Coal-fuelled Moneypoint may be needed to produce more power during cold snap  

As Cop28 gets underway, the Co Clare power station is likely to step up production to fill the gap left by becalmed wind turbines
Coal-fuelled Moneypoint may be needed to produce more power during cold snap  

A cyclist enjoying the Ring of Clare route on the Wild Atlantic Way with Moneypoint power station in the distance. The coal-fuelled power station is likely to step up production during the cold snap to fill the gap left by renewables. Picture: Brian Arthur

The giant coal-fuelled Moneypoint power station is likely to be used to produce additional power to meet the all-Ireland grid's electricity need in the coming days, helping to offset a fall-off in power supply from renewables as the wind calms, and meeting extra demand as a cold snap settles in across the country.

The Co Clare power station is one of the largest generators across Ireland and runs throughout the year. It can generate additional power when stepped up to its full capacity of 900MW to make up the shortfall from other electricity sources — such as from wind-generated power, when the wind doesn't blow.   

It is the only large power station on the island that still uses highly-polluting coal. 

However, its additional capacity is likely be required to make up any fall back in supply north and south if wind turbines are becalmed, or if demand climbs for heating due to a cold snap. 

The potential for the coal-powered Moneypoint to plug potential production shortfalls comes as the latest United Nations climate conference, Cop28, convenes later this week in the United Arab Emirates. 

Moneypoint was due to be repurposed from relying on coal, but that programme has faced delays. The ESB-owned plant is due to cease burning coal in 2025 by switching to heavy oil.

Power stations fuelled by gas — which is designated by the European Commission as an essential climate transition fuel — account on average for over half of the electricity generated on the all-Ireland grid during the winter months. Wind power makes up most of the rest of demand during the winter, with the coal-fired Moneypoint also contributing.  

Wind power in the last winter season, which was marked by a number of Atlantic storms, accounted for 41% of the electricity demand on the all-Ireland system.

Nonetheless, as a coal-fired station, Moneypoint has played an increasingly important role in potentially plugging gaps in energy security on the island of Ireland since the Europe-wide energy crisis was sparked when Russia invaded Ukraine last year. 

Since the war began, plentiful Russian supplies of gas to the big industrial economies of Germany and other parts of the continent have dramatically fallen away. Prices of natural gas soared at one stage on European markets early last year. 

Prices of European wholesale gas which help generate large amounts of electricity across the continent have more recently fallen back, but still remain significantly higher than before the Ukraine war. A build-up of European Union-mandated gas storage facilities across the continent, and imports of liquified natural gas, or LNG, supplies have also helped settle prices.

Eirgid last month said that the potential for power outages this winter through the end of March have lessened, but its concerns for some system alerts at peak times remain, in particular at times of low wind production.

“The reasons for an improvement in outlook over last year are due largely to the work on the State-led Security of Supply Programme which will have a positive impact on generation capacity and will deliver an expected 270 megawatts of temporary emergency generation this year," Eirgrid said. 

“Further capacity of temporary emergency generation (380 megawatts) and other capacity including batteries, will be delivered in 2024," it said.

"Our nearest trading partner, Great Britain, is also more positive in terms of outlook and arrangements are in place with large energy users who will support the system in the event of any unforeseen challenges with generation capacity."  

Check out the Irish Examiner's WEATHER CENTRE for regularly updated short and long range forecasts wherever you are. Rainfall and temperature charts are also available.

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