UK power outages possible if Russia cuts gas – here’s why

The Kremlin has halted supplies to Poland, Bulgaria, Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands since Vladimir Putin ordered troops to invade Ukraine

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The UK could face blackouts and energy rationing if Russia halts gas supplies to Europe (Image: AFP/Getty Images)

But what would happen in Britain if Russia chose to halt gas exports to all major European economies?

How dependent are Europe and the UK on Russian gas?

Europe is a big customer for Russian gas.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), EU member states imported 155 billion cubic meters of natural gas from Russia in 2021.

That number accounted for 45% of the bloc’s total gas imports last year.

The war in Ukraine has led Russia to use gas as a “political and economic weapon”, according to Western leaders (Image: AFP/Getty Images)

But it was also almost three quarters of all gas that Russia exported that year.

However, the UK (like most countries) is exposed to global markets – so any supply shocks in mainland Europe would be felt here as well.

Why is the European gas supply in question?

Although Europe has been Russia’s biggest customer over the past decade, the Kremlin has often used gas exports as an “economic and political weapon,” according to IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol.

Vladimir Putin has asked European countries to pay for gas in Russian rubles (Image: AFP/Getty Images)

“No one is under any illusions anymore. Europe needs to act quickly to prepare for next winter with significant uncertainties surrounding Russian gas supplies,” Mr Birol said.

This uncertainty has been fueled by Russia cutting back supplies to the EU in recent months.

In March, President Putin insisted that European energy companies pay for Russian gas in rubles or face being cut off from supplies.

So far, Russia has cut supplies to Poland, Bulgaria, Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands for failing to meet that demand, while Italian energy company Eni announced on Friday June 17 that it had cut half of its supplies .

Several other European countries, including Germany, have scaled back shipments.

The situation has forced Europe to continue looking for gas supplies – an activity that has pushed up prices worldwide.

Germany’s Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck has announced that the country is one step closer to gas rationing (Image: AFP/Getty Images)

And while Europe’s dependence on Russian gas has now fallen to about 20%, according to the IEA, some countries – notably Germany – are still dependent on energy resources from the pariah state as they lack the infrastructure to import gas from other countries.

On Thursday (June 23), Germany, which gets 35% of its gas from Russia, came a step closer to gas rationing after flow through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline was reduced to 40% of capacity – although Russia said it was attributed to equipment problems.

So for now, it looks like the continent could be in for trouble as energy demand picks up this winter.

Large EU economies like Germany are heavily dependent on Russian gas (Image: AFP/Getty Images)

How could a European gas supply crisis affect the UK?

These outages would occur on both weekdays and weekends.

On a slightly less grim analysis, six million homes could face power outages for more than a month in early 2023 as the government would be forced to ration energy at peak times.

These predictions come as there is a belief in Whitehall that Norwegian gas imports, on which the UK depends, could be significantly reduced due to higher demand from the EU.

At the same time, imports of LNG imported into the UK by sea could also fall sharply due to increased competition.

The UK already has a plan in place in the event of widespread power outages.

Formerly known as “Black Start” (because NationalWorld was told it would involve burning fuels like coal and oil that produce black smoke), but now known as “Restoration Services,” backup generators would provide power to critical infrastructure pending recovery the full power supply.

The UK imports much of its natural gas by sea (Image: Getty Images)

However, such a scenario, in which Britain loses all power, is considered highly unlikely.

Looking at the bigger picture, National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) – Britain’s electricity grid operator – has told Executive Director Fintan Slye that there will be “sufficient capacity” for this summer, but that ESO is carrying out “additional analysis” on Britain’s energy security this winter.

The knock-on effect of any move by the Kremlin to halt EU gas exports would also depend on how severe the winter weather is and how high demand is.

Sub-zero temperatures in winter 2020, along with reduced Russian gas supplies and high demand from economies recovering from Covid, resulted in significant wholesale price increases that smaller energy companies could not cope with.

Conversely, if the next winter is warm, the impact may not be as severe.

The UK could face energy rationing next winter if Russia cuts EU gas supplies (Image: Getty Images)

Regardless of whether or not the Kremlin’s gas supplies are cut off, what we already know is that energy will become much more expensive in the coming months.

Cornwall Insight has forecast the cap is likely to exceed £3,000 by January 2023.

“With geopolitical events in Russia significantly impeding the flow of energy and the situation showing no signs of easing, we unfortunately expect the average consumer to face a bill that is over 50% over the existing cap – even an unprecedented one increase,” said Dr Craig Lowrey, principal adviser to the organization.

“While the UK gets very little energy from Russia, the countries that do are looking for alternative sources of gas.

“This will affect energy flows from continental Europe to the UK and create further volatility in the market, putting renewed upward pressure on prices.”

Even if the UK avoids power shortages, it looks set to be an expensive winter for homes across the country. UK power outages possible if Russia cuts gas – here’s why


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