Changes introduced since 2000 mean the ESB is no longer a State-owned monopoly that generates electricity and supplies it to all households and businesses in the Republic.
The State still owns it, but the ESB now competes with other companies to supply electricity and gas to homes and businesses in the Republic. It also owns Northern Ireland’s power supply network, generates electricity and runs a number of other enterprises.
Electric Ireland is the ESB subdivision with which most people are familiar. It supplies electricity and gas to 1.5 million customers, ranging from households to large industries all over Ireland.
That business made €44 million profit on €2.1 billion of sales last year. It competes with independently owned Airtricity, Bord Gáis Energy and Energia.
Generation and Wholesale is another subsidiary. This owns power plants and wind farms in Ireland that generate 4,827 megawatts (MW) of electricity; enough energy to power about five million homes. It is building a 1,000MW electricity plant in Britain.
This business is separate from Electric Ireland and, in theory at least, can supply electricity to that division’s rivals, which then sell it to their customers. It made €137 million in profits last year.
ESB Networks owns and maintains the wires that deliver electricity to homes and businesses. That division provides this service to all the players in the market, both its fellow group company Electric Ireland and its competitors.
It also operates and maintains the national grid, essentially the pylons and high-voltage lines that transmit electricity from power plants to the distribution system. However, it does this under the direction of Eirgrid, a separate State company from the ESB that is responsible for managing the national grid.
ESB Networks makes the most profits: last year it earned a surplus of €287 million.
Northern Ireland Electricity Networks owns Northern Ireland's electricity grid and distribution network, which means it is responsible for ensuring that electricity gets to every household, business and organisation in the six counties. The company is heavily regulated and must have its own board, separate to that of its parent's. It made €48 million in profits last year.
is the final subsidiary. This is basically a collection of businesses involved in activities that are not directly connected to generating and selling electricity.
ESB International is the oldest and best known of these. It employs engineers and technicians who design, build and maintain power plants in countries in Europe, Africa and Asia. Most recently, it has worked on projects in Spain and Britain.
The Innovation arm owns a broadband network and is working with telecoms company Vodafone on a broadband service called Siro. The subsidiary also has a €200 million investment fund, Novus Modus, used to support potentially profitable clean-energy technology, and runs the refuelling network for electric cars. The ESB's annual report does not give figures for the Innovation arm.
Overall, the ESB’s businesses earned profits of €531 million last year. After paying tax and footing an interest bill of more than €200 million, the group’s surplus after tax was €286.2 million. Total sales were €3.34 billion, while debts, including bonds and bank loans, were €5 billion.
Pat O'Doherty, who has spent most of his career with the company, is the ESB's chief executive. Former banker Ellvena Graham is its chairwoman.