British Blackouts More Likely as Repairs to French-UK Power Line Delayed

During the energy crisis family is sitting by the table, lit by candles. Everyone is weari
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Potential blackouts this winter in Britain have become more likely with repairs to a crucial underwater cable from France being delayed until next year.

In yet another blow to the United Kingdom’s energy security, repairs to the British National Grid’s Interconnexion France-Angleterre (IFA), which has been running at half capacity since a fire broke out at the substation in Kent in September of last year, have been delayed from December to at least mid-January.

Typically the cable has the capability of delivering two gigawatts of electricity to Britain, or enough to power up to approximately two million households, but it has been only supplying half that since the fire last year. It was scheduled to return to 1.5 gigawatts this month and full capacity by December, but it is now expected that repairs will continue until January 18th, The Telegraph reports.

The IFA cable is one of eight such underwater lines from European energy suppliers in Belgium, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Norway, and provides the British grid with breathing room during times of peak demand.

Even prior to the delayed repairs, there have been consistent warnings of potential blackouts, particularly if there is a cold winter in Europe, which would drive up demand and place a heavier strain on the system. Earlier this month it was reported that the government is “war gaming” potential scenarios in which blackouts could last for up to a week.

The energy generation regulator Ofgem has also warned of a “significant risk” of gas shortages this winter, which could further destabilise the system as many energy-producing plants are run on natural gas. The regulator said that in such an event the government would conduct a media campaign of “radio or television… relevant social media… posters and leaflets drops” making “an appeal to ‘use as little gas as possible’.”

The BBC has also reportedly prepared emergency radio broadcasts to prevent panic among the public if blackouts result in disruptions in banking systems, internet access, mobile phone networks, and traffic lights.

Though the United Kingdom is not directly reliant on Russian gas imports like much of Continental Europe, as a result of years of Conservative (Tory) governments pursuing green policies rather than exploiting the nation’s own natural shale gas reserves, Britain is heavily reliant on energy from its European neighbours — who were often directly reliant on Russian gas — in the winter months.

While France is typically a major energy exporter due to its sizeable nuclear power sector, the country’s reactors have been racked by issues with corrosion, which may potentially cause them blackouts of their own. At present only 32 of France’s 56 nuclear power reactors are operational, with the rest waiting for repairs.

So despite former prime minster Liz Truss coming to an agreement with France, Belgium, and the Netherlands in October to keep the flow of electricity coming to Britain, it remains to be seen if this will come to fruition if European nations struggle to keep the lights on in their own countries.

Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here @KurtZindulka


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