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How to prepare for blackouts in the UK this winter

We break down everything you need to know about how to prepare for blackouts and what to do in the case of a power cut this winter

There could be blackouts in the UK this winter as an energy crisis escalates. 

The government is reportedly making plans for blackouts lasting up to seven days in the “worst case scenario”, according to official documents seen by the Guardian

Ministers will prioritise getting food, water and shelter to the young and elderly people, as well as carers. 

Energy markets were tight after the pandemic, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine created “unprecedented turmoil and volatility”, according to the National Grid. If the crisis continues, it is possible the UK could face blackouts over the coldest months. 

This is everything you need to know about how to prepare for blackouts and what to do in the case of a power cut this winter. 

Will there be blackouts in the UK this winter?

There may be blackouts in the UK this winter, as the National Grid has warned of an energy crisis. In October, the company said British households could lose power for up to three hours at a time if energy supplies run extremely low.

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The situation is expected to be “unlikely”, but recent reports from the Guardian have said the government is preparing for blackouts lasting as long as seven days. 

According to the BBC, the National Grid is making every effort to avoid blackouts this winter. Households on smart meters will be offered discounts of up to £100 if they cut their electricity use on a number of days over the winter. 

Customers will be given 24 hours’ notice, and will be asked to reduce their electricity use for just an hour of the day. The time will be identified by National Grid and is likely to be between 4pm and 7pm. 

How to prepare for blackouts

Keep torches and spare batteries handy

Get torches in advance and keep them in a place which is easily accessible. It’s no use fumbling around in the dark for the very thing that will give you light. You’ll probably have a torch on your phone, but you’ll want to save your phone’s battery as much as possible so it’s best to get torches. 

Don’t forget to keep new and unused batteries handy too, as there’s no use having a torch that doesn’t work. If you’re using candles instead of a torch, take care as these could be a fire hazard.

Prepare an emergency box

If you really want to be prepared, it’s not a bad idea to keep a box with all your emergency items in there. You could keep a first aid kit in there, have a battery-powered phone that’s reserved for emergencies, as well as any torches, candles, matches and lighters. 

Fill your car with petrol before the blackout

Many service stations can’t pump fuel during a power failure, according to SP Energy Networks. This means it’s a good idea to keep your vehicle’s fuel tank at least half full and to fill up if you know a power cut is coming. It’s also useful to know how to use the manual option on any electric garage doors and gates so you can get the car out if needed. 

Write down emergency contacts

In case your phone runs out of charge, it’s important to have any emergency contacts written down on paper. You should include close family members, friends, your GP, pharmacist, council, landlord and utility companies. 

Chances are, you won’t need to contact these people in the case of a blackout. But if you do have any kind of problem, it’s worth having the numbers to hand. 

Remember 105 is the number to call if you need to report a power cut and get straight through to your local network operator’s emergency number.

While physical address books might seem like an ancient artefact replaced by contacts stored in our phone, there’s a chance yours could run out of charge while in the middle of a power outage! So dig out that address book or notepad and write those emergency contacts down. 

Make sure you’ve put it in a spot where you remember too – you don’t want some notes scribbled down on a piece of paper that you are scrambling to find in the dark. 

Need a stair lift? Make sure it will work without power

As advised by Electricity North West, it’s a good idea to make sure your stair lift has a handle that will allow you to manually move the stair lift, so that you can safely return the stair lift to ground level in the event of a power cut. Most stair lifts have a battery backup.

If you need extra support, sign up for priority services

If you or someone you know is likely to need extra support in the case of a power cut, you can sign up for priority services. This means welfare teams will keep you updated, often with an emergency number you can call, tailored support like hot meals and advice, and even home visits if needed. 

Households with pregnant women, children under five, with someone on medical equipment, with refrigerated medicines, with a serious illness or disability, with someone who is living with dementia, with a pensioner, or with someone who has mental health difficulties could be eligible. 

Network operators usually provide generators for customers who are medically dependent on electricity.

Energy suppliers and network operators will both keep a Priority Services Register. If you think you should be added to either you need to contact your energy supplier or network operator. Find out more through Ofgem’s website.

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What to do if there’s a power cut

Wear woolly hats and gloves if it’s cold

UK Power Networks advises that you dress warmly with layers, a hat and gloves and have blankets to hand, so you can keep warm until the power is back on. You can also stay warm by closing doors on unused rooms and closing your curtains.

Keep your fridge and freezer closed

If you keep your fridge and freezer doors closed, chilled and frozen food will last longer. UK Power Networks says food should keep for between four to six hours in the fridge and 15 to 24 hours in the freezer if you can avoid opening it.

Covering your freezer with blankets while your electricity is off will give extra insulation and could keep your food fresh for longer. 

Don’t forget about your fish!

According to Electricity North West, fish or reptiles should manage a couple of hours without power. If the power cut lasts longer than that, you may need to unplug your filters and remove them from the tank to stop toxins entering the water.

The most obvious sign that your fish tank is running low on oxygen is that your fish will start acting strangely – you might see them gasping at the surface or hanging around the filter output. You could also purchase a portable dissolved oxygen meter and test the levels of oxygen in the water. If oxygen is needed, take a small cup of the tank water and pour it back in or make a figure of eight in the water.

Fish suppliers recommend disturbing the water surface for five minutes each hour during a power cut. It’s ideal to get a cheap bubble-up filter that can run off a battery-powered air pump, but if you don’t have one then a normal bicycle pump will do the job. 

The temperature of the water in your tank will begin to drop, depending on the surrounding temperature and the volume of water inside the tank. You should cover the tank with a blanket to keep the heat in. You could fill hot water bottles with warm water and place them around the outside of the tank.

Stay up to date with the National Grid

The National Grid is updating the country on the situation with blackouts and power cuts this winter. You could follow the National Grid on their social media pages or their website. You could also get a battery-powered radio, as you may be able to receive updates on the power cut this way. The BBC has reportedly prepared secret scripts that could be read on air if energy shortages cause blackouts or the loss of gas supplies this winter.

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