Shutdowns affect 25% of power plants at any one time, says report

Eirgrid warns number of power plant ‘forced outages’ has increased every year since 2016

  One of Energia’s two power plants in Huntstown, Co Dublin. Photograph: Aidan Crawley/Bloomberg/Getty

One of Energia’s two power plants in Huntstown, Co Dublin. Photograph: Aidan Crawley/Bloomberg/Getty

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As many as one in four of the Republic’s power plants are out of action at any one time because of unexpected problems, according to a report from Eirgrid.

Prolonged temporary shutdowns of two gas-fired electricity generators contributed to squeezes on Irish energy supplies that have prompted regulators to warn of stretched capacity eight times since January.

Figures in the national electricity grid operator’s Winter Outlook report show that the rate of “forced outages” – where unexpected problems force power plants to stop producing electricity – has increased every year since 2016.

“For 2021 year to July it stands at 25 per cent,” says the report. This has led to tight margins between the demand for electricity and the power plants available to produce it.

Eirgrid also states that it has hit the electricity system’s ability to accommodate generators’ and interconnectors’ plans for scheduled shutdowns, generally needed for checks and routine maintenance.

The grid operator and the Commission for Regulation of Utilities highlighted growing problems with unplanned electricity plant shutdowns in recent reports on the energy system’s capacity.

Eirgrid’s Winter Outlook gives no reason for the forced outages. Individual power companies run the electricity plants, while the grid operator is responsible for balancing supply with demand.

Industry figures say many Irish power plants are ageing, which increases the risk of unexpected problems.

Renewable sources

At the same time, they say generators designed to run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, have to switch on and off more frequently than is ideal to accommodate renewable sources of power when they are available. They argue that this contributes to the problems that cause unexpected shutdowns.

The Bord Gáis Energy-owned gas-fired plant at Whitegate, Co Cork, and one of Energia’s two facilities in Huntstown, Co Dublin, have both been out of action since the beginning of the year.

However, both companies have said the plants will return to production in coming weeks, Huntstown on the 23rd of this month and Whitegate on November 4th. Their restart will help ease some of the electricity system’s supply pressures.

Neither Bord Gáis Energy nor Energia have given reasons for the sustained shutdowns.

It is understood that delays in the delivery of components, partly a result of the pandemic’s ongoing impact on global supply chains, has contributed to the delay in getting both plants restarted.

The surging price of natural gas, used to generate half of Ireland’s electricity, and local bottlenecks in power supplies, have been driving up electricity prices since the spring. Some families and businesses will pay up to 40 per cent more for energy this winter than last year.

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