Ireland rues mistakes of the past as it struggles to keep the lights on


By Paul Homewood

h/t Philip Bratby

Blimey, I did not see this coming!!


Back-up power generators have started to arrive in Ireland to help it keep the lights on during the next few winters.
The mobile turbines, described as “effectively jet engines”, are set to be installed in areas including Dublin and nearby County Meath.
The €350m (£308m) temporary capacity was ordered by environment minister Eamon Ryan last year as a “last resort”, after regulators flagged a looming shortfall in generation.

“This is an electricity emergency,” minister of state Ossian Smyth told its parliament in October. 

“It is a national scandal,” retorted Darren O’Rourke, the Teachta Dála for Meath East. 


Yet concerns about the future remain: in Ireland, surging demand for electricity and the closure of ageing gas-fired power stations have left the country vulnerable next winter and beyond.

Critics have also warned that Ireland is becoming too reliant on imports of gas, as domestic fossil fuel generation is sidelined in pursuit of green goals. 

The problems highlight the challenges of transitioning the energy system away from fossil fuels, while still maintaining security of supply.

Kathryn Porter, a consultant at energy analysts Watt-Logic, said: “I’m not sure [Ireland’s] sums [on energy supply and demand in Ireland] have been adding up.

“It echoes concerns that have been arising in other markets.”

Former top civil servant Dermot McCarthy has been asked to independently examine the circumstances behind the immediate squeeze, while the Government has also opened its own energy security review.

In October, politician Barry Cowen called for a fix to the “Cold War state of our energy infrastructure”, piling pressure on Leo Varadkar, the taoiseach, to find a more permanent solution to the problem of keeping the lights on long-term.

Ireland’s single electricity market covers both the Republic and Northern Ireland.

It trades electricity with Britain via two electricity cables from England, and imports gas via pipelines from Scotland.

It has evolved rapidly in recent years to 
incorporate more wind power, as part of the global shift towards renewable energy: renewables accounted for 42pc of Ireland’s electricity mix in 2020, compared to just 7pc in 2005.

Demand for electricity has leapt over the same period, driven in part by the growing number of energy-hungry data centres set up in Dublin, attracted in part by low corporation tax rates.

This hunger for power is only set to grow as electric cars and heat pumps start to replace petrol cars and gas boilers.

Rising demand at a time of insecure supply has started to trigger alarm bells as to how well the system can manage. Problems were apparent even before the acute energy crisis of the last 12 months.

There were eight “system alerts” between January 2020 and September 2021, indicating tight power supplies.  

In September 2021, 
Ireland had to block exports of electricity to Britain to preserve supplies on the island. That month, EirGrid, which operates its electricity grid, warned of a potential shortfall in coming years.

Its report predicted that about 1.6GW of generation would be retired in Ireland over the next five years and 600MW in Northern Ireland, as gas-fired power plants were phased out.

Gas-fired plants are getting old but are also being pushed off the system by the growth of wind power. However, wind is by its nature unpredictable.

“We expect system alerts to be a feature of the system over the coming winters and this winter is likely to be challenging,” Mark Foley, chief executive of EirGrid, said back in 2021.

New gas-fired generation would be needed to help fill in the gaps in intermittent wind and solar supplies, he said, calling for a “clear signal” for investors to build new plants.

Plans to cut national carbon emissions to net zero by 2050 do call for about 2GW of generation from new flexible, gas-fired power stations to help fill the gaps left by intermittent wind supplies.

Last February, the Government secured contracts for back-up power supplies from October 2024, which are expected to lead to 1.1MW of new gas-fired generation being built, as well as 120MW of battery storage.

However, supplies procured in this way are not as certain as many would like – some generators that had agreed to supply back-up for 2022/23 dropped out, piling pressure on the electricity network this winter.

It adds up to an uncertain picture for future electricity generation that has left industry and homeowners concerned. In November, the Irish Academy of Engineering claimed that a lack of government energy planning was deterring international investors.

“Irish energy supply reliability is below standard and is threatening to deteriorate further unless rapid practical action is taken,” it added.

The Irish Academy of Engineering has also raised concern about the security of gas supplies, which are needed for power stations as well as for heating and industrial uses.  

Around three-quarters of Ireland’s gas demand is met by imports from Britain, via Scotland, with the rest coming from its Corrib gas field, off the north-west coast of County Mayo.

The Irish government is no longer issuing new gas exploration licences, as part of a move away from oil and gas to cut carbon emissions. Existing licence-holders can continue to apply for extensions to keep a well in production. However, the situation leaves Ireland increasingly reliant on imports.

The UK’s exit from the EU means it no longer has to supply Ireland under the EU’s “solidarity” rule, meaning that, in theory, supplies to Ireland could be restricted if the UK was facing shortages of its own.

Gas supply shortages had been feared this winter after Russia cut off supplies to Europe following its invasion of Ukraine.

As Ireland confronts challenges on the supply side, politicians and regulators have been looking at ways to manage demand.
Data centres must now “deliver strong economic benefits” and be willing to promote Ireland’s “national decarbonisation objectives”, the government has said.

The Ireland grid still depends on gas and coal for two thirds of its power, along with 15% from GB interconnectors.  The island is particularly vulnerable because it cannot tap into European supply.

The idea that they can rely primarily on renewables is ridiculous. As with the UK, it makes you wonder whoever thought that they could.

Yet the official Irish government plan still wants 80% of its electricity to come from renewables by 2030: