Britons scramble to swerve blackouts with £1,400 batteries

What are blackouts and why might they happen this winter?

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As the UK braces for potential winter blackouts following warnings from National Grid, sales for batteries costing as much as £1,400 have shot up as households aim to avoid power outages in the coldest months of the year. Russia’s war in Ukraine has been hiking up gas prices and the potential for Vladimir Putin to further curtail supplies traveling into Europe. Making matters worse, France’s nuclear output has plummeted due to issues with its reactors and striking workers in the industry, leaving the nation tighter than usual on its supplies. Now, there are fears of shortages on the mainland which could have a huge knock-on impact on Britain. 

This has triggered blackout warnings, which would only happen in an emergency scenario of the UK being hit with a massive gas shortage. However, National Grid has has drafted up a plan for such a “worst case scenario”.

But Britons also appear to be taking matters into their own hands. Anker Innovations Technology, a large manufacturer of portable batteries, has said that its sales were up to three times higher in October than in the previous month.

The firm usually sells power station products to the US, which experiences a higher volume of power cuts, with UK customers usually coming to them ahead of camping trips.

This appears to be changing. PR manager Lorna Smith told Bloomberg that UK households worried over the blackout warnings are buying big batteries as a backup. Known as the 757 Powerhouse model, the battery costs around £1,400 and can recharge a portable fridge for 22 hours.

While this could provide homes with a major lifeline amid rolling blackouts, it is sold out until December “due to overwhelming demand”. 

Ms Smith told Bloomberg: “It has been a slow uptake in the UK because we haven’t had [storms and blackouts] before, but now we’ve seen quite an increase over the past couple of months with all the warnings of power cuts.”

According to Anker’s website, another battery, the PowerHouse 1229Wh, can provide power backup for lights for eight hours, the fridge for 2.7 hours, the TV for nine hours and a microwave for an hour and a half.

Under National Grid’s “worst-case scenario”, there will be four days of organised blackouts in the month of January if gas supplies run dry. But back in August, ministers stressed that the UK’s “highly secure and diverse gas and electricity system” had prepared the country for “all and every eventuality”.

This means forced blackouts are seen as one of the “unlikely” actions that National Grid may have to take to maintain a working British energy network. But earlier this week, National Grid boss John Pettigrew did warn that high demand and less fuel from Europe may force National Grid to take action on “really, really cold” evenings at the coldest time of year. 

Speaking to the Financial Times, he said that there is a possibility of planned power cuts on the “deepest darkest evenings in January and February”. If this occurs, rolling blackouts could take place between 4pm and 7pm on weekdays to conserve energy and balance the grid. 

Instead of blackouts impacting the entire country all at once, National Grid would “roll” these across the UK, with different areas following local timetables. However, the rolling blackouts were one of the most “extreme” proposals, with more moderate options including a voluntary incentive scheme for customers.

For instance, under the scheme, households that own smart meters will be able to receive cash back for limiting their energy consumption during the evenings when demand is at its highest.

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The firm will now hand households £3 per kilowatt hour – an increase from the original 52p proposed by the company after energy firms said this amount would be too low to incentivise people to limit energy use – if homes avoid activities that use up high amounts of electricity, such as cooking or using the washing machine, during periods of high demand in peak hours. 

National Grid ESO director Fintan Slye wrote in the Guardian on Thursday: “Businesses and homes can become virtual power plants and, crucially, get paid like one too.

“For a consumer that could mean a typical household could save approximately £100, and industrial and commercial businesses with larger energy usage could save multiples of this.”

“We are working with Ofgem to get this scheme launched in November and for it to be rolled out through energy suppliers. If you are interested in participating or understanding what you could get paid, please contact your energy supplier.”

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