AS the public is warned about the likelihood of power cuts this Winter due to a lack of generating capacity and the escalating price of fuel, the managing director of a North Cork based power company has given his insight into how electricity shortages could be avoided even at this late stage.
Dan Twomey, the founder and MD of Water Power Engineering in Kanturk, believes there has been a failure of planning by the big power companies and by Government for what is now being faced by people around the country.
Dan set up Water Power Engineering in 1985 when he decided to build his own power station near his home to supply his electricity needs. Almost 40 years later with the advent of solar panels, the possibility of people generating their own power on site – and selling the excess back to the grid – is only becoming a reality but Dan believes the incentive to do so isn’t enough.
Warnings were issued in national newspapers on Friday, alerting readers to the likelihood of power shortages and predicting that households will be asked to turn off appliances which are a heavy drain on electricity at the peak time of 4-7pm to avoid blackouts.
However, Dan told The Corkman that the Government should be adapting other measures now to avoid the inevitability of power cuts and encouraging more people to become more self sufficient in terms of producing and consuming their own power.
One of the issues is, that, Ireland is playing catch up in terms of power generation and is a long way behind where it needs to be/
."They will have to get every stand-by generator in such a situation as they will be able to generate power and a supply of diesel or whatever fuel they needed.
Another measure that could be adapted is to encourage large companies, large co-operatives for instance such as Dairygold,, to use their power in a smarter way, by only using power for manufacturing during the day and using it for refrigeration at night. He said a number of companies were doing this and it was helpful to ensure the more effective and economic use of power possible.
There have been a number of setbacks in the efforts to ensure Ireland has sufficient power and the country is a long way behind other countries. “If we started now, we’re a number of years away from getting a sufficiency of power generating capacity.
"They were talking this time last year about getting these big mobile generators sent to Dublin and when that crisis was over, they forgot about it – now they’re saying that, with the best will in the world, wouldn’t arrive until 2023.
He said there were several demand site generators around the country, capable of generating up to one megawatt of power and that these could be pressed into service, should there be shortfalls later on in the year.
And while the focus is now on the rapid increase in the price of electricity with hikes being announce almost weekly by different companies, the issue this coming Winter will be the availability and reliability of the power supply.
In terms of the price increases Dan had this to say: “The reality is that they can tell people to switch to all they like but soon enough there’ll be nobody left to switch to.”
While there’s a strong emphasis on the promotion of the ‘smart meter’ in advertising campaigns, a meter which allows customer track electricity usage and which allows for variable per unit costs during the day, Dan has some advice for people thinking of installing these meters.
"Read the terms and conditions carefully because between 4 in the afternoon and 7 in the afternoon, you could be paying up to 50 cent a unit.
"That has a two way purpose: it’s exactly to educate us to use as little power as possible in that period as well as to generate income.
"Between 12am (midnight) and two in the morning, they might give it to you for five cents.”
He asked why there hadn’t been any advertising aimed at enticing people to adapt their power consumption practices in this way.
"The other thing behind all this is that the Government made astronomical money out of oil, diesel and petrol and now they’re going to make money out of electricity.
"There might be a sea-change in getting people to drive electric cars but at the end of the day, the Government want their pound of flesh.
"They don’t want people to be self sufficient – I don’t know whether people realise that or not.”
While the common perception is that solar panels work best in Summer – and that was certainly true over the past few wieeks when record levels of sunshine were recorded – it’s not so well publicised that solar panels also generate power during the Winter. He measured the amount of power generated by solar panels on his own property between December 15 and the following March 15 – the darkest time of the year, the panels generated more than 2,000 units – a potential saving of up to €1000!
He pointed to the situation in the UK where householders with battery storage attached to their solar power panels and also to the grid are being advised to fill their packs during off peak hours to take advantage of the lower tariffs. “That’s probably a very good idea,” he said. “But who has €10,000 to invest in a battery pack?”
Another issue is whether or not the switch to renewable sources of energy such as wind or solar is having an impact on Ireland’s emissions. According to Dan, the ESB provides an ‘estimate’ about the levels of power from renewable sources it provides.
"If you can’t measure it, you don’t know really,” he said.
Dan is adamant that the gas field off the Cork coast in Barryroe and the LNG terminal at Shannon should be given the go-ahead to ensure that Ireland has a supply of gas to continue to power our generators. Gas is the predomininant source of energy supplying our power needs.
“The minister [Energy and Natural Resources Minister Eamon Ryan] didn’t sign the docket to allow multi-national companies spend the money to bring the gas home, whatever the cost would be but at least we’d have the gas.
"But he was too green – he won’t give permission to build the LNG plant below in Shannon because it uses the word ‘frack’ and the company said it wouldn’t buy any fracked gas – but he will go over to Moneypoint in Co. Clare to generate power out of coal.
“That’s what he’s at – there’s none so blind as those who don’t to see.”