Pressure on electricity system to ease after two national grid alerts

Power plants to restart, lessening supply squeeze that prompted warnings

Pressures on electricity supplies that prompted two national grid alerts are set to ease over coming days as power plants that have been out of action restart.

National grid operator Eirgrid warned energy suppliers on Tuesday and Wednesday that low wind and electricity imports, combined with power plant shutdowns, had narrowed margins between supply and demand, increasing the risk of power cuts.

However, the State company said later on Wednesday that the pressures that prompted it to issue “system alerts” over two consecutive days were likely to ease as several power plants were due to come back on stream.

“It is anticipated that the situation will improve over the coming hours as some generators return to service,” said Eirgrid in a statement. It added that it expected to lift its alert on Wednesday evening. The warnings did not mean that any customers lost electricity supplies.

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Power plants capable of generating more than 2,000 mega watts, from a total of 6,300MW, were unable to supply the grid over the two days.

Low wind speeds, a result of the current good weather, limited the supply of renewable electricity. That could persist until next week, when the heatwave is expected to break.

Ireland has enough wind farms to provide almost 5,000MW of power, close to peak demand, but they cannot supply electricity when the wind does not blow. On average, these plants can generate electricity only 30-40 per cent of the time.

The State imports power from Britain via undersea cables, but only when that country has spare electricity.

Eirgrid issues alerts when the buffer between electricity demand and supply is lower than ideal. While there is not an immediate threat to supplies, an alert signals this could happen should something else go wrong, such as another power plant shutting down.

Increasing numbers of Irish power plants shut down unexpectedly, partly because several are ageing. One of the ESB’s coal-fired plants at Moneypoint, capable of generating 300MW of electricity, is out of action until Saturday after an issue emerged on Monday.

Some plants are shut for routine maintenance, which they normally carry out in summer when demand should be low. Those generators should return to action by autumn.

Ongoing squeezes on the electricity network, combined with a potential shortage of natural gas, used to generate half of Irish needs, have heightened fears of power cuts this winter.

The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications confirmed that the Republic’s gas-fired power plants had reserves of oil should they need it this winter. Most of these generators can run on distilled oil if tensions between the EU and Russia over the Ukraine war result in the Kremlin shutting off gas supplies, which many observers fear will be the case.

A department spokesman said any plant capable of switching fuel had backup oil supplies. “This requirement for backup secondary fuel is required by the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities,” he added. The National Oil Reserves Agency also holds about 85 days of oil stocks, according to the department’s spokesman.

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O’Halloran covers energy, construction, insolvency, and gaming and betting, among other areas