National Grid has warned it may call on British households and businesses to reduce their electricity usage on Tuesday to fill a potential gap in supply.
The company in charge of Britain’s electricity system has told energy suppliers, such as Eon and Octopus, whose customers have signed up to a voluntary programme to cut their consumption when called upon, to prepare for the first potential use of the new emergency scheme.
It could mark the first big test of Britain’s ability to meet electricity demand this winter after the group last month warned of the risk of rolling blackouts on dark, cold, still days if it is unable to import sufficient energy supplies from Europe or reduce consumption.
National Grid introduced a “demand flexibility service” this year to try to reduce the risk of blackouts. Households and businesses that signed up will be paid if they respond to National Grid’s call to reduce their consumption during certain hours.
Analysts and electricity system operators in several European countries have warned of “worst case” scenarios where they could face blackouts in the coming months after Russia weaponised its gas supplies to Europe following its invasion of Ukraine.
The reduced supply of gas — which is also used to generate electricity — has coincided with other problems that have affected various countries’ power systems, including record outages at French nuclear reactors this year because of maintenance and corrosion issues.
In a normal year, France is Europe’s biggest electricity exporter but has recently been forced to rely on its neighbours, including Britain, to meet its energy needs. This could become a problem for the UK, which typically relies on imports from countries, including France, to meet peak demand.
Phil Hewitt, director at the energy consultancy EnAppSys, said low wind speeds were the main issue for Britain’s power network this week. Last year, wind accounted for more than 20 per cent of the country’s electricity generation mix.
National Grid has run several tests of its demand flexibility service since it was launched on November 1. However, it alerted participating suppliers on Monday that the first real use of the service could come on Tuesday.
The company has previously warned that it may need households and businesses to reduce electricity demand by more than 2 gigawatts when supplies are low, the equivalent output of two of the UK’s fleet of five nuclear power stations.
The scheme is, however, only open to consumers whose providers are participating and who have replaced their traditional electricity meters with new digital, smart meters. However, the programme has been criticised by some experts as not all households’ smart meters are suitable for the service.
National Grid also issued a separate warning over tight electricity supplies during peak evening hours on Monday, the second time it has published such a notice in a week. However, it also said it was confident “demand was not at risk” and later withdrew the warning after it became clear sufficient supplies would be available.
Separately, the UK government has authorised an £18mn public information campaign advising households on how to cut energy consumption this winter through measures such as reducing boiler temperatures and turning down radiators in empty rooms.