UK Risks Winter Blackouts

An expected rise in energy demand as well as the closure of coal plants and nuclear reactors has put the UK at risk of blackouts this winter.

In winter, the UK is expected to face the highest risk of blackouts for six years. With the closure of nuclear reactors and coal plants, a rise in energy demand and the economy reopening after over a year of COVID-19 restrictions, pressure on the National Grid is mounting.

The Electricity System Operator for the National Grid, which is responsible for powering the nation, say that they expect the UK demand for electricity to return to normal levels this winter, bracing themselves for “some tight periods”.

In a recently published report, the System Operator warned of “tighter electricity supplies” and “uncertainty” over the UK’s power supplies.

However, in some scenarios, the margin of forecasted electricity supplies may exceed demand by as much as 5.3%, the tightest margin recorded since winter 2016, when the National Grid was forced to ask businesses to reduce their electricity consumption after a series of breakdowns at coal plants across the country.

The National Grid state: “Following tighter margins in winter 2020-21 compared to previous winters, we have decided to publish an early view of the margin for winter 2021-22. We believe this will help to inform the electricity industry and support preparations for the winter ahead.”

A series of warnings were issued by the System Operator stating that electricity supply was under pressure in 2020, despite a 4% slump in energy demand, as the pandemic forced businesses to close, and many people worked from home.

To meet high demand during an extended winter last year, the UK was forced to rely on its last remaining coal-fired plants. In 2021, this makes it more difficult to cover any sudden outages, as older nuclear plants have also closed.

Nuclear power stations such as Dungeness B and Hunterston B are not available for the full winter, and gas power stations at Severn Power and Sutton Bridge and Baglan Bay will also remain unavailable.

Though the electricity system operator remains confident that there is still sufficient supply to meet the overall demand this winter, there is still some uncertainty over electricity supplies during the peak consumption periods.