Peak-time electricity usage must be slashed to avoid power outages, the energy regulator has warned.
The Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) has ordered electricity suppliers to find ways to curb the surge in demand for power that occurs between 5pm and 7pm daily.
It says if that does not happen, the security of supply will be jeopardised.
It also says the cost to all customers will increase as the cost of cranking up generation and buying in power to meet periods of high demand escalates.
The warnings come at a time when customers are already being hit by repeated price increases and bills that have soared over the past year.
In a document sent to electricity companies today, the CRU says there will be serious challenges in meeting demand for power this winter.
“There is a significant risk to electricity security of supply in Ireland over the coming years,” it says.
It blames the situation on: “the closure of large electricity generation units, the failure of new contracted generation to deliver, an accelerated degradation of the existing fleet as it responds to intermittent wind generation, and significant demand growth across a number of sectors of the economy”.
While overall demand is increasing, it says 62pc of the expected increase in demand to 2025 is from a small number of what are termed extra-large energy users (XLEUs), of which it singles out, “in particular data centres”.
“This confluence of risks is not directly caused by any one sector.
"However, the significant demand growth from XLEUs cannot be overlooked and the CRU considers it important to take necessary actions to influence the behaviours of customers driving demand increases,” it says.
The CRU is proposing a range of changes to tariffs usage policy for large energy users to push them to alter their demand patterns.
But there will also be an impact on domestic customers.
Those with smart meters who are on smart tariffs or ‘time of use’ tariffs could see further increases in their already higher peak-time charges, compensated by further reductions in off-peak charges.
Those with smart meters who are not yet on smart tariffs will come under pressure from their suppliers to make the switch.
The majority of households still do not have smart meters and do not have fluctuating peak and off-peak tariffs so it will be harder to incentivise them to delay unnecessary use of electrical appliances to beyond the 5pm-7pm period.
But electricity companies are being told they need to find ways to encourage the change in behaviour.
If they don’t, there are underlying threats of power outages and increased network charges which apply to all customers regardless of what meter or tariff they have.
The CRU said it would not speculate on what ideas and initiatives the electricity suppliers would come up with as they have been given until September 1 to respond.
The regulator said of the tight deadline for response: “The CRU acknowledges that there has not been the time necessary to carry out detailed analysis on the proposals developed, however it is considered prudent that action is taken now.”