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What happens during an energy shortage?

Find out how power cuts would ensure we all have power for most of the day in the very unlikely event of a national energy shortage.

Isle of Arran, March 2013: Person climbing pole in bad weather
Photo: Ross Easton / SSEN

Power cuts because of a national energy shortage is a situation where there is an insufficient supply of electricity to meet the demand of customers.

One part of these procedures is a process called ‘rota load disconnection’. These are very rare and temporary.

Rota load disconnection, in simple terms, refers to a method of managing and balancing electricity demand by temporarily disconnecting specific groups of customers from the power grid in a scheduled manner. This rotational disconnection helps to prevent overloading or blackouts during periods of high demand, ensuring a stable and reliable electricity supply for everyone.

How would a power cut rota work?

If needed, customers would lose power for around three hours per day during the emergency, on an area-by-area basis. This would ensure power supplies are shared fairly with customers, and everyone has power for most of the day.

Customers would know when they would be without power by entering their postcode at to find their rota. The rota would only be published once emergency power cuts have been approved to take place.

When would a rota be used?

Rotas would only be used after all other options, such as turning down industrial demand and voltage reduction, have failed to restore stability to the power system.

If required, National Grid ESO (which stands for Electricity System Operator) would legally instruct distribution network operators to disconnect power supplies. They would follow established procedures set out by the government in the Electricity Supply Emergency Code.

The Code ensures power is shared fairly across all customers during a national energy emergency.

National Grid ESO takes several steps to protect customers before any emergency planned power cut instruction is given. These include:

  • encouraging additional generation through the supply market.
  • asking heavy industrial users to limit their demand during peak periods.
  • reducing domestic power demand. This could include paying customers to change how and when they use appliances like washing machines and dishwashers or reducing voltage across the country by a small percentage, which would be undetectable.

Is anyone protected from emergency power cuts?

Some sites are protected from emergency planned power cuts. These include critical national infrastructure, like air traffic control centres and some major hospital facilities with accident and emergency departments.

Exemptions aren’t automatic and organisations have to apply for protected status. Residential customers, including those on the Priority Services Register and businesses without backup generation that are not listed as ‘protected’ by the government, would be part of an planned power cut rota.

Organisations would need to apply for protected status, following the Electricity Supply Emergency Code procedures.

If you depend on medical equipment that requires power, and don’t already have a power cut plan, you should speak to your healthcare provider now. Power cuts can happen all-year-round so it’s important you are prepared, make a plan and know what to do.

Prepare, Care, Share

Being prepared is important, whether it’s for a power cut, severe weather or emergency planned power cuts.

Prepare - Make a plan: know what to do if you have a power cut or smell gas

  • Follow your network operator on social media so you can find local updates.
  • Save 105, the free national power cut emergency number, to your phone
  • Save 0800 111 999, the free national gas emergency number, to your phone
  • Keep a mobile phone fully charged so you can use it to go online for updates or call if you have a power cut
  • Keep a torch handy in case you are without power during the night
  • Have warm clothes, blankets and food which doesn’t need heating accessible

Care - Check in with people who might need extra help

  • Check on neighbours, family and friends to make sure they have a plan for if the power goes out.
  • If you need medical equipment that requires electricity, you should check back up equipment is in working order.
  • If you have any concerns, you should speak to your medical equipment or health care provider ahead of any emergency power cut.

Share - Share this information so friends and family can make a plan too

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