Emergency measures will be introduced to prevent the lights going out this winter.
Offices and factories will be offered compensation to undergo 1970s-style energy rationing and shut down for up to four hours a day to prevent households being plunged into darkness.
In addition, owners of old power stations will be asked to switch them back on to meet the country’s demands.
National Grid had not planned to use this option until next winter. But yesterday it revealed a series of fires and setbacks had knocked some of the UK’s biggest generators out of service. Two nuclear power plants are also offline, and are unlikely to be running in time for the start of the colder weather.
Fires at coal stations in Ferrybridge in West Yorkshire and Ironbridge, Shropshire, have put the sites out of action, while a gas station in Barking, Essex, has been closed since the summer.
Industry regulator Ofgem welcomed the measures. It has already warned that the gap between household demand for energy and the amount our power stations can supply is dangerously low.
Under the powers, businesses that sign up will be ‘bribed’ to shut down between 4pm and 8pm on any day between November and February.
They will be paid a retainer during the four months, even if they are never called on to close early. If they do shut down, they will be paid above the market rate for electricity they do not use.
The second measure, which has never before been used in Britain, would see the resurrection of power stations that have been closed but not yet dismantled. National Grid yesterday contacted the owners of recently closed plants to see if they could be running in time for winter.
The majority of these are gas stations, though it is believed some coal or oil plants could also be asked to take part.
Plant owners would be paid the costs of resurrecting their stations – which could run into tens of millions of pounds. Once running, they would be required to be available between 6am and 8pm between November and February. They will also be paid more than the market rate for their electricity by National Grid, which said yesterday that both measures would be used only as a ‘last resort’.