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 supply, 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 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.

Meanwhile, Emeritus Associate Professor of Economics at DCU Tony Foley has said a windfall tax on energy companies would generate about €1m "at the absolute most".

Prof Foley told Today with Claire Byrne this would "have a relatively small impact on the actual bills" but would have an impact in terms of social cohesion and the appearance that everyone is making an effort."

He said that there is a perception that oil companies and energy companies are generally making huge profits, but a tax would not generate billions of euros in revenue here.

He added that energy companies should not have seen any increase in profits because they have to buy the gas and provide it to domestic and industrial customers.

"So, are they maintaining margins or the increasing margins and that's a separate element that needs to be looked at. If we're thinking of any windfall tax, of course we should think about what we're doing and the consequences," Prof Foley said.

A price comparison website has said that "in theory", a windfall tax on big energy companies to claw back some of their rising profits "sounds great", but that if there were easy solutions they would have been done by now.

Speaking on the same programme, Darragh Cassidy from Bonkers.ie said that a lot of the "obscene" profits being made in the energy industry currently are not being made by Irish companies, but rather by firms abroad that are selling gas, coal, and oil that is not in Irish or EU territory.

He said that "going after that money is going to be very, very difficult, particularly if Ireland wants to do it alone."

Boylan calls for 'ban on disconnections'

Senator Lynn Boylan, Sinn Féin spokesperson on Climate Justice has called for a ban on disconnections and suggested that households be remunerated for down powering, such as choosing not to use peak demand instead of charging for peak times, and using the carrot rather than stick approach.

Speaking on RTÉ's Drivetime she said it was terrifying for families facing into the winter and some people will have to choose between eating and heating.

She said the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU) need to take a more proactive role in regulating the market and she suggested that they could insist that every energy company offers the lowest rate tariff to households as 63% don't switch supplier.

Ms Boylan said that people who do not switch end up on a default tariff that is quite high and that other jurisdictions had made that illegal, in that you cannot penalise loyalty.

"We need to look at energy as a right and not a commodity, as people fundamentally need energy," she said, adding that there needed to be a moratorium for disconnections for people in dire straits.