Warning over threat to electricity supply due to cold snap

Amber alert may be unavoidable over coming days as sub-zero temperatures place more demand on supply

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.

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.

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.

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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.”

For the first time ESB Networks sent a text message to 4,000 customers participating in a demand-reduction pilot scheme on Wednesday telling them that “there is going to be a peak event this evening from 4-8pm and it’s looking likely that there will be one tomorrow evening too. Taking control of your electricity usage will help support security of supply.”

Customers who have signed up to the programme were asked to try to swap ovens for air fryers or microwaves, “and if you can push out doing laundry between 4-8pm”.

Cold weather puts an increased demand on the electricity system, while low wind means renewable generators are contributing less power to the electricity market. Sources said that each degree drop in temperature requires another 40MW of power.

Met Éireann has issued status yellow weather warnings for Thursday, with daytime temperatures not expected to rise above 3 degrees over the coming days and sub-zero conditions anticipated at night. Hail, sleet, ice and snow are expected to result in hazardous conditions, the forecaster said.

One energy industry source said the sector was “on tenterhooks” over the situation. Government sources acknowledged there was a tightness in supply, but said the risk of households experiencing any interruption was extremely low.

Meanwhile, the draft National Risk Assessment released by the Government on Wednesday night lists possible disruption to energy supplies as one of the main threats facing the country.

The document lists 26 strategic risks to the country, including international threats such as Brexit and armed conflict, challenges to the public finances from over-reliance on corporation tax, future pandemics, climate change and cyber attacks.

On energy security it warns that “risks in relation to secure and sustainable energy supplies have been exacerbated by the war in Ukraine and sanctions on Russian supply, which has caused a considerable price shock to global energy markets. A lack of storage capacity means Ireland is particularly exposed to risks with regards to gas supply disruption.

“In addition, a combination of deteriorating performance of the stock of existing thermal electricity generating power plants, the recent problems of delivery of planned thermal generation capacity through auction processes and unanticipated planning and technical difficulties, as well as the unpredictability of wind energy generation, has left the outlook for Ireland’s electricity supply in a challenging state,” it says.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times