Could the UK face blackouts this winter due to soaring energy prices?

The demand for electricity rises by over 500% during winter. Credit: PA

The UK's energy market has been in crisis for weeks and as winter approaches demand is set to soar - but could Britain run ever run out of electricity?

The price of gas, which makes up over a third of the UK's electricity production, has quadrupled since the start of the year and has increased sharply in the past few months.

This has led to some energy providers going out of business and created huge problems for industries that use large amounts of electricity.

With winter approaching, simply heating offices, factories or even nurseries may become too expensive for many businesses.

The price rise has been driven by a demand outstripping supply but could this mean the UK risks actually running out of power?

Why is there a crisis?

The crisis has its roots in the pandemic but it has also exposed some of the difficulties in the UK's energy situation.

The whole world used less gas as nationwide lockdowns limited economic activity leading to lower prices.

Now that economies have opened back up demand for gas has soared, with higher demand from Asia and lack of energy produced from wind turbines also contributing to the crisis.

Andrew Crossland, an energy consultant who runs a website that tracks UK energy usage, told ITV News the UK has lost its energy diversity and energy independence because the country has closed almost all of its coal power plants, with the gap in provision mostly filled by imported gas.

In 2012 43% of the UK's electricity came from coal, this year it has dropped to 1.9%.

Gas now makes up 44% of the UK's electricity production, roughly doubling each year from 2012.

Mr Crossland said because we haven't got coal as a back up "we're stuck waiting for Putin to turn the gas back on."

Several members of the EU parliament has accused Russia of deliberately slowing down gas imports to Europe in order to create a crisis and open up the new controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

Russia has denied deliberately causing the crisis and President Putin recently said his country would increase exports to Europe.

Russia has been accused of making the gas crisis worse. Credit: AP

He said five or six years ago we could have switched on the coal power stations which would have stabilised energy costs, reduced demand for gas and led to price falls.

He said the UK had missed "pretty big opportunities" to invest in alternative renewables as the coal plants were closed, citing the Severn tidal power project as one example.How likely is it there will be a blackout?

It depends on how you define blackouts, experts and the National Grid have said although there is a higher risk of power outages they do not expect a nationwide one this winter.

But, because the price of gas is so high and demand is set to increase massively over winter there could be economics induced blackouts where households and businesses simply can't afford to keep the lights on.

The National Grid recently released a report looking at the UK's energy supply as the country heads into winter.

They concluded there was enough electricity to avoid any major power outages this winter, but the risk has increased.

They said the risk was the highest it has been in five years and the amount of reserve electricity supply that could be called upon was expected to be 6.6% of demand, but could fall as low as 4.2%.

The National Grid said excess supply had been impacted by a fire at a crucial interconnector in Kent which brings electricity from France to the UK. Repairs are not expected to be completed until March.

John Pettigrew, CEO of National Grid, said  electricity supply and demand would be closer together than in recent years.

Fintan Slye, Executive Directive of National Grid ESO told ITV News: "The Winter Outlook confirms that we expect to have sufficient capacity and the tools needed to meet demand this winter.

"Margins are well within the reliability standard and therefore we are confident that there will be enough capacity available to keep Britain’s lights on.”

The price of gas has quadrupled this year. Credit: PA

Michael Grubb, Professor of Energy and Climate Change at University College London, told ITV News he thought it was "unlikely" the UK would run out of electricity this winter.

He said there were several scenarios that could play out. If the UK enjoys a mild, windy winter the crisis could ease as the lower demand and wind output would reduce the need for gas.

But he said if the UK has a very cold winter without much wind then the UK could "really be in trouble" and the costs would rise even further.

He said "The UK depends on gas for both heating and power production, and we let our storage decline to almost nothing, leaving us exceptionally exposed. "

Due to the way UK policy works if there is ever a shortage, then industrial electricity consumers get turned off before households, which Mr Grubb said could happen if the situation "got really bad."Mr Crossland said he did not think nationwide blackouts would happen but said he predicted a "dire" situation where tens of thousands of homes would not be able to afford to heat or light their homes as bills rose.

He added: "People just won't be able to afford it so that will suppress demand."

Mr Crossland also added he expected several industries would go offline because they can't afford the electricity.

"It will be the economics which decides what switches off first," he said.

How else is the energy crisis impacting the UK?

Although supply appears to be sufficient, everyone is paying extremely high prices to keep everything running.

Gas prices are currently around four times higher than they were at the beginning of the year.

Although households are protected at the moment from the worst of the increases by the energy price cap it is expected to rise sharply the next time it is reviewed.

The sharp rise in prices is also having a disastrous effect on industry, with paper, glass and steel producers all claiming if they do not get support they could go bust.

One of Europe’s largest glass plants has predicted its energy costs could rocket by £60 million.

Industries like glass making are facing unsustainable costs because of the rise in gas prices Credit: PA

Dave Dalton, chief executive at British Glass, told ITV News of the huge financial implications if a glass producer is forced to stop production.

"We can't switch a furnace off," he said, "it's a 24/7, 365 process with tens of millions of pounds invested in that principle furnace".

"The option of switching it off is to ruin the furnace and risk a 20, 30 million pound rebuild."Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng held talks with industry leaders last week, and ministers and officials are set to continue speaking with businesses throughout the week - but have indicated they are not prepared to bail out failing firms.