UK homes could be left without power between 4pm and 7pm this winter as rolling blackouts hit the country.

That is the warning from the National Grid and its chief executive John Pettigrew as the country prepares for a winter with potential gas shortages.

The first planned blackouts in decades might hit parts of the UK if power plants can’t get enough gas to keep them running.

Households are being encouraged to help avoid blackouts by using energy during off-peak times.

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In the “unlikely" scenario of planned blackouts, the National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO) said that households and businesses may face three-hour outages to ensure the grid does not collapse.

Mr Pettigrew spoke at an energy event hosted by the Financial Times where he warned those outages could come between 4pm and 7pm, the times households tend to consume a fifth of their daily energy.

It is the most dire of three possible scenarios that the ESO laid out on Thursday for how Britain’s electricity grid might cope with the worst global energy crisis for decades.

In the other two scenarios, the operator hopes that by paying people to charge their electric cars at off-peak times and firing up backup coal plants it can offset the risk of blackouts.

The margins between peak demand and power supply are expected to be sufficient and similar to recent years in the National Grid Electricity System Operator’s (ESO) base case scenario for this winter.

But in the face of the “challenging” winter facing European energy supplies following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the grid operator is also planning for what would happen if there were no imports of electricity from Europe.

To tackle a loss of imports from France, Belgium and the Netherlands, there are two gigawatts of coal-fired power plants on stand-by to fire up if needed to meet demand.

National Grid Gas Transmission separately said that while gas demand will increase this winter, it expects Britain to be able to get enough gas to take it through a Beast from the East scenario or a long, cold winter.

People are being encouraged to sign up with their electricity supplier to a scheme which will give them money back on their bills to shift their use of power away from times of high demand to help prevent blackouts.