As ministers in some European countries contend with energy prices that have increased more than tenfold, the British National Grid’s Electricity System Operator revealed in a winter outlook that officials are likewise grappling with potential natural gas shortages. Though the agency is “cautiously confident” that power will last through the winter, officials acknowledged that “shortfalls of gas in continental Europe could have a range of knock-on impacts in Britain.”
If current efforts to secure three contracts with coal generators to produce more energy are unsuccessful, the Electricity System Operator expects that high demand on cold days and low power generation during periods with low levels of wind may introduce “the potential to need to interrupt supply to some customers for limited periods of time in a managed and controlled manner.” Officials are therefore encouraging commercial entities to shift their production outside of peak demand hours, among other mitigation efforts.
While roughly 42% of energy in the United Kingdom comes from natural gas, 21% comes from nuclear and nearly 25% comes from renewable sources such as solar and wind, according to data from trade organization Energy UK. “Notwithstanding the mitigation measures noted above, it is highly likely that the wholesale price of energy” for both gas and electricity “will remain very high throughout the winter outlook period,” the Electricity System Operator added.
Several countries in Europe, including France and Spain, have requested that their citizens slash energy consumption through means such as reducing reliance upon air conditioning and heating systems. British Minister of State for Climate Graham Stuart, however, told the media that his government is “not in the business of telling people how to live their lives,” remarking that a severe shortage of natural gas “would come at a very sharp point, so the fact that somebody had reduced their energy usage a week before or even a day before you get to a peak wouldn’t really make any difference to the security of supply.”
In another report, the International Energy Agency recommended that European nations cut their power consumption in order to maintain sufficient supplies through the winter. A failure to reduce demand would bring power inventory to 18% of working capacity by March 2023, while a 9% or 13% reduction in power usage would lead to inventories of 38% and 45%, respectively.
British Prime Minister Liz Truss, who replaced outgoing head of government Boris Johnson last month, has prioritized energy production in the first days of her tenure through measures such as reopening oil and gas leases in the North Sea. The move came before the Nord Stream pipeline system, which ran natural gas from Russia to Germany, saw unprecedented damage, further threatening the energy supply of continental Europe.
“We are cutting off the toxic power and pipelines from authoritarian regimes and strengthening our energy resilience,” Truss said during a speech to the United Nations General Assembly. “We will ensure we cannot be coerced or harmed by the reckless actions of rogue actors abroad. We will transition to a future based on renewable and nuclear energy while ensuring that the gas used during that transition is from reliable sources including our own North Sea production.”