Data centres will use generators in case of winter power emergency – Eirgrid chief

Mark Foley says scenario ‘very unlikely’ and he expects a secure supply over winter period

The chief executive of Eirgrid Mark Foley has said data centres have "stepped up to the plate" and will switch on their power generators in the event that a power supply emergency is declared this winter.

However, Mr Foley said such a scenario is “very unlikely” to arise and he also told TDs and Senators: “I think people can sleep in their beds at night and be satisfied they will have electricity.”

Low winds in recent months leading to less power generation by turbines as well as the need to take some power plants offline for repairs have led to concerns that there could be electricity blackouts this winter.

However, Mr Foley told the Oireachtas Environment Committee that the return of two power plants to operation in the coming weeks and "very high levels of wind on the system" mean it is reasonable to conclude that there are "very limited reasons for concern".


“We expect to have a secure supply over the winter period and unless something exceptional occurs then I think people can sleep in their beds at night.”

He said one reason he had such confidence was engagement with data centre operators, which have said they would switch their backup generators on if there is an emergency. “They will be the first port of call this winter in the very unlikely event we find the system very, very tight,” he said.

There has been a focus in recent weeks on the high usage of electricity by data centres, which provide storage for the internet and cloud computing and make technology like video calls and streaming possible.

Maynooth University academic Dr Patrick Bresnihan last week told the same committee that if all proposed data centres were to get the green light, they would use 70 per cent of the electricity grid capacity by 2030. Government figures, however, said this would not be the case.

Mr Foley also disputed the 70 per cent figure, saying it “has no basis”.

He told the committee: “It’s correct to say that a significant amount of Ireland’s forecasted growth for electricity will come from data centres and that’s a fact. But it’s much more in the order of 30 per cent.”

Separately the chairperson of energy watchdog, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU), Aoife MacEvilly, advised consumers to check they are on the best electricity tariffs by "shopping around and switching" or contacting their current supplier. Her remarks come against a backdrop of rising electricity bills due to increasing fuel prices. She said it was a "huge concern" here and elsewhere in Europe.

Ms MacEvilly also highlighted protections for vulnerable electricity customers including rules against disconnection for non-payment for those who require assistive technology for independent living.

There are also moratoriums from disconnection in place for customers who are vulnerable due to age or health from the start of November to the end of March and for all electricity customers for a shorter period each winter.

Social Democrats TD Jennifer Whitmore asked if there is an opportunity for a longer general moratorium on disconnection as "we're going to see a lot of working families getting heavily impacted by this [rising bills]."

Ms MacEvilly said the situation would be kept under “active review” but also cautioned that when moratoriums are in place there is no engagement between suppliers and the customers and this can lead to greater debt being built up.

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times