'UK faces widespread winter electricity blackouts', report warns

Britons could face widespread blackouts next year unless radical changes are made to the UK's electricity network.

A report has warned that Government targets for closing coal power stations and replacing them with renewable energy sources have reduced the UK's generating output.

A report called "Electric Shock: Will The Christmas Lights Go Out Next Winter?", published by the British Infrastructure Group, looked at the problems Britain faces by trying to meet climate change goals.

These include electricity bill surges and slashed capacity margins, which are "so tight that National Grid's emergency power deals have become the norm".

The UK's spare electricity margin has been slashed Credit: PA

MP Grant Shapps, who chairs the group, said the report focused on the "dangerously small electricity capacity margins" that have been "left in the wake of a decade of target-led, interventionist energy policy".

"While nobody questions the noble intentions behind these interventions, it is clear that a perfect coincidence of numerous policies designed to reduce Britain's carbon dioxide emissions has had the unintended effect of hollowing out the reliability of the electricity generating sector," he said.

Findings within the report claim that in recent winters the country's spare electricity margin has fallen from around 17% during the winter of 2011-12 to around 1% this winter.

The report says "there is a sustained danger of intermittent blackouts for the foreseeable future", and that this is down to "dwindling base capacity and freak weather events".

And that in order to plug the capacity gap household bills by 2020 could increase by as much as £30 a year - nearly double Government estimates.

Climate change goals have reduced the UK's generating output Credit: PA

The report also states that the National Grid has been given the go ahead by the Government to pursue emergency measures to cover peak demand and prevent blackouts.

Measures to stop the country's lights going out during peak periods include restarting old coal power stations, according to the report.

Mr Shapps said: "A radical rehabilitation of electricity markets is required to bring both consumer prices and capacity concerns under control in the short term."

In the longer term he said the Government should "work to make it profitable for private companies to invest and innovate in our electricity markets once again".