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James Forsyth

Will there be blackouts this winter?

Will there be blackouts this winter?
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The debate about energy has, understandably, concentrated on what is going to happen to households bills. The numbers are alarming. The energy price cap is now predicted to peak at £3,649 in April 2023, meaning that the average household bill will be above £3,000 for more than a year. As I say in the Times today, this is going to require a response from whoever is prime minister.

But less attention has been paid to the question of whether there’ll be sufficient energy this autumn and winter. National Grid is suggesting that the UK will avoid blackouts. But it is not hard to see how they could end up taking place. As Covid showed, in times of crisis contracts across borders are not always honoured, a problem for the UK given that we tend to import energy from the continent in the colder months. This winter’s scramble for liquefied natural gas will be akin to the dash for PPE in the pandemic, with tankers turning round and heading to wherever they can get the highest price. As one No. 10 veteran observes, whoever is in the building this autumn will age a decade in three months.

Things will not be uniquely bad in Britain this winter. As I say in the magazine this week, the UK – which relies relatively little on Russian gas (its imports make up under 5 per cent of UK gas use) – is in a better position than many other countries. In Germany, for instance, a quarter of the population is already in energy poverty. Households in Munich that cut energy use by 20 per cent will be paid a €100 (£85) bonus, and the authorities are considering setting up ‘heating havens’ where people can go to keep warm if they can’t afford to heat their homes.

But there will be a political shock from something voters have taken for granted: that there’ll always be enough energy to meet our needs.