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Concern over power outages grows as demand for electricity continues to rise

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Eirgrid’s insistence that pylons are required over 140km of countryside has been met with significant opposition. Photo: File photo

Eirgrid’s insistence that pylons are required over 140km of countryside has been met with significant opposition. Photo: File photo

Eirgrid’s insistence that pylons are required over 140km of countryside has been met with significant opposition. Photo: File photo

Electricity supplies are to come under greater strain than previously thought this winter, creating deepening fears of outages.

Higher demand and the loss of another power plant means that ‘system alerts’ – a signal that immediate action is needed to prevent outages – will increase.

“There is no question that the current outlook, based on the best information available, is serious,” says EirGrid, which is in charge of the national electricity grid.

“It is likely that in the coming years we will experience system alerts and will need to work proactively to mitigate the risk of more serious impacts.”

The warning comes as EirGrid revises upward its forecast of expected electricity demand for the coming years.

It says the country will most likely need 37pc extra electricity by 2031, although it could be as high as 50pc more.

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Environment and Climate Minister Eamon Ryan. Photo: PA/Brian Lawless

Environment and Climate Minister Eamon Ryan. Photo: PA/Brian Lawless

Environment and Climate Minister Eamon Ryan. Photo: PA/Brian Lawless

When the same exercise was carried out this time last year, the expectation was for a rise of 28-43pc.

Data centres and other large energy-using industries are expected to account for 28pc of all electricity demand in the country by 2031.

The look-ahead comes in EirGrid’s annual generation capacity statement (GCS) published today which warns of a “challenging outlook” over the next 10 years.

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Mark Foley, EirGrid chief executive, said: “Since 2016, the GCS has warned of an increasing tightness between demand and supply.

“This year’s GCS forecasts significant capacity deficits over the coming years with an increase in the tightness between supply and demand.

“The number of system alerts will increase as our economy grows, electricity generators exit the market and demand increases, with significant new additional demand from the heat and transport sectors as they are electrified.”

Reining in demand for electricity would also be necessary, particularly at peak time when demand was at its highest.

The outlook was already difficult after a number of contracts for ‘generation capacity’ – new or expanded power plants capable of adding to the total amount of electricity produced in the country – fell through last year.

New contracts have been signed but will take time to build and become operational.

In the meantime, three out of the four oil-fired generating units at the SSE-owned Tarbert power plant in Co Kerry that were due for retirement in the coming years have been shut early after recurring technical problems.

A surge in extra demand from data centres, described as “very strong” and higher than previously forecast, is expected between now and the end of 2024.

That will come from data centres already in development that have agreements for connection to the electricity grid.

Late last year, the energy regulator advised EirGrid to place restrictions on new data centre grid applicants by requiring them to provide for their own power or only allowing them connection outside of Dublin in places where there was spare capacity locally.

That policy was being applied, EirGrid said. “This makes new data centres ‘net-zero demand’ from a GCS adequacy perspective.”

Other strains on supply will come from the general expansion of the population and economy, however, and the growth in electric vehicles and heat pumps which is expected to take off significantly from 2025 onwards.

EirGrid said it was essential that more new generation capacity was ordered and while the longer-term focus is to ramp up wind and solar, new gas-fired plants will continue to be needed in the interim.

To avoid more immediate difficulties, it would be necessary to prolong the life of older power plants beyond their intended retirement date.

Reining in demand for electricity would also be necessary, particularly at peak time when demand was at its highest.

EirGrid said last week’s moves by the energy regulator to raise peak-time charges would help.

 
 
 


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