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Major report from Eirgrid says Ireland may have electricity shortages over next five winters

Minister Eamon Ryan said this morning that the government can’t be “absolutely certain” blackouts won’t occur.

Lough Ree Power Station in Roscommon
Lough Ree Power Station in Roscommon
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

Updated Sep 29th 2021, 2:04 PM

IRELAND COULD FACE electricity shortages over the next five winters because of rising demand and the closure of older power plants, a new report has warned.

The finding is contained in a new report from EirGrid, the state-owned electric power transmission operator in Ireland.

Earlier this year, it was warned the country could face rolling blackouts this winter due to energy shortages, but these fears were allayed by news that two major electricity plants will reopen in the autumn.

Eirgrid’s annual Generation Capacity Statement said today that the recent withdrawal of previously procured generation and a recent auction that did not clear the desired amount of electricity capacity could yet bring about energy shortages if no action is taken.

In the Dáil this afternoon, the Taoiseach sought to “absolutely assure” the public that the Government would ensure that there are no blackouts this winter.

It came after Minister for Environment Eamon Ryan said earlier that the government can’t be “absolutely certain” that blackouts won’t occur.

But he expressed confidence that efforts to bring additional power into Ireland’s electricity system will be successful.

“It is tight and you can’t be absolutely certain but we expect to be able to manage it,” he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme.

“The main problem this winter is that two of our largest and most modern power plants have been out of action. They will come back into action next month. That should allow us to manage.

But this winter and the subsequent winters will be difficult. We know what we need to do. We will have further options next year which looks to bring additional back-up power into place.

Ryan also suggested that the option of keeping Moneypoint coal-burning plant, which is due to close in the coming years, could remain open.

“As a last resort yes,” he added.

We can’t have the lights going out.

The Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) similarly suggested that the use of older more carbon-intensive electricity generation capacity could be extended on a temporary basis to help make up shortfalls in supply.

“Given that these older plants tend to be higher emission fossil fuels based and more expensive to run, the intention will be that they will be available to support security of supply,” the commission said today.

‘System alerts’

In a statement accompanying its report on electricity supply today, Eirgrid warned that so-called “system alerts” are expected to be a feature of Ireland’s power system over the coming winters and that this winter “is likely to be challenging”.

A system-alert is called when demand for electricity nears the point of supply, and when the sudden loss of a large power plant or another unexpected event may not cover the country’s electricity needs.

There have been eight such alerts in Ireland since January 2020, including during periods of very low wind, limited interconnector support from Great Britain, prolonged outages at two large gas generators and the impact of Covid-19 on maintenance.

The report found that despite a short-term reduction in electricity use due to Covid-19, demand in Ireland is on the rise and will increase significantly due to an increase in the number of large energy users – including data centres.

These large users are expected to account for 27% of Ireland’s electricity consumption by 2030.

“It is clear from the report that a new, cleaner gas-fired generation plant is required now to address this issue, especially for when wind and solar generation is low,” Eirgrid chief executive Mark Foley said.

“Appropriate volumes of dispatchable flexible gas generation are critical to support the transition to a low-carbon power system into the next decade, as we move to 70% renewables by 2030 and, ultimately, a zero-carbon power system.”

  • Our colleagues at Noteworthy want to investigate why we are facing an Irish electricity crisis. Support this project here.

The Eirgrid report also says that demand for electricity will increase over the coming years as consumers find new ways to use electricity.

These include the use of alternative heating methods, such as electric heat pumps, and cleaner modes of transport, such as electric vehicles.

Eirgrid expects most of this demand to be met from wind and solar energy as the power system is reshaped to meet the Government target of at least 70% of electricity demand coming from renewable sources by 2030.

An information note from the CRU said that more gas capacity was being put in place to help alleviate the risk of shortages this winter.

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CRU head Jim Gannon also told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that the country saw record demand for electricity last winter, but that the return of the Huntstown 2 and Whitegate generators in October and November respectively would help manage capacity.

“At the moment, the two major gas plants that were on prolonged outages that added significant risk to this winter are both scheduled to come back in October and November,” he said.

It’s anticipated that although things will remain tight this winter… it will be manageable.

The commission also warned that customers can expect higher electricity prices over the coming years due to supply issues and the demand for energy.

In the Dáil this afternoon, the Taoiseach moved to reassure the public by saying that companies which use a lot of electricity will be required to use their own back-up generation capacity to help the situation if shortages arose.

Labour’s Alan Kelly had expressed concern that Ireland was “sleep-walking into a crisis” following today’s report, while Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald called on the government to introduce a moratorium on data centres until an impact assessment was carried out.

Martin responded that a ban on data centres was not the answer, adding that a review of data centres was underway.

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