2022 is likely to be remembered as a year of nothing but bad news.
If soaring inflation, rocketing energy prices, rising interest rates, natural disasters and war in Europe weren’t bad enough, we’re now facing the very realistic possibility of planned power cuts throughout the winter.
Reduced Gas supply
Energy supplies are still under pressure after the easing of the Covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine has raised the spectre of the Russian president cutting off the gas supplies on which much of Europe relies.
Even though the UK is not Russia’s biggest customer, the effects of such a move would affect the global energy market, not only increasing costs but potentially creating shortages that would hit the UK.
Most of our gas supplies come from the North Sea and Norway with most of the remainder imported as liquified natural gas from further afield.
Only 6% of our gas supplies come from Europe but if our continental neighbours are hit badly, these supplies could quickly disappear. The energy regulator Ofgem has warned of a “significant risk” that consumers could experience shortages this winter because of the war in Ukraine, which has resulted in a mad rush for gas stocks in Europe before winter sets in.
Should the winter of 2022-2023 be extreme, then the consequences could be severe.
Disruption to electricity
The National Grid has warned that it may be forced to ration domestic and commercial electricity supplies by imposing three-hour periods when power will simply be unavailable. It stresses that this is an unlikely scenario, but plans are nevertheless being prepared.
The emergency measure would be managed by imposing cuts in different parts of the country, rather than a blanket national withdrawal of service.
The areas affected would receive 24 hours’ notice and the aim would be to spread the inconvenience evenly across the nation. The National Grid’s target would be to reduce consumption by 5%.
The last time the UK endured enforced power cuts was in the 1970s so how likely is this to reoccur in 2022 and 2023?
The National Grid has already been working on initiatives to manage supply and demand, such as bringing decommissioned coal-fired power plants back into operation and launching a voluntary ‘demand flexibility service’ to encourage businesses and consumers to use power outside periods of peak demand.
Are the lights really about to go out?
Power cuts are being suggested only as a last resort. However, the international situation remains uncertain, so it can’t be ruled out. The truth is that nobody seems able to say for sure.
Should this emergency measure be implemented, it will affect everyone in the country. Businesses will have to adapt their operations and homeowners will have to reconfigure their lives.
At Inventory Base, our primary professional concern is the nature and extent of the impact of enforced power cuts on landlords and tenants in the private rental sector.
Unexpected power cuts can be a nightmare, switching off ovens, hobs, fridges, televisions and computers without warning.
Files and data can be damaged or lost, entertainment frustratingly interrupted and meal preparation halted in mid-flow. At least with scheduled power cuts, there is time to prepare, but there is no way of getting around the fact that for at least three hours virtually every appliance, including the lights, will stop working.
Landlords themselves won’t be inconvenienced by power cuts in their rental properties (although they’ll have their own difficulties at home), but they need to understand the risk of damage caused by the power cut itself and by the sudden resumption of supply.
Prepare to plan
Landlords should start to think about liaising with their tenants about how they can both prepare should power supplies be affected. This can include:
- Changing over batteries on smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms
- Stocking up on batteries to power torches and portable lamps
- Charge up phones ready for any planned power cuts
- Purchase or borrow a battery powered radio to remain in touch with local news or advice
- Consider using portable heaters though they need to be monitored especially when children are about
- Blankets for warmth in case heating fails
- Stocking food items that don’t require refrigeration or heating up
Switch off non essentials
We all have a ton of electrical items that we forget about but that sit idle in standby mode draining energy so consider switching off anything that is not essential such as televisions and unplugged at the mains, otherwise, there is a risk of power surges when the supply is restored. This can damage appliances and even cause electrical fires.
Burglar alarms are likely to start sounding when the power cut happens so check how they work and what happens when they lose power. Depending on the advice, it may be worth considering temporarily deactivating them as they may not switch off keeping everyone in the street awake!.
Fridges and freezers should be kept closed so that any contents remain cold for as long as possible keeping food safe for consumption.
As always, the obligations of landlords to their tenants need to be considered. In ordinary circumstances, the landlord must ensure that power supplies and appliances are safe for normal use.
However, they are only liable for matters within their control so that in an unplanned power cut, they can do nothing about it and would not be obliged to pay compensation.
The situation is no different in the case of a planned power cut. The landlord bears no responsibility for the loss of power and has no legal obligation to provide tenants with emergency equipment such as generators or even torches.
However, in the interests of maintaining a good landlord-tenant relationship, landlords would be wise to accept a moral obligation to provide what help they can.
Residents will be given 24 hours to prepare for a power cut, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be able to make thorough preparations. Providing basic battery-powered lighting is the least that could be offered.
This could also be helpful to the landlords because insufficiently prepared tenants might be tempted to use candles while the power is off.
Candles are safe to use as long as they are constantly monitored, but if they’re being used in place of ordinary lighting, they are likely to be unattended for significant periods. That makes them a potential danger to life and property.
Landlords should always warn tenants not to use candles as an alternative to electric lighting as the consequences for everyone can be severe and is why regular testing and maintenance of smoke detectors and CO alarms are vital.
Is this an energy crisis?
Yes we are in an energy crisis and that’s just not the UK but a global issue; that clear for all to see however it’s worth repeating that the National Grid is only planning for power cuts as a last resort.
And indeed, they may not even be necessary, and if they are, there’s only a likelihood of minor disruption but it’s always better to be prepared rather than reactive.
On the upside; Spring isn’t too far away!