Irish homes and firms will be asked to cut peak-time power use to avoid winter blackouts

Irish homes and firms will be asked to cut peak-time power use to avoid winter blackouts

Ireland's drive to cut peak-time power demand will range from encouraging big firms and households to use off-peak power, down to cutting cooking times. Stock picture: iStock

Ireland’s 2m homes and small businesses are to be asked to avoid peak-time use of electricity in order to avoid blackouts this winter.

While Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said the Government does not anticipate energy shortages this winter, drastic steps are now being taken as the network struggles to cope with demand.

The Commission for Energy Regulation (CRU) has said that as well as looking at large energy users, it is also “looking at proposals by network operators to assist in the reduction of peak demand by domestic and small business customers”.

The country had 13 system alerts on the power grid in the past two years, the same number as the entire preceding decade, as a 'perfect storm' of factors is straining the system.

The State’s power grid operator EirGrid has insisted that there was no threat of blackouts as two system alerts — previously called amber alerts — were issued in the past two days, bringing the total to four in the past month alone.

There have now been seven alerts this year, with EirGrid saying this week’s alerts were due to low wind, limited electricity imports, and forced outages at a number of generators causing “tight margins”.

However, the CRU has warned that energy margins will remain tight during winter, and it is continuing to work with key stakeholders to implement additional mitigation measures to further reduce risk during this period.

The CRU said it expects to publish its plan on additional measures aimed at reducing peak demand in the coming weeks, but it wants to impose “peak tariffs” on large industrial consumers, pitching prices at levels so high they would have no option but to cut demand on the coldest winter nights.

'Time of use' tariffs

Included in this process is increased uptake of so-called time of use (ToU) tariffs which would encourage homes and businesses shift more energy usage to non-peak times.

ToU tariffs involve different rates at different times of day, differing from traditional flat rates, which charge the same no matter when the electricity is used.

Usage is low at night and highest in the late afternoon, when people return from work and many businesses are still open. It costs more to provide electricity during these peak hours.

People will be asked to reduce the thermostat when heating their home or water and using cookers, tumble dryers, washing machines, showers, and kettles outside the peak hours of 4pm-7pm in a bid to reduce energy demand at those times.

The Government says that by reducing the thermostat by 1C, consumers can reduce energy demand by 10%.

People will also be asked to turn off their hobs when their food is nearly cooked, and instead use the built-up heat to finish cooking food.

Eirgrid said it is anticipated that the margin between electricity supply and demand will remain tight this winter.

It said there are a number of variables that are beyond the control of EirGrid that will influence the situation, including the amount of wind available for renewable generation; the availability of gas; the availability of fuel; and the availability of trades with Britain via the two interconnectors, assuming it has a surplus of supply and the number of unplanned outages due breakdowns at plants is low.

“In the meantime, we are closely monitoring the situation and working with conventional electricity generators to ensure that plant performance and availability is maximised, as well as working to optimise our operation of the grid,” an Eirgrid spokesman told the Irish Examiner.

This news comes amid concern over the development of more power-hungry data centres and fears that there will be a fuel crisis as a result of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

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