Northern Ireland facing energy deficit if no-deal Brexit

Notion of electricity barges in Irish Sea seen as ‘gob-smacking’ result of hard exit outcome

Northern Ireland does not have the resources to fulfil its energy demands in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The Financial Times reports British government officials fear that power providers here could end the provision of electricity because the UK would no longer be part of the European electricity market.

A government official quoted by the FT said the idea of electricity barges in the Irish Sea was one of the most "gob-smacking" elements of no-deal Brexit preparations.

One of the solutions drawn up is thousands of electricity generators would have to be requisitioned at short notice and put on barges in the Irish Sea to help keep the lights on in Northern Ireland.


A source in energy law told The Irish Times that in the event of a hard Brexit scenario where they are unable to import electricity from the Republic there is insufficient generation capacity in the North to power the demands of Northern Ireland.

“The implications of Brexit for the all-island market in electricity are complex. There are large power plants in Northern Ireland, at Ballylumford and Kilroot, but they are nearing end of life. There is a direct connection to Scotland, but that has not always operated at full capacity and could not meet the demand,” he said.

“Two years ago, EirGrid and Soni, its equivalent in Northern Ireland, estimated that demand would soon exceed available electricity in the North. That’s why it makes sense for Stormont and Westminster to contemplate solutions to capacity constraint,” he said.

Northern Ireland has shared a single energy market with the the Republic of Ireland for more than a decade as a result of the Belfast Agreement.

“The North-South interconnector has been designed to help avoid any deficit in Northern Ireland. That very necessary project has been consented under a European Union framework that has worked perfectly to encourage co-operation and speedy decision making across borders. The interconnector is a project that makes sense, whatever the outcome of the Brexit negotiations,” he said.

“Disentangling the all-island market is not impossible, but there is overlooked complexity. For example, the transmission system assets in Northern Ireland are owned by EirGrid. All involved should be reluctant to give up the many benefits of the all-island market, not least lower electricity prices and better security of supply,” he said.

A spokesman for EirGrid said: “We have an all-island market for electricity, the SEM. The British and Irish governments, and regulators in Belfast and Dublin, have expressed support for its continuation post Brexit.

“Significant investments in the North-South interconnector and I-SEM, the new electricity market going live in October, are also being made on both sides of the Border.”

Chief executive of Electricity Association of Ireland Dara Lynott said the EAI agree with EirGrid’s assessment of the importance of the north south interconnector for the future security of supply in Northern Ireland.

“ Enhancing our North South interconnector capacity will facilitate growth in renewable energy generation and bring greater security and resilience of electricity supply for the benefit of all customers. Approximately 70 per cent of electricity demand on the island lies east of a line from Cork to Belfast. This interconnector will provide the backbone for this corridor,” said Mr Lynott.

“Ultimately EirGrid and SONI have the powers to make agreements with existing generators to provide additional capacity in the all island market,” he added.