How Prepare + Checklist
*This article first appeared in December 2022 for Outdoor Roadie.
There is a chance that UK residents will experience power cuts this winter.
Although the National Grid says it’s unlikely, these cuts could go on for anywhere between 3 to 24 hours. While concerning, you have time to turn a real problem into a minor inconvenience.
Be prepared for dark times. (Photo Credit: Alexandra_Koch)
In this guide, you will learn the following:
- Dangers, concerns, and impacts of winter power cuts.
- Who will be affected by these blackouts?
- Why rolling blackouts could happen.
- For how long this will be a concern.
- How to know when you’ll lose power.
- What you can expect in each stage.
- The government’s basic plan.
- How to prepare for no power.
- Best Practices
- Equipment & Gear
- Final Checklist
What are the dangers of these power cuts?
Extreme cold, no electricity, and a lack of supplies can be deadly to those caught unprepared. Additionally, food and cold-stored medicine can go to waste when there’s no power for refrigeration.
This is a manageable problem if the outages are only for a few hours. However, some extreme scenarios could result in houses being with a power cut or power outage for longer than they have it.
Failure to adequately prepare could result in hypothermia and even death.
Who will be affected?
If rolling blackouts are enacted, everyone will be affected in some form, albeit at different times.
Why Might We Experience Rolling Blackouts this Winter?
It comes down to demand exceeding supply. However, like most significant events, there are a multitude of factors compounding to create this potential issue.
The main factors that could spur rolling blackouts:
- Russian President Vladimir Putin could shut off gas supplies.
- Electricity imports from Europe are reduced.
- Britain experiences frigid winter weather.
- Reduced renewable energy generation.
Any combination of those factors could trigger a power cut, creating a number of possible scenarios.
One likely scenario is that France, Belgium, and the Netherlands could cut electricity exports for the winter.
Coal-fired power plants would be activated, and the Demand Flexibility Service would be enacted. This encourages businesses and consumers to use electricity during non-peak hours. Consumers with smart metres will be paid for using electricity outside of peak demand periods.
Another scenario is that a gas shortage would reduce gas-fired power by 10GW. This would trigger load shedding and power disconnection for consumers.
The damaged Nord Stream 1 pipeline has not helped Russia’s already reduced gas supply to Europe. This has spurred European countries to rush to secure more gas. While storage levels have been improved, a cold snap could drive demand beyond reserve levels.
Britain does not rely on Russian gas, as most of its imports are from the North Sea and Norway. However, importers are exposed to the reduced supply and associated costs, so Britain could be forced to acquire gas from other sources.
How Long Will This Go On For?
In the best-case scenario, National Grid believes there will be a “sufficient surplus” through winter. However, margins will be tight from December through February, so you should be prepared for all scenarios, especially during this period.
Will I Know When My Power Will be Cut?
Consumers in different parts of the country will be notified the day before that they will be without power and the exact times of power loss.
The Electricity Supply Emergency Code (ESEC) divides the UK into 18 load blocks, similar to postcodes. Each load block is assigned different periods for blackouts.
You can find your letter load block on your energy bill. Look for a letter at the top; it’s often boxed. Only some energy companies provide this information on your bill, so contact them directly if you are still looking for it.
What Can We Expect?
Power cuts will be highly dependent on the weather. The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts predicts a drier, colder, and less windy winter. They also expect a period of high pressure in November and December that could reduce the amount of renewable power generated.
There are several stages, with power cuts increasing at each stage:
- Stage 1: Three-hour blackouts three times a week = 9 hours a week.
- Stage 2: Blackouts will double with six power cuts a week = 18 hours a week.
- Stage 3: Three-hour blackouts increase by three = 27 hours a week.
As previously mentioned, additional crisis levels could see houses without power for longer than with it. In extreme scenarios, the entire grid could be shut down, with emergency power diverted to hospitals, water and sewage treatment, airports, oil refineries, and other critical infrastructure.
What’s the Government’s Plan?
This plan entails the following:
- Appeals to the public and industry to reduce electricity demand.
- Restrictions on industrial energy consumption.
- Rolling blackouts (rota disconnections).
The goal is to reduce total consumption by 5% and “ensure the overall security and integrity of the electricity system across Great Britain.” National Grid is hopeful this will free up an extra 2GW of power, enough for 600,000 households.
How to Prepare
If you read our article on How to Winter Camp in the UK, you’ll be more prepared than most at keeping warm and taking on these potential rolling blackouts.
Frankly, if you can comfortably winter camp in your Rooftop Tent, you can live better than royalty did in the dark ages.
That said, you should still prepare yourself, your family, and your household for any sort of power failure. Here’s how to do it…
Preparation comes down to three critical pieces:
- Best Practices
- Equipment & Gear
The good news is that rolling blackouts are temporary, and your ancestors survived far harsher conditions with much less technology.
That said, they were usually prepared and knew how to survive. Luckily, you’re not having to forage for food and search for adequate shelter. Barring a few items, you likely already have what you need. That should give you some comfort.
However, you can have all the gear and still have no idea. Your mind must be in the right place, so you can calmly operate when conditions are less than ideal.
So, how do you get your mindset in the “right place?”
This subject could be a book in and of itself. But in the interest of time and simplicity, it boils down to your preparation. Specifically:
- Only worrying about what you can control.
- Planning for the worst case scenario.
- Knowing how to use your gear.
If you can cover those three bases, you’ll be fine. Much of our worries and anxiety draw from the uncertainty of future events that have yet to transpire.
If you’re prepared, you have very little to worry about.
It would be easier if your mindset was the only one you had to worry about. But life rarely works that way, especially if you have a family. So, your family must also be part of the process.
Tell them what they can expect and the household’s solutions, and show them how to use the necessary gear (ex., Torches, generators, hand crank radio, etc.). Remind them that they’ll be fine and that it will be a fun adventure for the family.
You’ll also need to consider how you keep yourself and the kids busy. Will you play games, read books, tell stories, or watch movies on your laptop?
Your mindset is the most significant factor that will dictate how potential rolling blackouts will go for you. A faltering mentality can turn a handleable situation into a dangerous one.
Remember, only worry about what you can control, plan for the worst-case scenarios, and practise with your gear. Nail those pieces, and keeping those spirits up will be much easier.
Small actions and habits, good or bad, are amplified when life gets serious. Minor issues have grand implications if not addressed early on.
Here are some general practices to ensure that rolling blackouts are met as an inconvenience rather than a dire situation.
As mentioned in the article, How to Winter Camp in the UK, people tend to drink less water when it gets cold. Because they’re not sweating, they don’t associate cold weather with a loss of fluids.
However, the steam pouring out of your mouth on a cold day isn’t just hot air; it’s water vapour. Each breath is pulling water out of you. If you aren’t replacing those fluids, dehydration could set in, and you’ve got more significant problems.
Pro-tip: Drinking cold water on a freezing day can drop your core temperature, so drink hot tea and broth. As if you needed more incentive to drink tea!
Eat Food Before Bed
Body temperature typically drops when you sleep, which is not an ideal pairing with potential power cuts. Obviously, you can reduce concerns by adding blankets or wearing more clothes.
Another method is to eat hot and/or slow-digesting foods such as cheese, meat, nuts, and potatoes. The digestion process produces heat and can make a difference on a cold, powerless night.
Keep Fridge/Freezer Closed
Even though it may be cold outside, try to keep your refrigerator and freezer closed as much as possible. A three-hour loss of power is not a big deal; however, if the grid shuts down for 24 hours or more, your food and medication could be in jeopardy.
Depending on your situation, consider a mini-fridge for medications and some food. They require much less electricity to run, and your portable power station won’t have to work as hard.
Food & Water
It’s best to store ample amounts of non-perishable food and water. In extreme cases, it may be advised to fill your bathtub and keep it as backup water.
The recommended amount of food and water depends on your household’s consumption and needs. We advise having at least a few days’ worth of supplies and then replenishing at your first opportunity.
Pro-tip: Water filters aren’t just for camping and hiking. Keep one as a backup for your house.
Preserving Battery Power
Batteries lose their charge when it gets cold and can happen to your phone’s battery. So, keep your mobile phone and battery bank(s) in your pockets or bed while you sleep.
Pro-tip: Put your cell phone in lower power mode to conserve battery power.
Keep Cash on Hand
Cards might not work if the grid gets shut off. So, keep enough cash on hand for those emergency situations.
There’s no “right” amount. It’s dependent on your needs and financial situation. At least have enough to pay for food, petrol, and miscellaneous purchases.
Keep Fuel Tanks Full (petrol or electricity)
Petrol pumps and charging stations, especially, may not work when the grid shuts off. So, when the grid is on, ensure your batteries are charged, and the car has enough fuel.
When the power comes back on, a flux of electricity can overload and fry your electronics. Some electronics and power strips have surge protectors built into them, but most don’t. Check your appliances and power strips. If in doubt, exercise an abundance of caution and unplug.
Double-check your carbon monoxide detectors to ensure they’re still well and functioning. Avoid using your gas stove/oven to heat your home. This can create a deadly environment, especially without a working carbon monoxide detector.
Equipment & Gear
Here are the bare essentials to ensure that you stay safe during a winter power outage.
Extra Blankets & Winter Clothes
This is arguably your most impactful gear purchase. You might not have a fireplace or a generator, but you can always wear your warm clothing and add layers of clothing, gloves, hats, and blankets.
Our Guide to Winter Camping mentions that base layers are often overlooked when shopping for winter clothes. Base layers help wick moisture while keeping you warm. They can be worn under your clothes, or you can sleep in them for added comfort.
Hand and Toe Warmers
Fingers and toes are usually the first body parts to get cold when the temperature drops. Cold fingers can lead to a loss of dexterity, making simple tasks nearly impossible. In extreme situations, this can lead to frostbite.
Consider adding hand and toe warmers to your kit to get the blood back to your extremities and provide those essential mood lifts to you and your family.
How do you plan to cook dinner when the power shuts off? If you have a camping stove, you’re good to go.
Keep in mind that most camping stoves are not suitable for indoor use. Fire is the obvious risk, but carbon monoxide is the more significant concern. So, bundle up and find a sheltered spot outside.
Pro-tip: Keep extra gas on hand to ensure you never run out.
Torches, Candles, and Solar Lanterns
While the threat of frigid weather during a blackout is a legitimate concern, it’s easy to overlook the need for safe and reliable light sources. And no, your cell phone light doesn’t count.
Candles are a good backup for your backups, but the risk of fire is too significant to rely solely on them. Instead, stock enough battery-powered torches for everyone in your house and keep them in consistent places to avoid searching for them in the dark. Consider adding glow-in-the-dark stickers or strips so that you’ll find them more easily.
Consider a solar lantern, which allows you to charge up in the daylight.
Pro-tip: Keep lots of spare batteries, matches, and lighters on hand to ensure you won’t be left in the dark.
Battery Powered or Hand Crank Radio
Accessing news and information is critical during emergencies. Weather forecasts, government messaging, and news reports will continue to be broadcast to the masses. How do you plan to access that information?
Consider the adage, two is one, and one is none. Redundancy is the key. In the context of accessing information, it means you can’t rely solely on your cell phone. You might run out of battery, or perhaps cell phone towers lose power.
Consider getting a battery-powered radio; tried and tested methods that provide reliable access to important messaging and information.
First aid kit
Make sure to have at the very least a basic first aid kit and check the contents inside.
Take some time to understand how to use all the contents inside to be prepared if an injury occurs.
Power Stations & Battery Packs
Traditional petrol or diesel generators are still valuable equipment in certain situations. But they have some limitations, including being unable to use them inside.
On the other hand, power stations and battery packs are far more reasonable and accessible for most people as a power or battery backup.
It’s important to have your mobile phone charged at the bare minimum. You should have a battery pack for your cell phone and small electronics. Going dark and “unplugging” is understandably enticing but accessing important information, accessing your emergency contacts or calling for help in an emergency is critical.
Power Stations are a more considerable investment but offer so much during a power cut. Here’s why you should consider one:
- It’s quiet
- No nasty fumes
- You can use it inside
- Solar panel recharging
- Power larger electronics
- Power medical equipment
- Multiple outputs for multiple devices
Pro-tip: Keep power stations and battery packs fully charged to work for you when the power goes out. This seems obvious, but details can slip between the cracks when life gets busy.
Pro-tip #2: Avoid using space heaters as they draw a lot of power.
WiFi Hotspots & USB Routers
If you absolutely need to use your computer during rolling blackouts, you have two options to get online:
- Use your phone as a personal hotspot
- A USB Router that runs off your laptop’s power.
Option #1 should work for most people but know that your phone battery will get drained, and you’ll want a good data plan.
If you are lucky enough to have a functioning fireplace, use it! Just make sure you have enough firewood on hand. You’ll be surprised how much you can burn through in a night, so stack more than you think you’ll need.
Pro-tip: It’s best to combine soft and hardwoods. The former is best used in building fires, and the latter is best for keeping them going. This article gives a great breakdown of the difference.
- Stay hydrated with warm liquids
- Eat food before bed – Slow-digesting foods like cheese, nuts, meat and potatoes
- Keep Fridge / Freezer closed
- Store non-perishable food & water – Canned beans, dried fruits, nuts & seeds, energy bars
- Preserve battery power – Put your mobile phone in battery saving mode
- Keep some cash on hand
- Keep fuel tanks full
- Unplug appliances to avoid overloading when power comes back on
- Check your fire alarms
Equipment & Gear check list
- Have extra blankets
- Invest in winter clothes
- Consider hand & toe warmers
- Camping stove
- Torches, candles and solar lanterns
- Battery powered or hand crank radio
- First aid kit
- Power Stations for power
- WiFi Hotspots & USB Routers
You have every right to be concerned about the potential of a rolling power cut this winter.
However, we encourage you to look at this potential situation as a challenge to overcome rather than a miserable experience to endure. Your mentality is everything – prepare and be strong for your family and friends.
Remember, if you can get your mindset in a good place, enact the aforementioned best practices, and get the necessary gear and equipment, you will be fine!