Why La Nina could make the energy crisis even worse in the coming weeks

HOLMFIRTH, UNITED KINGDOM - 2021/01/24: Frost covers rooftops of houses in West Yorkshire on Sunday morning.
Hazardous conditions are predicted for the coming week, with the Met Office warning of snow, ice and more heavy rain. (Photo by Adam Vaughan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Frost covers rooftops of houses in Holmfirth, west Yorkshire. There are concerns about the UK's energy supplies in the coming weeks. (Getty Images)

Amid the cost of living crisis and concerns about energy supply shortages, there are fears of a bleak winter ahead.

On Friday, for instance, there were warnings of potential planned blackouts for the first time since the 1970s.

This centres around whether power plants will be able to get enough gas to keep running, and there are concerns about how a potentially colder-than-average early winter may impact this.

Those concerns partially emanate from the "La Nina" weather phenomenon. Here, Yahoo News UK explains what La Nina is and how it could potentially affect energy supply.

What is a 'triple dip' La Nina?

La Nina, as set out by the Met Office, is a naturally occurring and large-scale cooling of the average sea surface temperature in the equatorial Pacific.

“During an event,” the agency says, “sea temperatures can often fall 3-5C below average”. This means “cooler, drier than average weather is experienced in the tropical eastern Pacific”.

But how could this impact the UK?

As Carlo Buontempo, director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service, told The Guardian this week: “La Nina tends to cause disruption to westerly winds, creating high pressure over Europe, which is what the models are showing for the beginning of winter.

Watch: What are blackouts and why might they happen this winter?

“In these conditions, there is a chance of easterly winds leading to lower than usual temperatures. There is a higher than usual chance of having a cold outbreak at the beginning of winter.”

The “triple dip” refers to the fact this year’s La Nina is the third such event across three consecutive northern hemisphere winters. It's only the third time this has happened in history, and the first this century.

Why could it affect energy supplies?

Clearly, households rely on gas supplies in order to keep warm during the winter.

That’s not to mention powering homes, as gas is the biggest source of electricity generation. In August, the most recent month for which National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) figures are available, 48% of Great Britain’s electricity came from gas.

A colder-than-average winter will mean demand for gas will increase. This is a problem because there are currently serious questions as to whether Britain will be able to meet any increased demand.

Earlier this week, energy regulator Ofgem said Britain is at “significant risk” of gas shortages in the winter, as a knock-on effect of supply issues in Europe amid Russia’s continuing war in Ukraine.

Read more: 'Bonkers': Liz Truss faces backlash over response to blackout fears

As reported in The Times, Ofgem raised the possibility of a “gas supply emergency” in which gas-fired power stations shut down.

In what it called an “unlikely” scenario, the National Grid ESO has also said households and businesses might face planned three-hour outages to ensure the grid does not collapse.

On Friday, the government played down the prospect... while refusing to rule out rationing.

Climate minister Graham Stuart said that rather than looking at reducing overall use, the government is supporting Ofgem and National Grid to devise solutions to provide incentives for businesses and consumers to potentially cut peak-time energy demand if needed.