Between energy security, price and supply, the energy crisis shows no signs of abating ahead of the winter. A number of high-level national and EU meetings are set to look at these issues shortly, but it remains to be seen if any of these can arrest the spiraling cost of energy which householders and businesses face.
Prof Brian Ó Gallachóir is Director of the MaREI Research Centre and Professor of Energy Engineering at UCC and he joined Mary Wilson on RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland to analyse this issue. (This piece includes excerpts from the conversation which have been edited for length and clarity - you can hear the discussion in full above)
"We're at a critical point this winter", explains Ó Gallachóir, "and there are three things happening in parallel, which kind of can confuse matters. One is the price rises that we've seen in gas and in electricity. We've also seen an increase in the number of amber alerts on the power system so there's an increased risk of a failure in electricity supply or electricity supply disruption this winter. Because of what Russia is doing in Ukraine, there is also a risk of gas supply interruption.
"Now, the risks of these are relatively low, particularly the gas supply risk, but they're higher than they were last year because of the dynamics of what's happening. If they do happen, they could have serious impacts on us."
So what could be done? Ó Gallachóir says addressing the price rises is one issue to be considered. "This is what the European Commission is looking at, maybe intervention in the market to put a floor price on the price of gas, and then that would follow through into electricity prices so don't let the market decide essentially.
"The second thing that can be done is to protect customers. The focus here should be on the most vulnerable customers, not €200 for everyone, but really focusing on those that that are in need. There has been a significant increase and it's continuing so increased payments is one thing. Free boiler servicing and free home energy upgrades using taxes from windfall profits, which are being calculated at the moment, but they're budgetary decisions.
"In terms of the electricity supply risk, this is where EirGrid and the regulator come in. What measures do they propose in terms of additional electricity supply this winter? We have had a number of attempts to increase the backup electricity supply for when the wind isn't blowing, but those attempts have failed. So what are they planning and also what are they planning in terms of data centres? The growth in data centers has meant significant growth in electricity demand so that's also putting pressure on the system.
"In terms of the gas supply risk, this is a trickier one because this relates to what Russia is doing. They've essentially weaponised gas supply as part of the war in terms of turning off the taps to some of our EU neighbors and they could do more of that this winter. The EU has committed to reduce our dependence on Russian gas by two-thirds. We're a bit sheltered because we get our gas from the UK, which gets it mostly from the North Sea, and esentially that gives us a bit of shelter, but we should be looking to reduce demands this winter.
"We should also try and accelerate energy efficiency and renewable energy growth. We should look at gas storage, looking at diversifying gas supply. The challenging thing is that we need to to do these things rapidly, but we don't want to lock ourselves into long term continued gas dependence that would impact on our climate targets. The other impact on gas supply would be pausing data centres. While data centers use electricity, more than half of our electricity comes from gas, so it's quite complex. Those three separate pieces around price rises and supply need different solutions for each."