UK at risk of rolling blackouts as winter chill hits supplies hard

Met Office in-depth look at freezing weather and 'when it will end'

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Britain is at risk of rolling power cuts after the Met Office failed to predict last week’s Arctic blast — which has seen stored gas supplies dwindle — a Whitehall insider has claimed. In response to these claims, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy last night said that such suggestions of power cuts were “alarmist and scare-mongering”. In its winter outlook, published back in October, the National Grid had warned of “a challenging winter for energy supply throughout Europe” — but predicted that the UK power network would be able to cope through the season. And the Met Office has defended its long-term forecast, saying that it had warned that cold snaps were a “likely scenario” and had also flagged the threat of snow and ice in December, as has “largely been seen so far”, followed by the still expected milder weather in January.

According to the Mail on Sunday, a Whitehall insider claimed that the Met Office had “dramatically underestimated [the scale]” of this December’s cold snap when they drew up their long-term forecast earlier this year.

Back in October, alleged the source — who is said to have been close to then Energy Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg — the Met Office said that there was “less than a one-in-ten chance” of temperatures falling as low as they have done in recent days.

The last week has seen temperatures plummet around the UK, falling as low as 1F (-17C) in parts of Aberdeenshire mid-week, and bringing snow and ice in its wake.

The source close to Mr Rees-Mogg claimed that the then Energy Secretary had been given a “very reassuring forecast […] but it turned out to be wrong”.

Mr Rees-Mogg’s ally added: “If you were warned it would be a bad winter, you might have tried to buy in more gas and hoover up any stocks still available at that point.”

He continued: “If we avoid blackouts this winter, I fear it will be more luck than judgement.” They added that “just one more major problem” — such as an interruption in liquid gas imports — would be enough to trigger blackouts.”

Independent energy consultancy firm Auxilione’s director, Tony Jordan, told the Mail on Sunday: “If you get weather forecasting wrong — especially during extreme conditions — it can be catastrophic.

“The freezing conditions caught weather forecasters — and the National Grid that relies so heavily on them to plan our energy needs — off-guard.”

Mr Jordan added: “We are far from in the clear when it comes to avoiding shortages and potentially even blackouts.”

According to Mr Jordan, the issue at hand lies in how Britain has scrapped much of its gas storage capacity. Last week, the UK is reported to have depleted a fifth of its stored gas in just six days. For comparison, the European Union has only used around four percent.

This has raised fears that a longer-lasting freezing spell could leave the UK’s energy supplies in a precarious position.

Mr Jordan also blamed an increasing reliance on renewable energy sources for exacerbating the problem — a complaint that Mr Rees-Mogg’s ally seconded, suggesting that the Government has gone in “too quickly” on green energy.

They added: “There could well be times when the wind does not blow and renewables don’t work.”

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Recent weeks have seen the National Grid undertake various tests of its Demand Flexibility Service, which sees the public encouraged to take energy-saving measures at peak times — such as, for example, turning off power-hungry appliances and lowering electric heating.

The Government also has plans — drawn up in 2019 — to deliver rolling power cuts in a worst-case scenario in order to alleviate demand on the National Grid.

A spokesperson for the Energy Department said that plans for power cuts were only drawn up as a precautionary measure.

They said: “As a responsible Government, we continually plan for a wide range of potential scenarios, working to prepare robust contingency plans so we minimise any potential impact. This is not a direct consequence of the current cold snap.”

On Saturday, the Government launched an £18million advertising campaign — dubbed “It All Adds Up” — encouraging the public to make energy savings through simple measures such as reducing boiler flow temperatures, turning off appliances that aren’t in use and making use of draught excluders.

Business and Energy Secretary Grant Shapps said: “No one is immune to rising energy bills this winter, so it’s in everyone’s interest to use every trick in the book to use less energy while keeping homes warm and staying safe.

“For very little or no cost, you can save pounds. It all adds up, so I urge people to take note of the advice in this new campaign and follow the easy steps to cut your fuel bills.”

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