Electricity supply concerns spark emergency plans for Dublin

Power to be generated in North Wall in response to grid alerts and winter fears

Power demand has grown sharply in recent years in line with economic growth and a big rise in energy demand from power-hungry data centres.

Power demand has grown sharply in recent years in line with economic growth and a big rise in energy demand from power-hungry data centres.

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The Government is taking steps to provide emergency power generation in Dublin because of serious constraints on the electricity network that have raised concern about supplies next winter.

The push to bring in temporary generators in the autumn follows a series of system alerts since November in which grid operators warned about supply levels.

To facilitate the move, the Coalition is steering a legislation through the Dáil so emergency generators can bypass planning laws. “The Government has approved amendments to the Planning and Development Act . . . to ensure temporary generation could be permitted in a timely manner if required,” said the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications.

According to a senior electricity market source, the ESB plans to install temporary generators at the North Wall in Dublin on a brownfield site. “Within the industry, we’re all very exercised about it, and understandably so. It’s going to be a very hard winter,” the source said.

The ESB declined to comment.

The moves follow the shutdown of big power plants at Huntstown, Co Dublin, and Whitegate, Co Cork, which are closed for repairs that will take months to complete.

Tight margins

“Simultaneous outages of two large generators increase the risk of tight margins this winter, if these do not return as planned by November,” said EirGrid, operator of the national grid.

EirGrid added that it was working with the Commission for Regulation of Utilities and the department to “proactively explore a variety of options (including potential temporary generation and other measures) to mitigate any issues and manage the demand and supply balance in order to maintain system security”.

Power demand has grown sharply in recent years in line with economic growth and a big rise in energy demand from power-hungry data centres.

Although successive governments have seen data centres as a good source of foreign direct investment, the regulator wants curbs on new developments. It warned recently that “consumers were facing rolling blackouts” if the current system for connecting new data centres to the grid was not changed.

Rising electricity demand has coincided with the closure of older power stations as the State increases its reliance on windmills to meet climate targets.

Below optimum

There have been eight system alerts since November, three on the all-island network that the State shares with Northern Ireland and five that were confined to the North. Such alerts are issued when the level of surplus power above market demand is lower than optimum to cover any contingencies.

“As generators close and others age, margins are forecast to become tighter until new, efficient generation projects are built and connected to the system,” EirGrid said.

The department said the need for “more conventional generation capacity” was recognised. “This will be needed to ensure continued security of electricity supply while supporting the growth in renewable electricity generation from wind and solar energy,” it said.

“It is expected that the majority of new conventional generation capacity will be gas-fired – primarily to replace peat-, coal- and oil-fired generation capacity that is being phased out over the coming years. While this new generation capacity will be reliant on fossil fuels, it will only run when needed – for instance during times of low wind. Its primary function will be to support the operation of the electricity system and ensure security of supply.”

The regulator acknowledged “challenges” responding to significant demand growth and the retirement of existing generating stations. It also cited challenges “resulting from our global leadership position in accommodating intermittent wind energy” on the grid.

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