Millions of homes and businesses in the UK face planned power cuts this winter in the “extreme” case of gas shortages and reduced electricity imports from the rest of Europe, the National Grid has warned.
Households could experience a series of three-hour power cuts under this worst case scenario.
If this emergency plan is set into motion, consumers in different parts of the country would be notified a day in advance of three-hour blocks of time during which their power would be cut off, in an effort to reduce total consumption by 5%.
To avoid this, households are being encouraged to help avoid blackouts, “save money and back Britain” by using more energy during off-peak times.
That could mean putting on the dishwasher or washing machine overnight or charging an EV at off-peak times.
Consumers with smart meters could get paid for using power outside busy periods, as was trialled by Octopus Energy earlier this year.
National Grid hopes this service will free up an extra 2GW, enough to power about 600,000 homes, if enough companies and households participate
If a lack of gas meant UK was forced to limit supplies, households would be prioritised and curbs would first fall on large industrial users and power plants.
But this nightmarish scenario will only come to pass if the gas-fired power plants that produced 43% of Britain’s electricity over the last year cannot get enough gas to continue operating.
The forced blackout is the most dire of three possible scenarios that the body that oversees Britain’s electricity grid laid out on Thursday, for how the UK’s electricity grid might cope with the worst global energy crisis for decades.
In the other two scenarios, the operator hopes that by rewarding people for charging their electric cars at off-peak times, and by firing up backup coal plants, it can offset the risk of blackouts.
The network operator stressed it was “cautiously confident” that there would be enough electricity to meet the demands of businesses and consumers this winter but that the unprecedented and uncertain situation in Europe had led them to look at a range of scenarios.
National Grid said it expected gas and electricity prices to remain high through the winter.
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.
Responding to the winter outlook, a government spokesperson said: “The UK has a secure and diverse energy system.
“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 the UK 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.
Energy regulator Ofgem said: “We have one of the most reliable energy systems in the world and we are in a favourable position.
“However, it is incumbent on a responsible and prudent energy sector to ensure the right contingency measures are in place.”
Watch: Energy crisis: Plan for three-hour power blackouts to prioritise heating in event of gas shortages