A senior research officer with the ESRI has said nobody can say for certain that power blackouts can be avoided this winter, adding that if there are to be interruptions to demand, they will certainly happen at peak times.
Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Dr Muireann Lynch said supply on the system has been the tightest it has been for a while.
“What we do know is that supply on the system is the tightest it’s been for a good while and while the expectation is always that there will be no blackouts, historically we have operated the system far more reliably than targets suggest,” she said.
“What I would say is a lot of it comes down to the wind and a lot of it comes down to whether or not customers can shift their demand from the peak times. If there are demand interruptions, they’ll almost certainly occur at peak times.”
She said if demand can be brought down a little at peak times, and if the wind is kind “then certainly I would say blackouts are not guaranteed, but I don’t think anyone can say for sure that we can avoid them”.
Dr Lynch also said that new protections for customers of electricity and gas companies introduced by the energy sector regulator yesterday are “a significant move”.
The measures announced by the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities include a short extension of the period during which customers cannot be disconnected, as well as extended debt repayment periods.
Dr Lynch said the changes have, for the first time, put customers who are facing financial hardship on the lowest tariff – usually only available to new customers.
There are still significant savings to be made by switching supplier, she said, adding that once people switch to a lower rate with a new provider, that rate is fixed for a year until renewal.
However, she said, prices will still continue to rise as “unfortunately electricity prices are so closely linked to the price of gas”.
“There’s not necessarily a reason to get upset about the fact that electricity prices follow gas prices. But the problem is what’s happening with gas prices is just completely unpredictable. We see that they’re still rising at crazy rates and we just don’t know,” she said.
“Whatever about meeting our peak demand, we do know unfortunately that prices almost certainly will stay very high, if not increase over the winter.”
Under the measures, utility companies will also be expected to “actively promote” codes of practice for vulnerable customers.
Anyone with a smart meter can switch to a smart tariff, she explained, which includes time of use pricing.
“The different supply companies offer different time of use tariffs, but they all have an extra charge for using electricity at peak times.”
She said that supply companies are now being given an extra incentive to get people to switch to those smart tariffs and to get people to switch away from peak load by adding an extra charge to electricity consumption between 5pm and 7pm.
She said this is more just a shifting around of revenues, but it is only available to those who have a smart meter.