UK faces power crunch in winter, grid operator warns

·3 min read
The grid is tasked with ensuring the UK has enough electricity generators ready to go when demand peaks. Photo: PA
The grid is tasked with ensuring the UK has enough electricity generators ready to go when demand peaks. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters

Britain's electricity supply could be tight at times this winter as the energy price cap is set to rise further, a body tasked with balancing the country's grid has said.

The Electricity System Operator (ESO) expects that margins might narrow significantly towards December, but it believes it should be able to keep the lights on.

"Our operational modelling indicates that there could be some tight periods this winter, which are most likely to occur in the first half of December," a report published on Thursday showed.

The grid is tasked with ensuring the UK has enough electricity generators ready to go when demand peaks.

That means it needs to maintain a margin above the forecasted demand to deal with any short spikes.

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If the margin falls below certain levels it will send out a so-called Electricity Margin Notice (EMN). This lets generators know that more electricity is needed.

The ESO said that it might need to use the EMNs this winter to ensure supply is stable.

"We may need to use our standard operational tools to manage these periods should they occur which, for example, may mean issuing EMNs," the ESO said. "We expect there to be sufficient available capacity to respond to these market signals to meet consumer demand."

Chart: National Grid ESO
Chart: National Grid ESO

The chart above shows when the shaded (purple) region dips below 0 gigawatt hour (GW), there is a risk that the system may become tight, and operational tools, including market notices, could be used to increase margin.

"Our operational modelling indicates that there could be some tight periods this winter, which are most likely to occur in the first half of December," the ESO said.

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Although the report notes Britain is not as reliant on Russian gas as other countries in Europe, it warned the "cessation of flows of gas into Europe could have knock-on impacts, including very high prices".

It said it worked with the government to ensure that four coal power stations are still ready to use if they need to be called on this winter, and are working on a fifth.

The gris is also "exploring options" to incentivise energy users to reduce their use during peak times.

The model that the ESO uses implies that Britain should be able to keep the lights on during the winter.

It comes as the Nord Stream 1 pipeline that brings Russian gas to the bloc is only running at 20% of its maximum capacity.

Russian flows to Europe have been reduced since its invasion of Ukraine in February, leading to concerns about whether there will be enough gas supply this winter.

Much of Britain's electricity comes from gas, so any serious hit to supplies could affect the availability of electricity.

The ESO’s model, however, assumes "normal market conditions" and that there is no disruption of fuel supplies to power stations and that the UK can buy electricity from Europe when needed.

Watch: Why are gas prices rising?