What's Going On
National Grid has warned it may not have enough gas to meet UK demand on Thursday and has asked suppliers to provide more. In the event that there is still a deficit, large gas users such as industry and large businesses will be asked to use less gas.
Demand for gas on Wednesday hit a six-year high as cold weather swept the UK.
"This warning has been issued in response to a series of significant supply losses resulting in a forecast end of day supply deficit," the National Grid posted on an energy data site.
Why is demand for gas outstripping supply?
The biggest factor is the weather. The so-called "Beast from the East" is bringing temperatures well below freezing to the UK, plus extreme weather such as blizzards, boosting demand for gas from consumers and businesses.
The weather has also affected gas supplies. There have been problems with pipelines from Norway and the North Sea, and in recent days, problems with pipelines from the Netherlands and Belgium.
This - together with other factors such as declining supplies from North Sea fields - means the UK is now more reliant on gas imports.
The cold snap has increased the number of requests for call-outs, British Gas said, which is having difficulty answering customer queries. Two of of the company's call centres in Scotland have had to be closed due to the cold weather.
Why Heat Pumps
Heat Pumps use electricity, which is produced from a number of different fuel sources. So whilst gas is one of the fuels that contributes to the energy mix, electricity production is not solely dependent on it. In fact, at the time of writing wind turbines account for the largest share of UK energy production, at about 26%, ahead of coal at 24%.
And it isn't just gas prices that are experiencing a spike at the moment; as referenced in our previous blog posts heating oil prices are also at an 18 month high.
Heat pumps operate using electricity, however for each unit of electricity consumed, over 3 units of heat are delivered. This is possible due to the fact that heat energy is simply being moved from one place (the ground) to another (the home). This is far more efficient than creating heat energy, which is what happens in a traditional combustion boiler. In this case, only 0.75 units of heat are delivered for each unit of fuel consumed.
Furthermore, ground source heat pumps in particular extract energy from 1m below the ground, which is largely insulated from the extreme cold air temperatures currently being experienced.