £500 for their energy for the month of January.
Bob Seely, the Conservative MP who sits on the influential foreign affairs select committee, said: "There is likely to be an energy emergency in Europe, primarily caused by Germany’s disastrous decisions; first, to shut down its nuclear power stations to appease its obsessively anti-nuclear green lobby, and, second, to become utterly dependent on Russian gas.
“Currently, it seems likely that Putin will squeeze energy supplies further this winter to extract the maximum political pressure in Germany and other EU states that use Russian gas, such as Italy and Hungary. He wants to undermine the coalition in support of Ukraine.
“I hope the Grid’s assumptions are correct, but it is dependent on a level of Russian supply which may not be there, and French nuclear power, which has problems of its own. There are other countries we take from including the coal-burning Dutch power stations, but they will have their own pressures.”
Britain has imported power from the continent for many years, but more cables have been built to help the UK balance growing supplies of wind and solar power with those on the continent.
The UK expects to be able to draw on 5.7 gigawatts of power from Europe – equal to around 10pc of demand at peak times, more than forecast last year.
Britain already last week had to pay an all-time high of £9,724 per MWh to import power from Belgium, as it sought supplies to prevent shortfalls in the south-east against high competition on the continent.
Gas prices climbed by a further 2pc in Europe and 5pc in Britain, to 371.62 pence per per therm.
Coal, gas and nuclear power stations in the UK have been shut because of their age and to comply with the country's net zero drive, making the country more reliant on European neighbours.
National Grid’s winter outlook, published on Thursday, says it expects there to be plenty of electricity available to run the system this winter, with a forecast buffer capacity of four gigawatts, or 6.7pc.
But it says this assumes that when the system in Britain is stretched, prices in Britain will be higher than those in Europe meaning supplies from Europe are sent to Britain. Analysts cautioned that competing pressures on the continent may derail that assumption, however.
Phil Hewitt, director at market specialist EnApSyss, said: “National Grid is assuming that interconnectors behave by market rules. We believe this is a risky position to take.
“EnAppSys analysis suggests that the French Interconnectors (up to 4GW) may be unreliable importers into GB in the winter.
“This is due to the problems with the nuclear fleet in France and the high price of gas on the continent due to the war in Ukraine and the well-documented issues with gas from Russia.”
Kathryn Porter, energy consultant at Watt-Logic, added: “Although outright interconnector capacity will be 1.5 GW higher than last year, the energy landscape in the connected markets is markedly different, and it is doubtful that GB could continue to import at historic levels.”
National Grid said its expectations for interconnectors were based on what they have signed up to supply in the back-up market for supply. Generators face fines for not delivering, although several do not.
A spokesman added: “It's also important to note that a stress period in Great Britain coinciding with one in Europe is extremely unlikely and to date has never happened before.
“As a prudent system operator we remain vigilant to uncertainties in Europe and the potential impact they could have on GB.
“We continue to monitor developments in Europe, for instance, on the availability of the French nuclear fleet, and will continue to review this in the coming weeks and months.
“We have taken steps to build our resilience to risks and uncertainties due to European gas supplies.”
A government spokesman said: “Unlike Europe, Britain isn't dependent on Russian gas. The UK’s secure and diverse energy supplies will ensure households, businesses and industry can be confident they can get the electricity and gas they need.
“However, we are vulnerable to volatile gas markets. While no national government can control the gas price, we have introduced an extraordinary £37 billion package to help households, including £1,200 each for 8 million of the most vulnerable households."