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Households have been warned to prepare for blackouts by keeping torches and gloves nearby as energy networks fight to keep the lights on during the coronavirus lockdown.
Electricity networks across Britain have implemented emergency pandemic strategies and all non-essential work has been put on hold.
As people follow the Government’s instructions to work from home and stay indoors they are more dependent on the electricity supply than ever before, it is recognised.
The National Grid insists that the network has the resilience to cope, but there are fears that high level of staff sickness and self-isolation rules could see a shortage of engineers.
UK Power Networks, which owns and maintains the electricity cables in South East England, the East of England and London, has now written to all customers on its Priority Services Register telling them what to do in the event of a power cut.
The advice seen by the Telegraph says they should avoid opening the fridge or freezer doors so food and medicine stays cold even if the electric is off for several hours and to “keep a torch handy”.
The letter adds: “It’s especially important to keep warm if you are unwell, less mobile or very young. Dress warmly in several layers and have a hat, gloves and a blanket to hand so that you can keep warm. You can also reduce heat loss by closing doors on unused rooms and by closing curtains.”
Vulnerable customers are also warned that they should try and use a corded telephone as “cordless phones don’t work in a power cut” and to keep a power bank full to recharge a mobile phone.
Those on the priority register include pensioners, those with children under 5 in the house and people with disabilities and chronic illnesses. Other distributors across the country are also contacting the most vulnerable.
Prof Keith Bell, a co-Director of the UK Energy Research Centre, said that data from last week shows that the change in usage during the lockdown is similar to the demand seen on weekends.
The University of Strathclyde Professor said: “I think where there might start to be some pressure is when you see a lot of staff getting ill or self-isolating.
“That will have an impact on the work force and where there are faults that occur we have to hope that we have enough people to respond to them. I guess that might become more difficult as the workforce starts to become more depleted.”
All distributors have taken steps such as separating workers and ensuring that they are following social distancing and hygiene advice.
But Prof Bell suggested that they may have to ask engineers and others who have recently left the work force to return, as has happened in the NHS and police forces.
Frank Mitchell, CEO of SP Energy Networks which operates in parts of Scotland, the North West and North Wales, said that staff sickness and the length of time the coronavirus restrictions remain in the place were of particular concern.
This is an “unprecedented time of uncertainty and disruption” and “this is not business as usual”, he warned.
SP Energy Networks have put in place special measures to “protect power supply for critical national infrastructure and public service sites; including hospitals, nursing homes, food supply chain businesses, Ministry of Defence sites and prisons”.
This includes checking the equipment used to supply the sites for resilience and offering help with back-up generators.
Some engineers across the country have faced criticism from members of the public who have said that they should not be working.
Mr Mitchell reassured customers the work that they are carrying out is essential to keep networks running and they are abiding by social distancing measures.
Electricity North West said that some works need to continue or “it may cause longer and more disruptive power cuts in the weeks and months ahead”.
Western Power Distribution, which covers the Midlands, South West and South Wales, have warned customers that as they are only carrying out essential works they will not be doing things such as fixing street lights unless it is essential for public safety.
Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks said that it had implemented emergency measures including guidance for engineers who have to visit the homes of people who are self-isolating. They are also dedicating their community resilience fund to the coronavirus response effort.
Roisin Quinn, the Head of the Control Room at the National Grid Electricity System Operator, assured the public that they have activated their pandemic plan and are confident that they can keep the lights on.
“We expect that with more people staying at home, rather than demand surging, it will reduce; largely owing to a decrease in energy use from industrial consumers, which is likely to be greater than the increase in domestic demand,” she said. “The situation is changing rapidly but we do not expect any issues with supply meeting demand.”
David Smith, Chief Executive of Energy Networks Association, said: “These are challenging times for everyone and we want to reassure the public that our priority is keeping them safe, keeping energy flowing to homes, hospitals and other vital infrastructure and looking after those most in need.
“Please contact your network company immediately if you have a power cut or gas emergency. We are asking everyone who’s either self-isolating or has a confirmed case of the coronavirus and needs an engineer to attend their property, to ensure they tell their energy network operator before any visit so that appropriate precautionary arrangements can be put in place.”
[Source: The Telepgraph]