Government documents reveals how blackouts will be managed – starting with three power cuts a week

Official Government documents reveal a plan for UK households to have three-hour blackouts at least three times a week if Russian President Vladimir Putin restricts gas supplies to Europe this winter.

There have been warnings that Russia, who are accused of sabotaging the Nord Stream pipelines, may cut their gas supply and use the colder months as a weapon against the West for its support for Ukraine.

While the UK does not rely on imported gas from Russia, it would be heavily impacted as we import large amounts of electricity and gas from European countries that do.

The Electricity Supply Emergency Code allows the Prime Minister to introduce rolling power cuts across the country in an effort to conserve electricity.

It comes as the National Grid chief said blackouts could occur on particularly cold nights in January and February if electricity generators did not have enough gas.

Here, MailOnline shows you exactly when your household would be affected by power cuts and for how long.

The UK could introduce rolling blackouts this winter if energy supply dips below demand – the government’s emergency plan details exactly when houses would be without power in a series of graphs 

Level 1: The black squares indicate a three-hour-long power cut while the letters on the chart refer to the 'load block' - which all houses are divided up into. If you live in block A, you would have power cuts on Monday 12:30am to 3:30am, Wednesday 3:30pm to 6:30pm and on Sunday 12:30am to 3:30am

The lowest level of rolling blackouts: The black squares indicate a three-hour-long power cut while the letters on the chart refer to the ‘load block’ – which all houses are divided up into. If you live in block A, you would have power cuts on Monday 12:30am to 3:30am, Wednesday 3:30pm to 6:30pm and on Sunday 12:30am to 3:30am

You can find which load block you live in by looking for a letter in a square box (pictured) on your energy bills

You can find which load block you live in by looking for a letter in a square box (pictured) on your energy bills

Each day of the week is split into eight three hour slots, starting with 00:30 to 3:30am and ending with 9:30pm to 12:30am

Each day of the week is split into eight three hour slots, starting with 00:30 to 3:30am and ending with 9:30pm to 12:30am

Level 2: The second level of blackouts will see houses going without power around six times a week - the rota tries to keep the blackouts close together

Level 2: The second level of blackouts will see houses going without power around six times a week – the rota tries to keep the blackouts close together

Level 3: If energy supplies in the UK dwindle during the winter the number of blackouts could increase significantly

Level 3: If energy supplies in the UK dwindle during the winter the number of blackouts could increase significantly

The Electricity Supply Emergency Code (ESEC) is a plan that aims to provide an equal distribution of electricity to customers ‘as far as reasonably practicable’ in the case of shortages.

The document states there are three methods that would be implemented to reduce energy consumption.

How to find out exactly when you would be hit by a blackout

First you need to find which ‘load block’ you live in.

This will appear on your energy bills as a letter in a square box.

It will be between A and U, letters F, I and O are not used.

You can find your load block letter on the blackout chart.

The chart will show which days three-hour blackouts will occur for you and exactly what times.

The first is direct appeals to the public and industry asking them to reduce their electricity demand. 

The second is placing restrictions on industrial electricity consumption – for example requiring companies to reduce their consumption by a certain percentage.

The final option is ‘rota disconnections’ – or rolling blackouts for households across the country.

Energy in the UK is provided by a number of suppliers, but all of them divide their distribution networks into 18 ‘load blocks’ – which work in a similar fashion to postcodes.

Each of these load blocks is assigned a letter between A and U, though the letters F, I and O are not used.

You can find which block you live in by looking for a letter, often boxed, on your energy bills.

Knowing your load block letter will allow you to find out when blackouts would affect you.

It is based on where you live and how your electricity is supplied – potentially meaning properties close to yours would not experience a blackout at the same time as you.

The areas are spread across the country, so customers with the same load block letter across the UK would be affected at the same time. 

Each day of the week is split into eight three-hour slots, with the first slot of the day starting at 00:30.

The rota is designed to let businesses operate as normally as possible for three days in succession.

This means that power cuts are concentrated between Monday and Wednesday or Thursday and Saturday, with Sunday being shared between all blocks.

Level 1

The first level of rolling blackout would see houses three times a week, four for some load blocks. The distribution is spread across so that most cuts occur towards the start or the end of the week.

Level 2

The rota still tries to keep the blackouts close together but the number doubles from the previous level, with houses going without power around six times a week.

Level 3

The third level increases the number of three-hour powers cuts by three again – meaning households will experience 27 hours a week without any electricity.

And here’s what could happen if the power situation gets worse…. 

Below are more graphs from the ESEC, showing how energy suppliers would have to respond to increasing levels of shortages.

There are 18 levels of ‘rota disconnections’ which each gradually increase the frequency of power cuts – level 9 is the first where houses will spend more time without power than with.

The final graph depicts the extremely unlikely worst-case scenario of a ‘total shutdown’ where there is no energy supply at all.

Level 18: The worst-case scenario would be total shutdown in energy production in the UK - leaving all houses completely without power

Level 18: The worst-case scenario would be total shutdown in energy production in the UK – leaving all houses completely without power

The document specifies that there are ‘protected sites’ which would not be affected by the rolling blackouts.

Hospitals, food manufacturers, oil refineries, some ports, financial services, essential water and sewerage installations, major airports and digital and telecommunication services would not be affected.  

The document says ‘All Protected Sites are expected to, as far as is reasonably practicable, reduce load broadly in line with the level of disconnections applied to non-protected sites’.

But if energy supply becomes extremely sparse, protected sites may be ordered to reduce their consumption to the minimum load necessary for the avoidance of damage.

In the event of electricity supplies being insufficient to meet the needs of all the protected sites, Network Operators may need to ‘exercise discretion’ in allocating the available electricity supplies.

The ESEC says in such cases, priority should be given to the ‘maintenance of life’ and to ‘minimising the risk of disasters’.

The BBC has reportedly prepared a series of secret scripts to be read out on air in case of blackouts amid energy shortages this winter.

The scripts would advise the public to use their car radios or battery-powered devices to tune into to emergency BBC broadcasts via FM frequencies and would seek to keep the public informed in the event of a ‘major loss of power’, The Guardian reported.

One script seen by a Guardian reporter allegedly warns that a blackout could last for up to two days, with hospitals and police placed under ‘extreme pressure’, while another says: ‘The government has said it’s hoped power will be restored in the next 36 to 48 hours.’

The scripts are said to have been produced as part of the BBC’s role in broadcasting vital health and safety communications to the public on behalf of the government in the event of national emergencies.

National Grid meanwhile is setting up a scheme that will pay households and companies for reducing their demand during periods of limited supply.

A Government spokesperson said: ‘The UK has a secure and diverse energy system.

‘To strengthen this position further, we have put plans in place to secure supply and National Grid, working alongside energy suppliers and Ofgem, will launch a voluntary service to reward users who reduce demand at peak times.’

But Britons are already preparing for the worst case scenario by stocking-up on portable generators and torches in addition to winter clothing, thermal underwear and candles, according to industry reports.

What are blackouts and why might they happen this winter?

National Grid has warned that there could be blackouts this winter if gas power plants are not able to keep running due to the energy crisis.

The electricity systems operator said it is still unlikely but winter could see the first planned blackouts, which the grid calls rota load shedding, since the 1970s.

But why might blackouts happen this year – who will be impacted and what can be done to avoid them?

Why would a grid ever plan blackouts?

Engineers working on the energy grid need to make sure it is “balanced” at all times.

This means that the amount of electricity being put into the grid by power plants, wind farms and others should match the amount being taken out by households and businesses at any given time.

The grid plans for when it thinks demand can be high so it can ask generators to meet that demand.

But if there is ever an imbalance where demand is higher than supply or supply is higher than demand, it can cause major breakdowns in the grid.

That could cause actual physical damage to the grid that could take days to repair.

If the engineers know there will not be enough supply to match demand, sometimes they need to reduce demand by planned outages to avoid major damage.

Why might blackouts be necessary this winter?

Britain has one of the most reliable power networks in the world and unless cables are cut by storms or other accidents outages are rare.

But this winter, gas generators might not be able to get enough gas to keep running.

The grid said that if this happens, it still thinks that is “unlikely”, then it might have to cut power to some households and businesses.

Who will be impacted by blackouts and who gets cut off first?

If the grid realises that it has to cut off some parts of the country, it will issue a warning to the local and regional distributors saying how much demand needs to be cut.

It will be up to these so-called distribution network operators to decide who gets cut off and who does not.

But the DNOs have limited controls so most of the time it will be whole areas that are impacted.

How can we avoid blackouts?

If the blackouts are caused by a lack of supply, then the only way is to reduce demand at particular times.

Most demand happens during peak hours of between around 4pm and 7pm when people get home from work, put the kettle on, switch on their ovens and sit down to watch TV.

The overall amount of electricity that people use does not have to reduce if they just change their usage to other times of the day.

For instance, electric cars could be unplugged during these hours, switching the dishwasher could wait until 9pm and you could put the washing machine on earlier in the day or during the weekend.

The grid and energy suppliers will launch a new system in November to pay people if they change the time that they use energy.

The Government could also step in to ration peoples’ energy use or advise them to use less, similar to a hosepipe ban, but so far it has ruled this out.