National Grid expected to confirm increased blackout risk, as experts warn crisis will worsen unless subsidies are paid to new gas power plants
Britain faces the highest risk of blackouts in almost a decade this winter, National Grid is expected to say next week, amid warnings that households will have to pay billions of pounds in subsidies to new gas power stations to prevent the crisis worsening.
National Grid is expected to confirm estimates that Britain’s capacity margin – the effective ‘safety buffer’ between peak electricity demand and available power supplies – will fall to about 1.2 per cent this winter, the lowest in a decade.
It has already prepared emergency measures to help keep the lights on, including paying factories to switch off between 4pm and 8pm on weekdays to reduce demand, and paying old power plants to stay open.
These measures have artificially bolstered the margin to about 5.1 per cent – still the lowest level since winter 2007-08, National Grid is expected to confirm.
Analysis by Ofgem, the energy regulator, suggests that without the emergency interventions, a blackout during a cold snap would be highly likely.
The risk of “controlled disconnections”, in which customers’ power supplies are cut off, could have been as high as a “one in one year” event – implying an incident would have been expected at some point during the winter.
Although National Grid and Ofgem insist their emergency plans mean the lights will stay on, the publication of the latest forecasts is expected to reignite debate about how to solve Britain’s looming power crunch.
The tightening of supplies has been caused by the old polluting coal plants being forced to close by environmental rules more quickly than new plants are being built.
More coal plants and old nuclear plants are expected to close in coming years, worsening the crisis. Expert warned a solution to keep the lights on was likely to be costly for consumers.