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How planned emergency power cuts would work if they are needed this winter

07 October 2022

National Grid ESO states that “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine means that overall, this is likely to be a challenging winter for energy supply throughout Europe”, but plans are in place to reduce the risk of disruption.


Though no power cuts are currently planned, in their winter outlook National Grid ESO raised the possibility of the need for planned national power cuts, in order to manage the possibility of energy demand outstripping the supply available.

Firstly, it’s important to know that before any emergency planned power cut instruction is given, National Grid ESO takes several steps to protect customers. 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.

Procedures for emergency planned power cuts like this have existed for decades and are simulated in emergency exercises by the energy sector each year ahead of the winter.

If needed, the emergency procedures are designed to minimise the impact on customers as far as possible, by limiting power cuts to shorter periods in order to manage overall electricity demand. However, while the winter is expected to be challenging, there is no guarantee emergency measures will be necessary.

If an emergency power cut is implemented, customers in certain parts of the country would typically be without power for around three hours per day during the emergency.

Distribution network operators, which run the local power networks, would be legally instructed by National Grid ESO, which controls the flow of energy around the country, to disconnect power supplies using established procedures. These procedures are set out by the government in a document known as the Electricity Supply Emergency Code, sometimes referred to as ESEC. The procedures ensure that power is shared fairly across all customers during a national energy emergency.

Sites protected from emergency planned power cuts

The ESEC procedure sets out 'protected sites' which the government exempt from emergency planned power cuts.

These are typically sites which are deemed to be critical national infrastructure, such as air traffic control centres and major hospital facilities with accident and emergency departments. Organisations which are not already aware of their protected status will need to apply to become ‘protected’ as this is not automatic. Details are set out in the ESEC.

Under the rules, it is important to note that residential customers, including those on the Priority Services Register, and businesses without backup generation and which are not listed as ‘protected’ by the government, would not be exempt.

Information on ‘Protected sites’ can be found in the government’s Electricity Supply Emergency Code.

Customers medically dependent on electricity

In most cases, customers who are medically dependent on electricity will be familiar with the process and limitations of their equipment as power cuts can occur from time-to-time during a typical year, including during severe weather, for regular maintenance or due to damage and other routine faults.

These customers often have backup power sources to keep vital equipment powered for several hours during a power failure. 

Customers who require a continuous supply of electricity for medical reasons and would need medical support during a power cut, should seek advice from their local health service provider.

Backup power supplies and associated equipment should be regularly checked and maintained by a competent person. If you're concerned, you should speak to your medical equipment or health care provider now.

If emergency power cuts are needed customers will be able to find their rota and what it means for them at by entering their postcode. The rota will only be published once emergency power cuts have been approved to take place.

Winter outlook

National Grid ESO’s central view remains that there will be adequate electricity supplies through the winter to ensure Great Britain remains within the reliability standards set by Ofgem.

Great Britain's electricity distribution network operators will respond to any legal instructions given to them under the Electricity Supply Emergency Code.

Notes to editor

ENA's Information for Customers hub provides more help and information for energy customers.

About us

Energy Networks Association (ENA) is the industry body representing the energy networks. Our members include every major electricity network operator in the UK. The electricity networks are at the heart of the energy transition. They directly employ more than 26,000 people in the UK, including 1,500 apprentices. They are spending and investing £33bn in our electricity grids over the coming years, to ensure safe, reliable and secure energy supplies for the millions of homes and businesses reliant on power every day.

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