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Energy crisis: UK doubles gas emergency planning

The UK have doubled their planning exercises for emergency gas shortages this winter. We examine the outlook for households as energy prices continue to rise.

National Grid has doubled its emergency planning exercises as concerns over energy shortages this winter grow. Potential scenarios – including the rationing of electricity – will be analysed over four days, instead of the usual two, as part of the ‘Exercise Degree’.

“The aim of this exercise is to demonstrate that the gas industry is prepared and able to meet its obligations in the event of a Network Gas Supply Emergency (NGSE),” said a briefing document from the National Grid. It will take place on the 13 and 14 of September, as well as on the 4 and 5 of October.

The annual operation, last year given the name ‘Exercise Celcius’, only took place on two days in September 2021. The National Grid said the arrangements for this year’s exercise were made back in January.

A National Grid spokesperson said:

“Exercise Degree is the latest in a long series of annual exercises which go back to 1996 when the Network Emergency Co-Ordinator role was created.

“The exercises enable National Grid Gas, government, and industry participants to test the effectiveness of industry-wide emergency arrangements in order to prevent, and (if unavoidable) respond to a gas supply emergency.

“The Network Emergency Coordinator has an obligation to provide assurance to the HSE on the effectiveness of these arrangements. The pre-winter exercises take place every year ahead of winter and have become a routine part of the energy industry’s annual calendar. The arrangements for Exercise Degree were made back in January 2022.”

But it comes as Number 10 insists there is no need to panic over energy supplies and assured households and businesses will not face blackouts this winter – thanks to supplies from Australia.

The Attalos gas tanker is set to arrive at the Isle of Grain terminal in Kent, by the mouth of the Thames, later on Monday – believed to be the first cargo of liquified natural gas (LNG) sent from Australia to Europe in six years.

The squeeze on gas supplies in Europe has helped fuel rocketing inflation and driven up household bills, with analysts expecting the energy price cap to rise to £3,554 in October.

But No 10 insisted that there was no risk to UK energy supplies and consumers should not panic.

Worsening energy crisis

A global squeeze on the supply of gas since late last year has destabilised the global economy, increased living costs, and sent household energy bills skyrocketing. Households across the UK have dealt with record inflation at 10.1 percent, and with increased prices forecasted this winter.

As Russia continues it’s invasion of Ukraine, the supply-side inflation from the cost of energy currently sees no end point. This has called the political commentary around the Conservative leadership race to be dominated by what the next Prime Minister will do to alleviate the cost-of-living crisis.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng does not appear to have sought any advice from government officials on the possibility of rationing energy.

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said the UK had “one of the most reliable and diverse energy systems in the world”.

Unlike much of the rest of Europe, the spokesperson added, “we are not dependent on Russian energy imports meaning households, businesses and industry can be confident they will get the electricity and gas they need”.

The Government gained some support from stakeholders involved in the energy planning. Keith Bell, professor of electronic and electrical engineering at Strathclyde University, said cutting some gas supplies to large industrial users was a “credible scenario that we need to be ready for”.

“Codes defining what should happen in the event of gas or electricity shortages and who is responsible for what – including the role of the secretary of state – have existed for many years but haven’t had to be used.

“A lesson from the pandemic is the need for preparedness and to test emergency arrangements to be sure that they’re fit for purpose” he added.

The critics have their say

The Government have received further criticism for not doing enough to alleviate energy prices for households.

Labour’s shadow net zero and climate secretary, Ed Miliband, said the Conservative government’s policies had “left bills too high and our energy security too weak”.

“Their short-sightedness has been staggering – from closing our gas storage facilities, to failing to insulate houses and cut bills, and blocking the quickest, cheapest and cleanest renewables in their energy strategy,” the former Labour leader said.

Final thought

The plans to increase emergency planning in energy supply shows the reality that many expected. The public will have to face a worsened crisis by this winter, with the toll incurring on increased poverty and worsened health outcomes. The public, on the whole, understand the supply-side inflationary pressures from the war in Ukraine. However, resentment is growing to the ‘big four’ energy firms as they announce record-breaking profits whilst many can’t afford to eat. The incoming Conservative leader will need to make alleviating the financial burden on households their main priority in September.

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