Government should not be exposed to energy supply

The only thing we can say with certainty about the future is that it will surprise us. However, it should take very little ingenuity to foresee that after Russia invaded Ukraine, a massive disruption to the world’s energy supplies would be inevitable.

It is therefore with some confusion that we learn that the government still refers to being “surprised” by a proposal from the Commission for Regulation Utilities (CRU) that we are at risk of future energy shortages.

Two weeks ago, the CRU said it was looking at ways to force large energy consumers like data centers to use their own power supply instead of relying on the national grid. She warned, “Margins will remain tight.”

Around the same time, Don Moore, former head of ESB International, was even more emphatic about the risks, saying, “We’ve put ourselves in this position, the least prepared country in Europe, and that’s saying something.”

His comments were widely shared.

Having probably recovered from the “shock” news, Taoiseach Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar have now pledged to introduce measures to reduce electricity demand during peak periods. They will also seek to bring additional power generation sources into play and guide the expansion of the energy-dependent digital economy, including data centers.

But can it really have taken so long for the shilling to hit the meter in both heads that such steps should have been in progress for a long time?

Russia has long made it clear that it is committed to a long war. Therefore, there will be further supply disruptions and appropriate strategies to deal with them are crucial. Finding the right balance between domestic and digital demand for tight supplies should have been an urgent priority.

However, Mr Martin and Mr Varadkar have pointed to the fact that over the last decade Ireland has become a victim in part of its own success in attracting large digital, healthcare and pharmaceutical industries that depend on energy. Mr Martin said there had been indications from the CRU that there had been challenges “at the end of last year”. He then reiterated that the “government was somewhat surprised at this presentation”.

He added the cabinet then instructed the relevant agencies to procure emergency power generation capacity. “That’s been delayed a bit so a review is ongoing,” he added. This would address the terms of the regulator’s and Eirgrid’s role and offer further clarification, he suggested.

Whether such comments are an attempt to deflect guilt or merely factual observations is open to interpretation. Whatever your stance, it’s still up to government to protect consumer and trade interests and not be caught off guard.

And whether the problem is a lack of supply or excessive demand, what matters now is how to deal with it. Governments cannot afford to be blind; stressed consumers even less. Government should not be exposed to energy supply

Fry Electronics Team

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