Search icon


10th Aug 2022

Britain could be plunged into darkness in January as government considers winter blackout plans

Jack Peat

Plans for 1970s-style power outages are being drawn up by officials

Cold weather and gas shortages could force the rationing of electricity in January.

A new ‘reasonable worst-case scenario’ envisages a 4-day power shortfall, with industry and even households facing planned power outages for the first time in 50 years.

Under that outlook, below-average temperatures and reduced electricity imports from Norway and France could expose four days in January when the UK may need to trigger emergency measures to conserve gas.

The scenario is “not something we expect to happen,” the government Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said in a statement. “Households, businesses and industry can be confident they will get the electricity and gas they need.”

But the analysis lays bare the difficult winter that is potentially in store.

Several people on social media have shared photos from the 1970s, when the UK last endured blackout conditions due to strikes.

Workers were reduced to a three-day working week and TV companies including the BBC and ITV had to stop broadcasting at 10.30 pm each night.

Many households were ordered to limit heating to one room and to keep non-essential lights switched off.

This time around, the power cuts would come even as Britons face up to average annual energy bills possibly rising above £4,200 in January from just under £2,000 currently, stoking already soaring inflation.

If the winter is particularly cold, Britain may have to rely increasingly on pipeline shipments of gas from mainland Europe – where supplies are already thin as Moscow curbs flows. That presents a dilemma for the UK, which has very little domestic storage capacity.

In July, at the height of the first heatwave, London narrowly avoided a blackout as electricity prices surged.

The UK was forced to pay £9,724.54 per megawatt hour to Belgium, more than 5,000 per cent higher than the typical price.

National Grid ESO said: “We were bidding in a tight market and market prices were high that day because Europe also wanted the energy.

“We managed the system and kept the electricity flowing to the South East.”

Related links: