The National Grid yesterday issued only its second-ever warning that demand for energy is threatening to outstrip available supplies unless industry quickly slashes its consumption and more gas is rushed in from abroad.
The alert prompted the wholesale cost of gas to rocket by 70 per cent and raised fears that businesses and households could soon be hit by power cuts if the freezing weather persists as forecast for the rest of the month.
Shadow Energy Secretary Greg Clark warned: “For 12 years the Government has had its head in the sand about Britain’s precarious energy security.
“Today’s alert is a taste of what is to come as a result of Labour’s negligence – gas supply shortages and regular power cuts. I have repeatedly warned that Britain lacks the back-up plans that France and Germany have for these situations.” National Grid issued its warning – known as a gas balancing alert – because an unexpected shortfall meant Britain’s demand was at risk.
Gas was flowing out of the UK’s main storage facility at Rough, 18 miles off the Yorkshire coast, at a record rate yesterday as energy needed for homes and businesses came very close to the previous record high.
Analysts said the freeze combined with the post-New Year return to work created a surge which put intense pressure on supplies and added to the need for expensive additional gas to be pumped in from mainland Europe.Experts have estimated that Britain only has enough gas storage for 15 days so in times of high demand we have to rely on imports.
Ian Parrett, of energy analysts Inenco, warned that the country was in danger of being held to ransom over gas prices and blamed a lack of investment in storage plants.