National Grid is rushing to bolster gas reserves ahead of winter as Britain won’t be able to import enough from Europe as Russia’s war in Ukraine rattles markets.
Bosses have issued a tender for additional gas to help manage any short-term disruption as cuts in Russian supplies to the mainland raise concerns about power shortages as cold weather hits.
Craig James, head of national control at National Grid, told the industry that to “secure the grid through a series of fault potentials or supply conditions, it is necessary to draw additional operating margins to the gas”.
He noted continued strong demand for gas exports from Britain to Europe and added: “We also believe there is less likelihood of interconnecting flows from mainland Europe to the UK. United during the winter period”. Interconnectors are undersea pipelines or cables that can supply gas and electricity from the mainland at peak times.
Mr James’ comments are a worrying sign for the coming winter, given that Britain usually has to import gas from Europe during the winter to meet its own heating and power station needs.
Britain has exported a record amount of gas to Europe since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, effectively acting as a ‘gas bridge’ for supplies from the US and other countries to the mainland.
During the winter Britain can normally attract gas from the continent thanks to higher prices, but there is no guarantee that will happen this year if supplies are stretched elsewhere.
It comes as winter preparations ramp up across the industry, in what is expected to be a major test of resilience in the face of the loss of Russian supplies on the continent.
This week, National Grid is expected to publish forecasts for electricity and gas supply during the winter. They are expected to be “more robust” than preliminary forecasts, which has raised concerns of overreliance on power imports from the mainland. “I think we have to be realistic,” an industry source said.
Suppliers, generators and network owners are expected to be testing their processes now to see how they would react if the gas supply were to run out. “Everything is taken very seriously,” said another industry personality.
National Grid’s critical stress tests mimicking a gas supply crisis were delayed after the Queen’s death, but started last week and are expected to continue this week. Separately, companies are offered payments for agreeing to reduce or shift energy consumption to manage supplies.
Britain imports little gas directly from Russia, but cuts in supplies from the Kremlin to Europe have wreaked havoc on markets around the world, increasing competition for scarce global supplies.
Soaring prices in Britain have tripled or more household and business energy bills, forcing the government to step in and subsidize bills at an estimated cost to taxpayers of £60billion over the next six months .
Despite supply cuts, Europe has managed to fill its gas storage sites more than 80% after reducing usage. Eye-catching examples of energy saving include Paris turning off the lights of the Eiffel Tower earlier than usual, among other measures.
The storage success has put Europe in a better position than expected, but it remains vulnerable. Damage to Nord Stream pipelines built to deliver gas from Russia to Europe has dashed hopes of Nord Stream 1’s return to service and sparked suspicions of Russian sabotage.
The Telegraph revealed this week that Britain has launched an urgent review of the safety of North Sea energy pipelines over fears that other energy infrastructure could be vulnerable.