Electricity supply is going to be “quite tight” for the next two weeks due to low temperatures and low wind speeds, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Mr Vardakar said the Coalition had been briefed about the issue in the last couple of days by Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan.
“The projections indicate that the next two weeks are going to be quite tight in terms of the supply of electricity, largely because temperatures are going to be quite low, and there isn’t going to be very much wind, so that means that there could be what are called amber alerts happening in the next two weeks.”
An amber alert is a warning made when grid operators believe it is possible there will not be enough supply in reserve should something go wrong in the system, even though they expect there to be enough energy to meet current demand. While the alert has no immediate impact for users of electricity, it warns of potential temporary issues in the near future.
He said that if the situation worsened and progressed to a “red alert” phase, the first electricity users to be impacted would be large energy users with access to their own forms of on-site generation, such as data centres.
“I do want to reassure people that in the unlikely event that there’s a shortage of electricity, and that hasn’t happened yet, the first to be affected will be the major energy users, the data centres that have their own back up electricity. It won’t be homes, farms, small businesses,” he said.
Mr Varadkar was speaking alongside Minister for Rural and Community Development Heather Humphreys at the launch of a €33 million fund to upgrade 280 community centres nationwide. The scheme represents the largest ever capital investment in community centres, with grants of up to €300,000 provided.
The Irish Times reported on Thursday morning that sub-zero temperatures and low wind will combine this week to put the electricity system under pressure, with Eirgrid expecting the margin between supply and demand to be “tight over the coming days”.
While sources said household supply shortfalls were unlikely it is understood that Eirgrid was close to issuing an “amber alert” on Wednesday before supply came through the interconnector between Ireland and the UK.
There are concerns that an alert may not be avoidable in the coming days. Talks have taken place between the Government, ESB Networks and Eirgrid regarding potential next steps, which could include reducing access to power for large energy users like data centres.
In a statement, Eirgrid said “the margin between supply and demand for electricity is expected to be tight over the coming days”.
“This is due to cold weather, low wind generation, the unavailability of some conventional generators and a likely lack of imports from Great Britain.”
Solidarity TD Mick Barry raised the issue in the Dáil on Thursday, saying people who had not previously had to choose between “eating and heating” might face that decision in the next number of weeks.
The Cork North-Central TD believed that the amber alert was “not so much caused by the cold snap as it is by the energy supply feeding frenzy of the data centres”.
Mr Barry said that 147,000 more people will die in Europe this winter if it is an average winter, because of rising electricity prices, citing the Economist magazine.
“Despite us having milder winters than most Ireland had more so-called excess winter deaths than any other country in Northern Europe in the 33 years after 1980.
“Many say that these deaths were caused by the cold. It’s more accurate to say that they were caused by poverty, by an inability to heat homes.”
Mr Varadkar told the Dáil he wanted to reassure people that in the event of a red alert data centres would be instructed to switch on their generators.