THE business of generating electricity across the island of Ireland has a positive future over the next decade but Northern Ireland will continue to face challenges as long as the debate over a second interconnector delays its development.
That’s the verdict of a new report produced by the operators of the electricity grid in both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic which says the ongoing wrangles over a second supply line is creating network limitations and restricting the amount of generation on the island that can be effectively utilised here.
That in turn is leading to tighter supply margins disadvantaging those already in the market and discouraging new entrants.
The All-Island Generation Capacity Statement 2013-2022, published by System Operator for Northern Ireland (SONI) and EirGrid, reports on the likely balance of supply and demand for electricity over the next 10 years.
It predicts a considerable generation surplus across the island which its says offers assurance to businesses and consumers.
However, it warns that the gap between power supply and demand in Northern Ireland will be tight in the second part of the 10-year period as the option of transferring power from the Republic to alleviate potential shortfalls in Northern Ireland is limited due to the fact that there is only one major power line linking the two networks.
“The project to build a second North-South tie line is needed to ensure that both jurisdictions have a generation supply sufficient to meet demand reliably,” said Fintan Slye, chief executive of EirGrid Group.
Alongside the interconnector, other key findings include the fact that the current level of wind power on the island, around 2,000 megawatts (MW), needs to double to help meet both governments’ 2020 target of 40 per cent of electricity coming from renewable sources, though it adds that hydro, biomass and other green energy sources will also contribute to these targets.
While overall demand for electricity has remained subdued due to the economic climate, a welcome development is the fact that data centres have emerged as a significant new category of demand.
Data centres need significant amounts of high quality power, as well as strong communications links, and can have a positive effect on the operation of the power system and in economic development.
There is currently over 175MW of data centre demand on the power system and this is expected to at least double over the rest of this decade.