What is the first thing you do when you wake up? Check your phone, turn on the lights, boil the kettle. What do these everyday actions have in common? Well, they all use electricity. And this is what experts are worried about: our crippling dependency on a power source that is far from sure.
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Professor Lord Rees of Ludlow, who has been the UK’s Astronomer Royal since 1995, has issued a stark warning about the UK’s reliance on electricity. He has said that an attack on the UK’s National Grid or other vital infrastructure would be a ‘major disaster’, leaving large parts of the country ‘in bad shape very quickly’. Here are the potential threats that put our power at risk and what deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden has said about the UK’s preparation for such an event.
The threats that put our power at risk
Lord Rees, who is also the co-founder of Cambridge University’s Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, spoke to The Times about the risks:
I think it’s clear that if there were a nationwide or regional shutdown of the electricity grid for a few days, that would indeed be a major disaster.
We’re very dependent on electricity, obviously, and increasingly on the internet.
And if either of those things failed, we’d be in bad shape very quickly. Within a few days it might lead to a real social crisis.
These risks could come in the form of a natural disaster: solar storms are often cited as a major threat of our power networks. As Express points out:
In 1859, the so-called Carrington Event ejected billions of tons of charged plasma towards the Earth, causing telegraph systems across north America and Europe to fail, with some operators receiving electric shocks.
Similarly, we had a close shave in 2012 when the biggest solar storm ever recorded narrowly missed Earth. Ilan Kelman, professor of disasters and health at University College London, warned:
If it had hit us head on, we would still be recovering today. Just imagine trying to replace every transformer in the country.
However, the timing of a power failure may not be left to Mother Nature: there is also a real risk of the UK being the target of a cyber attack carried out by another nation.
What Oliver Dowden has said about these risks
The deputy PM recently spoke out about such issues, urging Brits to stock up on battery-powered radios, candles and first aid kits in the run-up to the new year. During a visit to Porton Down, the UK’s military laboratory, he explained that these were ‘analogue capabilities that it makes sense to retain’ in today’s digital world.
Dowden also announced the launch of a ‘resilience academy’ designed to help people and businesses prepare for future pandemics, natural disasters and cyber attacks. For professionals and business, there will be a ‘curriculum’ and ‘greater guidance’ to help prepare for such an event. Somewhat ironically, advice for citizens will be - you guessed it - available online:
there will be a unified government resilience website, which will provide practical advice on how households can prepare as part of a campaign to raise awareness of the simple steps individuals can take to raise their resilience
This is not the first time that warnings have been issued about the security of our power networks. Journalist Marcus Gibson, having spoken to professional power engineers, claims that the UK Power Grid will collapse in 2035. He blames this on an ongoing ‘energy supply crisis’, rather than an instantaneous collapse of the grid, but his prognosis remains the same: we’ll be scuppered without power.
Express: Disaster warning as expert warns attack would paralyse the UK 'within days'
The Guardian: Britons should stock up on torches and candles in case of power cuts, says Dowden
GB News: UK power warning: Climate author claims grid to COLLAPSE in 2035 as 'energy supply crisis' mounts