Government cannot rule out widespread blackouts

The Environment Minister said he could not rule out power outages this winter as Ireland grapples with “strained” supply issues.

EirGrid has identified a serious security of supply risk resulting from long-term outages of two large power plants, in Huntstown and Whitegate, which remain offline but are expected to return to the system in October and November.

Minister Eamon Ryan said the government “cannot be absolutely certain” that there will be no blackouts this winter, but added: “We hope to be able to deal with the main problem this winter, two of our biggest Gas-fired power stations and the most modern factories have been shut down, they will resume operations next month and the following month.

“So that should be fine for us to manage, but this winter and the following winter are going to be tough.”

Mr Ryan said there are a range of options to manage demand, adding that the government is “examining the flexibility” of large electricity users.

Ireland saw record peaks in demand last winter EirGrid, in the 2021 production capacity statement, warned that demand would increase further.

Mr Ryan said EirGrid would play a central role in tackling the crisis.

“In the Climate Action Plan, each sector must live within this carbon budget, the electricity production sector is absolutely essential.

“Operating fossil fuel plants as a safeguard was always going to be part of the plan. “

Data centers

Data centers have been identified as the main driver behind the growing demand for electricity, currently using 11% of all electricity in Ireland. This figure will rise to over 25% by the end of the decade.

All major electricity-using companies could face “orange alerts” this winter to ensure households avoid power outages.

Alerts could see heavy users having to switch off and manage their consumption over certain periods.

In a briefing note on Ireland’s security of supply, the Utilities Regulatory Commission (CRU) said it would take overall responsibility for delivering new generation capacity to ensure the system has sufficient power to meet growing demand, including from heavy users such as data centers.

“The short-term supply risk has diminished due to the scheduled return to service of the generators, but margins will remain difficult during the winter period,” the regulator said.

It follows a report from grid operator EirGrid which clarified the requirements for next-generation capacity.

Over the past year, the system has had to contend with the lowest volume of wind in Europe since the 1960s, while at the same time aging power generators have been cut off from the grid for maintenance. Future additional demand for electricity has been “primarily” driven by the number of data centers that will open in the coming years.

The CRU is now committed to acquiring 300 MW of emergency capacity and in the longer term will ensure the delivery of 2000 MW of gas-fired capacity for the energy market across Ireland.

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