Baby, it’s cold outside: Electricity consumption hits record high

Some 5,112 MW reached as cold weather, Christmas lights and data centres drive demand

Mark Foley, CEO of Eirgrid: ‘Our engineers in the national control centre have seen demand for electricity increase significantly in recent days, culminating in a record spike in demand on Thursday.’ Photograph: Aidan Crawley

Mark Foley, CEO of Eirgrid: ‘Our engineers in the national control centre have seen demand for electricity increase significantly in recent days, culminating in a record spike in demand on Thursday.’ Photograph: Aidan Crawley

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Christmas lights, cold weather and data centres helped drive electricity consumption in the Republic to a new record of more than 5,100 megawatts (MW) on Thursday, official figures show.

Easing of Government-imposed Covid-19 restrictions combined with falling temperatures this week to boost energy demand across the Republic.

Consumption reached 5,112 MW for a period between 5pm and 6pm on Thursday, beating a previous record of 5,090 set in December 2010, according to national grid operator Eirgrid.

A typical gas-fired power plant in the Republic generates about 400MW, so Thursday’s demand would have required up to 13 such facilities going at full capacity.

Mark Foley, Eirgrid’s chief executive, noted on Friday that, over the previous 24 hours, renewable energy, which in the Republic is mainly wind, met 40 per cent of electricity demand.

“Our engineers in the national control centre have seen demand for electricity increase significantly in recent days, culminating in a record spike in demand on Thursday,” Mr Foley said.

“They successfully ran the power system without missing a beat, ensuring there was adequate supply to meet unprecedented demand.”

This week’s increased need for power stands in contrast to the spring, when a severe Government-imposed pandemic lockdown cut energy use by 10 per cent.

State-owned Eirgrid said Thursday’s demand broke the 5,090 MW set 10 years ago during a bout of severe cold weather that saw temperatures plummet to minus four degrees, leaving much of the State snowbound.

Eirgrid explained that cold weather played a part in setting the new record, as it drives consumption, particularly in the evenings when families return home from work and school. Temperatures on Thursday were around two degrees.

Seasonal shoppers

Christmas lights, lit in the Republic’s towns and cities to help lure seasonal shoppers back to the high streets on the back of easing pandemic retail restrictions, also played a “small part”, according to Eirgrid.

Industry was an important driver, with manufacturing, food processing and other key businesses continuing to function. Data centres were a part of this load.

According to Eirgrid, there are now 66 data centres operating in the Republic, which, at full capacity, require a total of 834 MW, the equivalent of two power plants.

However, their actual demand is calculated to have been around 630 MW, as they generally do not operate a full capacity.

Global technology companies favour the Republic as a location for data centres, which use large quantities of electricity.

The increasing number of these facilities being built here is likely to push up demand over the early years of this decade.

Government targets require that renewable energy is used to generate 70 per cent of the electricity used in the Republic by 2030. Mr Foley said he looked forward to meeting that and ultimately bringing renewables to 100 per cent.

The Republic’s energy system this year met its target of generating 40 per cent of electricity from renewables. Natural gas continues to be the main fuel for generating electricity in the Republic.