How to prepare for blackouts this winter

The Eco Experts

Get torches, candles, blankets, and portable phone chargers

You can call 105 for free during a blackout to get updates

In a blackout, turn off appliances like ovens, stoves, and irons at the mains

This isn’t an article we should have to write, or one that you should have to read.

It’s what happens when your government fails to prepare for rising gas prices, for international disasters like Russia invading Ukraine – or for anything to go wrong, really.

Blackouts probably won’t happen this winter, but unlikely events can still happen – and if the government and National Grid are preparing for blackouts, you should too.

So here’s how to ensure you’re ready, just in case.

people in a blackout

How to prepare for blackouts

Blackouts are a scary prospect, but as long as you’re prepared, you’ll get through them with minimal problems.

If electricity is crucial for any medical equipment you have, find out who your network operator is using this link, then contact that company as soon as possible.

Staff there will be able to put you on a priority register, and create a plan with you so you’ll still have access to power during a blackout. Be insistent to ensure you end the call with a workable plan.

Check that you have torches and extra batteries, as well as candles and matches or lighters. That way, you won’t have to rely on your phone’s torch for light.

Speaking of which, get enough portable phone chargers (also known as power banks or battery packs) to ensure you can keep your phone on for a few hours, which is how long any blackout should last.

That way, you’ll be able to keep updated on developments, check on family and friends who you don’t live with, and generally keep your spirits up.

You can also use your phone to call 105 for free, to find out the latest information from your electricity provider about the power cut.

While you’re waiting for the power to come back on, you should have some ways to entertain yourself and your household. Books, board games, and jigsaws are a good start.

Cooking will obviously pose difficulties, but with any blackouts likely to last hours rather than days, hunger should be an annoyance rather than a serious problem.

Still, put together a ready supply of snacks that don’t need to be prepared. If blackouts don’t happen this winter, you can use them to celebrate.

Your water supply should be unaffected.

Here’s a checklist of all the items we’ve mentioned, so you can tick them off as you go.

Blackout preparation list

☐ Torches with extra batteries
☐ Candles and matches or lighters
☐ Plenty of blankets
☐ Portable phone chargers
☐ Books, board games, and/or jigsaws
☐ Snacks

What should I do during a blackout?

Firstly, turn off any appliances like ovens, stoves, and irons at the mains, as it could be dangerous if they come back on when you’re not present.

Leave one light switched on though, so you know when the power comes back.

If you’re able to, check on your neighbours, particularly those who are elderly or vulnerable.

Keep your fridge and freezer closed as much as possible, with blankets over them to ensure they stay cold. If you do this, your food and drink should be just fine.

Everything in your fridge will keep for at least four hours, while your freezer contents will be fine for 15-24 hours, according to UK Power Networks.

Then try to keep your household’s spirits up. Blackouts are upsetting, inconvenient, and come with potential hazards – but in most cases, they can be navigated without incident, as long as everyone remains calm, cooperative, and kind.

How are authorities trying to stop blackouts?

Blackouts will only happen if the National Grid’s fallback plans don’t work.

The first response to an energy shortfall would be to restart coal plants – which would constitute a kick in the teeth for the climate.

Five coal-powered plants run by Drax, EDF, and Uniper are ready to come online to generate 2 GW of energy, after the government signed a deal in October worth £340–£395 million.

Then, if that isn’t enough, the National Grid will put the Demand Flexibility Service in place – an initiative that would pay homes and businesses to reduce their usage during peak times.

If that isn’t effective enough, the final step would be rolling blackouts (also called rotational load shedding), with a day’s warning.

That means parts of the country would have their power deliberately shut off on different days, to ensure the UK has enough power for the rest of the winter.

What’s the plan if blackouts happen?

If all the backup plans fall through, National Grid Group’s chief executive John Pettigrew has said UK homes would have to endure blackouts “between 4pm and 7pm in the evenings on those weekdays when it’s really, really cold in January and February.”

This last resort, which will only happen if the National Grid’s worst-case scenario comes true, would come in the form of rolling blackouts.

The government has a plan for blackouts of this nature to continue for seven days, called Programme Yarrow.

This document predicts that industries including communications, energy, food and water supply, and transport would be “severely disrupted.”

In this scenario, ministers would prioritise providing food, water, and shelter to young people, the elderly, and carers.

All radio stations would be shut off apart from BBC Radio 2 and 4, which would broadcast updates.

These plans are based on educated predictions, but the need for blackouts – as well as their frequency and length – will depend on how much energy the UK has as it progresses through this winter, which is impossible to predict with complete certainty.

How likely are blackouts?

Blackouts are unlikely to happen in the UK this winter.

However, they’re more likely than they have been for a long time, due to the UK’s lack of gas storage, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and other countries buying more gas than usual.

If we experience a particularly cold winter and Russia cuts off its gas supplies to Europe entirely – resulting in Europe not having sufficient gas to export enough to the UK – we could be in trouble.

Russia’s actions are hard to predict, but it’s slightly likelier than usual that this winter will be colder than normal, according to the Met Office – there’s usually a 20% chance, and that figure currently stands at 25%.

We probably still won’t have to deal with blackouts though, which the authorities have tried to emphasise.

In its annual Winter Outlook Report, National Grid ESO wrote: “We currently expect sufficient levels of generation and interconnector imports to meet demand throughout the winter under our base case.”

And a National Grid ESO representative told The Eco Experts: “Our base case report set out quite clearly that we were cautiously confident that there would be sufficient energy this winter.”

He said plans that include blackouts were created as a failsafe, and should not be read as a sign that worst-case scenarios are likely.

“As a responsible operator, we’ve set out some risks, and that was highlighted in our winter outlook report,” he explained.

“These risks – such as an invasion in a foreign country – are very hard to model. We’re not talking about probability here, and that’s very important to stress.”

National Grid Group CEO John Pettigrew has told BBC News “there could be energy shortfalls in the UK,” but added that “this isn’t a time for people to panic,” while cabinet minister Nadhim Zahawi has said blackouts are “extremely unlikely”.


This is a potential disaster of our government’s own making.

Ed Miliband, the shadow climate secretary, summed it up, saying that “we are vulnerable as a country as a direct consequence of a decade of failed Conservative energy policy.

“Banning onshore wind, slashing investment in energy efficiency, stalling nuclear, and closing gas storage have led to higher bills and reliance on gas imports, leaving us more exposed to the impact of Putin’s use of energy as a geopolitical weapon.”

Blackouts probably won’t happen, and even if they do, you can get through them by following our tips – but the sixth-richest country in the world shouldn’t be in this position.

Written by:
josh jackman
Josh has written about eco-friendly home improvements and climate change for the past four years. His work has been displayed on the front page of the Financial Times, he's been interviewed by BBC One's Rip-Off Britain, and he regularly features in The Telegraph and on BBC Radio.
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