Preparing for Power Cuts

The Government seems to think we will be able to muddle through in the same old British fashion but I am getting prepared by thinking ahead. It’s not going to be as easy as it was 50 years ago when miners were striking in the 1970s as so much now depends on electricity.

National Grid have warned that power cuts may have to be imposed this winter for periods of hours because of a shortage of gas which is the largest source of electricity generation. If there is a very cold spell, supplies of gas are cut off from Russia which is already happening, and a combination of other negative factors occurs then we will be facing a bleak mid-winter.

You might have gas central heating but your boiler won’t operate without an electricity supply. Are you working from home? Forget it because your PC or laptop will shut down along with your wifi router. Even your 4G phone signal may fail as phone masts only have a few hours back-up battery supply.

I have checked out our two old oil lamps (photo of one above which I have polished) to see if they still worked and they do, with some oil remaining in them. Can be lit with a few matches.

We also have a gas fire in our living room that can be lit manually with a match which will suffice – it’s rare for a domestic gas supply to be cut off because, so far as I recall, to do so creates problems when the supply is reconnected requiring a visit to every household in case a pilot light needs lighting. Industrial users would no doubt be cut off first.

But I probably should not have thrown out a paraffin room heater a few years ago – however they are still available and cheap.

As regards electronic communication, my broadband supplier (BT) provides auto switchover to a 4G connection if the broadband goes down but I don’t think that will help if the router loses power. I had a quick look at UPS systems but these are mainly of help in providing a gentle power-down. They typically only provide a few minutes battery time unless you spend a large amount of money. If you want hours of back-up you need a diesel generator. I doubt the expense of that is worthwhile.

A mobile phone like my iPhone 13PRO will operate for two days without a recharge so that should cope with lengthy power cuts. But if your phone has a shorter life then you need a “powerbank” which can give you many hours of power. They are readily available and not expensive. It could also support notepads as well as phones but laptops and PCs are another matter.

In extremis I could power my laptop in my car because I have a converter that plugs into the car auxiliary socket and supplies a 230-volt normal 3 pin socket. I can then probably tether my laptop to a 4G signal via my phone.

This might enable me to continue trading my stock market portfolio one way or another but will the stockbroking platforms and the LSE continue to function? I have no idea. I hope they are thinking ahead at the moment on how they can operate if power cuts are widespread.

A diesel or petrol car can supply many days of power but those folks who have bought plug-in electric vehicles might have difficulties if there are lengthy power cuts.

The above covers my personal “resilience” on power supply but nationally we seem to be in a really dangerous position. The Nord Stream gas pipeline was apparently easily damaged by some malicious act – probably Russian, but electricity interconnectors which we rely on for power from the continent are vulnerable. Similarly internet/phone cables could be easily damaged (as happened in January to a link from Norway to Svalbard).  In the modern world we are extremely open to all kinds of malicious acts from foreign powers and Russia now seems intent on using its capabilities to cause mischief on a global scale. All off-shore installations are vulnerable in essence so we need to crack-on with fracking.

It’s a far cry from when my father ran a coal-fired power station in the 2nd world war – he never ran out of coal. The Government has clearly got to take a good look at energy security in the UK. Even if the hot war in Ukraine cools down we might have an energy cold war for some years. It’s going to be long time before anyone trusts Russia again and certainly not while Putin is in power.

I have also been adapting my stock market portfolio to the new world of energy insecurity in the last few weeks by buying shares in oil//gas companies such as BP, Shell, Serica Energy and Woodside Energy. The dividend yields on such companies are now sufficient to offset the capital risks. I am normally prejudiced against commodity stocks but when times change I decided it was time to reconsider. But I still will not be looking at small exploration oil companies.

I have also been buying alternative energy suppliers such as Gore St Energy Storage, Greencoat UK Wind, Gresham House Energy Storage, Octopus Renewables Infrastructure and The Renewables Infrastructure Group although even those have dipped recently after a good run up since the start of the year. Whether this is due to the general stock market malaise or doubts about the new regulatory regime for electricity is not clear. As in any bear market, there is nowhere to hide as everything falls.

Roger Lawson (Twitter:  )You can “follow” this blog by entering your email address below. You will then receive an email alerting you to new posts as they are added