Is there a real risk of winter blackouts this year?

With the fall in temperatures and level of sunlight that come at this time of year, heaters and lights are all being turned on for longer. This surge in energy use is at the origin of the dreaded ‘winter blackout’, where demand exceeds the amount of energy readily available.

But how likely are they to happen?

Britain’s spare energy capacity has fallen this winter, eroding the safety buffer between maximum supply and peak demand to 4%, which is the lowest number we have seen in seven years. This means that if unforeseen events occur, such as the closure of a power station or particularly cold weather, a blackout could happen.

How can they be stopped?

DECC has a certain number of measures in place to prevent a blackout from happening. On a short-term basis, it can pay higher energy users to cut demand when necessary and use emergency generators for a short period. On a long-term basis, it can put dormant energy plants back in use and incentivise high energy consumers to cut down on their energy use by switching off some of their equipment (like industrial fridges) and change shifts to avoid peak times (from 6pm onwards).

 Should you be worried?

A recent US Chamber of Commerce report ranked Britain as the most energy secure country in Europe and fourth in the world. As such, there is always a risk of a blackout happening but it is very unlikely.

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