Action needed on fuel security, critical infrastructure and competition - EirGrid Chief


Decisive action is needed to address major issues which will have a critical effect on Irish energy supplies, the Engineers Ireland Annual Conference was told by Dermot Byrne, Chief Executive of EirGrid.

Speaking at the conference in Limerick, Mr Byrne said that three major issues needed to be tackled -

  • Ensuring security and diversity of fuels
  • Constructing strategic national infrastructure to meet the needs of the economy and consumers - and
  • Putting in place the structures to ensure a level playing-field for all competitors in the industry.

“We need to deal with the issue of long-term security and diversity in our primary energy source. If we leave it to a 'business-as-usual' scenario we will end up - in 2030 or thereabouts - with an over-reliance on imported natural gas, with all of the uncertainties and price volatility that goes with that” - said Mr Byrne.

He added that the issue of strategic infrastructure was a major and urgent one. “As a country, we need to find a way to construct critical and strategic infrastructure in a way that strikes the right balance between the overall public good and our national economic imperative, on the one hand - and the concerns of individuals and stakeholders affected by these developments, on the other.”

The third issue the EirGrid Chief Executive raised was ensuring competition in the energy section. “We have to put in place the necessary industry structures as a matter of urgency, that give confidence to market participants (who collectively will be investing well over €10 billion by 2020) that there will be a level playing field and one that incentivises efficiency and effectiveness in delivery.”

Fuel security
Mr Byrne said that, at some stages in the past year, 85 per cent of the country’s electricity was being generated from gas. Under present predictions, in 20 years time Ireland would only have two sources of power – renewable energy and gas.

The EirGrid Chief Executive said he planned to hold discussions with the Commission for Energy Regulation on the commissioning of a detailed report into possible power generation options for 2030 - taking into account both technical and socio-economic feasibility, so that Ireland could have a structured and well-informed debate.

Critical infrastructure
Mr Byrne said that the need for new electricity grid infrastructure was now critical and urgent, to deal with growth in demand from all customers, to assist the major growth in renewable energy, to facilitate balanced regional development and to provide supplies to new industries.

“Over the next 20 years, the overall demand for electricity is projected to grow by about 70 to 80%. In an increasingly competitive global arena, it is vital to put all parts of Ireland in a position to support indigenous businesses and to attract and retain inward investment.”

The EirGrid chief told the conference that it was vital to structure the electricity sector to ensure that there was fair access to everyone, transparency and a clear direction in terms of incentives and regulatory certainty.

Competition and consumers
“The transmission assets, at the end of the day, are owned by the people of Ireland. Government policy is to transfer these assets to EirGrid - a state-owned company focused on public service. This policy, already enshrined in the White Paper, has widespread support with key stakeholders and commentators - including the EU, the OECD, the International Energy Agency, the Competition Authority and Forfás.

“I believe that our national transmission infrastructure is too vital an asset to be left for the benefit of any one interest group - or any one company which, itself, is competing to supply and generate energy. The playing field has to be level. If we can ensure a fair and level playing field and real competition, the end result will be a more economic electricity supply and increased renewable energy - and, I believe, a much greater degree of innovation.”