Britain is “planning” for blackouts this winter, a minister said on Friday but defended the Government’s stance of not advising people to try to save energy.
Climate and energy minister Graham Stuart insisted that households reducing consumption would not have any significant impact on security of electricity and gas supplies given the UK’s diverse energy make-up.
Asked on Sky News whether in the worst case scenario, Britain is looking at blackouts or rationing, Mr Stuart said: “We don’t expect that to occur. That’s not our expectation at all.
“But you have seen all sort of things happening in recent weeks and we plan for all eventualities and the public should be confident that we have a very strong and diverse supply, that we have taken all the steps to look after our needs for this winter.”
He sought to downplay reports that Downing Street had blocked a public information campaign, reportedly backed by Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg, on how people could save energy in coming months.
Mr Stuart told Times Radio: “There is not enormous use in telling people to use less energy when it makes no difference to our energy security.
“It’s about being able to reduce it at peak moments when you have a pressure, if you were to get it, although the National Grid says it’s very unlikely.”
He added: “We are not in the business of telling people how to live their lives.”
Firms using large quantities of energy would be asked first to reduce consumption, then there could be a voluntary scheme for households, before any blackouts, he explained.
On Thursday, the Prime Minister sought to reassure the public that the UK has “good energy supplies”.
Ms Truss told reporters during a visit to the Czech Republic that the country had a good supply of energy and that the UK was in a “much better position than many other countries”.
“We do have good energy supplies in the UK, we can get through the winter, but of course I am always looking for ways that we can improve the price for consumers,” she said.
“That’s why we put in place the energy price guarantee as well as making sure we have as much supply as possible.
The Prime Minister has previously ruled out energy rationing this winter, despite Vladimir Putin limiting gas supplies in response to sanctions placed on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.
Earlier Thursday, the National Grid’s Electricity System Operator (ESO) said the lights would stay on this winter unless gas-fired plants that produced 43 per cent of Britain’s electricity over the last year cannot get enough gas to continue operating.
It said its base case scenario was that supply would be sufficient.
In two other possible scenarios, the operator said it hoped that paying people to charge their electric cars at off-peak times, and firing up back-up coal plants, would offset the risk of blackouts.
Labour’s shadow climate secretary, Ed Miliband, accused the Conservatives of a failed energy policy, leaving the country vulnerable.
“Banning onshore wind, slashing investment in energy efficiency, stalling nuclear and closing gas storage have led to higher bills and reliance on gas imports, leaving us more exposed to the impact of Putin’s use of energy as a geopolitical weapon,” he said.
“Yet still the Conservatives fail to learn the lessons.”
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey called on the Government to convene the emergency Cobra committee to address the possibility of blackouts.
Use energy at off-peak times
Households are now being encouraged to sign up with their electricity supplier to a scheme which encourages them to use washing machines and other electrical appliances at off-peak times by giving them money back on their bills.
The National Grid said Thursday it would launch a “demand flexibility service” on November 1 to encourage bill payers to use power outside peak demand periods.
Under the scheme, those with smart meters would be notified the day before and paid for using power outside these time periods.
The National Grid said it hoped this could free up enough energy to power around 600,000 homes, if enough companies and households participate.
Households tend to consume a fifth of their daily energy between 4pm and 7pm, according to data from Ovo Energy.
The supplier on Thursday said its customers could save £100 if they signed up to use energy at off-peak times.
In addition, larger businesses will be paid for reducing demand, for example by shifting their times of energy use or switching to batteries or generators in peak times.