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London narrowly avoided blackout as electricity prices surged last week

·2-min read

Britain paid the highest price on record for electricity in London last week as the capital narrowly avoided a power blackout, it has emerged.

National Grid’s Electricity System Operator (ESO) was forced to pay £9,724.54 per megawatt hour to Belgium, more than 5,000% higher than the typical price, last Wednesday to prevent a blackout in south-east London, as first reported by Bloomberg.

A sequence of issues around the hottest UK days on record led to extreme constraints in the power system and hiked up demand.

Temperatures surged above 40C in the UK last Tuesday and London Fire Brigade reported its busiest day since the Second World War as the heatwave led to hundreds of fires across the city.

Increased demand for energy across Europe combined with a bottleneck in the grid forced the ESO to buy electricity from Belgium at the highest price Britain has ever paid to keep power flowing.

Other factors, including planned maintenance outages of overhead lines and a storm in Belgium impacting solar power, put the system under severe strain.

While the amount bought at the record amount was minimal – reportedly enough to supply eight houses for a year – it has exposed the UK’s reliance on importing electricity from interconnectors overseas, particularly France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

A spokesperson at National Grid ESO said that while other generation was available on Wednesday, power outages during the summer period meant a specific circuit was needed to get electricity to the right place.

National Grid ESO said: “We were bidding in a tight market and market prices were high that day because Europe also wanted the energy.

“We managed the system and kept the electricity flowing to the South East.”

National Grid, which manages the UK’s infrastructure, added that while it plans to strengthen networks across the UK, importing electricity from overseas has cost benefits for consumers.

But Wednesday’s sky-high transaction could be felt by households in their upcoming energy bills as energy suppliers pass on the costs.

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