UK power outage warning scares people using life-saving machines | national grid

Continued power cuts enforced this winter if gas supplies are extremely low could put thousands of people using life-saving machines at home at risk, health officials have warned.

They spoke after National Grid warned on Thursday that households could suffer a series of three-hour blackouts this winter to deal with extreme gas shortages, for example if Vladimir Putin cuts off supplies from Russia and that cold weather is driving up demand.

Such an event would mean that consumers in different parts of the country would be informed a day in advance of three-hour time slots during which their electricity would be cut off.

The government has resisted calls for a public information campaign to encourage consumers to reduce their electricity and gas consumption. However, the Guardian understands that after National Grid’s announcement it will be directing people to trusted sites where they can get energy saving information and advice. It has also been reported that the National Grid could pay some businesses and consumers up to £10 a day to use electricity outside of peak hours.

The prospect of continued power outages has alarmed some health groups, with particular concern for the thousands of vulnerable patients who rely on electrical devices to stay alive and healthy.

Laurie Cuthbert, director of Kidney Care UK, a health charity, said thousands of adults and children depended on a constant source of energy to provide life-saving dialysis at home.

“It’s very energy-intensive…because for some people this processing takes place several times a day for shorter periods of time, and for some it takes place every day, or overnight, up to eight to 10 hours straight,” he said. “Any interruption in the power supply would endanger the treatment itself, and if people on dialysis miss too many sessions in a row, their lives will be in danger.”

Andy Fletcher, chief executive of Together for Short Lives, which stands up for the UK’s 99,000 seriously ill children and their families, said: ‘For seriously ill children, a three-hour power outage could leave them without facilities. vitals such as ventilators, oxygen and temperature control. Families would be forced to decide whether or not to admit their child to hospital, which would be extremely confusing and distressing. »

Key sites, including hospitals, airports and water treatment plants, would not be disconnected under the proposals unless there was a complete blackout of power supplies.

Rory Deighton, NHS Confederation Acute Network Director, said: “The NHS has robust contingency planning in place in the event of a power failure, so we expect the safety risk to be well managed.”

Director of Policy and Strategy at NHS Providers, Miriam Deakin, added: “Cold weather can lead to increased respiratory problems and falls, often affecting the most vulnerable, including those who cannot keep their warm house.

“Power cuts would only make matters worse, adding to pressures on the NHS at a time when it is already stretched thin.”

Charities have called on energy companies to identify and prioritize vulnerable customers put at risk by power cuts, including those with chronic conditions and those dependent on equipment.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: ‘It is essential that the National Grid prioritize vulnerable households and completely exempt them from any planned blackouts.

Each energy supplier maintains a priority service register, which flags vulnerable customers and ensures that they are notified in advance of power outages, are at the front of the queue when power is restored electricity and, in some cases, are entitled to portable generators, hot meals and drinks and alternative accommodation.

The registry is open to people with disabilities or chronic illnesses, as well as people over 60 and pregnant women or parents of children under five. Around 6 million people in Britain are on priority service registers, according to Ofgem.

Ministers have so far opposed the idea of ​​an official campaign to encourage households to save energy, despite talks with industry and National Grid. The Guardian understands the government is not planning an official campaign, but will instead “flag” trusted sites like energy regulator Ofgem where the public can get advice.

Government insiders denied the decision was due to an aversion to ‘nanny state’ interventions, but said it was because previous experience of running campaigns suggests people are listening more to governments. third party information.

The government has been criticized for its lack of commitment to renewable energy projects and its failure to launch a campaign to encourage the public to insulate their homes.

Jess Ralston, senior analyst at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, said: “We didn’t need to be here. If investments in energy efficiency and onshore wind had increased in recent years, we would be much more sure of meeting demand. Each rotation of a wind turbine and each staggered loft means less gas that we have to try to buy.

Labor leader Keir Starmer has called for a “national mission” to isolate millions of homes, accusing the “zombie government” of ignoring the issue.

National Grid said that for power cuts to be introduced, electricity imports from Europe and insufficient gas supplies to power stations would have to be reduced.

Due to archaic rules, contingency plans to disconnect customers would have to be approved by King Charles III, after advice from his Privy Council, on the recommendation of the Business Secretary.

National Grid has been working on a series of initiatives to try to manage supply and demand this winter. It is ready to put five coal-fired power plants into action, which can produce up to 2 gigawatts of electricity.

It will also launch a “demand flexibility service” on November 1 that will encourage businesses and consumers to use electricity outside of peak demand times, including early evenings on weekdays. Consumers with smart meters will be notified the day before and will be paid for electricity use outside these times, with reports indicating payments could be as high as £10 a day. The initiative was piloted by Octopus Energy earlier this year.

National Grid hopes this service will free up an additional 2GW, enough to power around 600,000 homes, if enough businesses and households take part.

Greg Jackson, Managing Director of Octopus, said: “Of course power outages are unlikely, but we could eliminate them altogether. Instead of shutting down swaths of the country if we run out of gas, we can reward people who choose to use less energy at peak times.

“After all, some people have critical needs – for example when using electrical medical equipment – while others are happy to watch Netflix on a laptop for a while.”

Ovo, the UK’s third-largest energy supplier, said it would pay customers a total of £100 to shift their non-essential energy use to times when demand was lower. He said that households used 19% of their daily consumption between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., when the pressure on the network was at its peak.

Regulators hope in the long term to better align energy supplies with demand to facilitate the switch to renewables, which become less reliable in times of low wind. Work is already underway to decouple the price of electricity from gas and build an energy system.

Asked during a visit to Prague on Thursday about the guarantee she made during her leadership campaign that there would be no blackouts this winter, Liz Truss said: “We have a good energy supply in the UK, we are in a very difficult situation. better position than many other countries, but of course we can always do more, and that is why I am working here with our partners, ensuring that we have a secure energy supply in the future.

James G. Williams