EirGrid’s Mark Foley reveals the future of Ireland’s electricity grid

3 Mar 2020

Mark Foley, EirGrid CEO. Image: Connor McKenna/Siliconrepublic.com

EirGrid CEO Mark Foley sat down to talk about the Celtic Interconnector, Brexit and what we can learn about energy from the likes of Denmark.

Ireland’s national grid is about to undergo one of its biggest transformations since the Ardnacrusha hydroelectric power plant was switched on in 1929, or since the great electrification of the country started in the 1940s.

Now, with our planet staring down the barrel of a climate crisis, the grid must rapidly transition from one supplied almost entirely by fossil fuels, to one overwhelmingly powered by renewables such as wind and solar energy.

Speaking with Siliconrepublic.com, EirGrid CEO Mark Foley said the transformation of Ireland’s grid is “a revolution, not an evolution”. EirGrid is responsible for ensuring Ireland’s national electricity grid is able to handle what’s asked of it on any given day, but also prepare for what’s coming, years – if not decades – in advance.

“Future generations speak to the existential threat that’s climate change and the fact that the next generation – my children, my grandchildren – are looking at us to solve the problems before they’re left with an environment that makes life impossible,” Foley said.

One of EirGrid’s crown jewels is yet to be completed, but will be one of the largest Irish infrastructure projects of the decade, again reminding us of the switching on of Ardnacrusha.

Last October, the Irish Government announced that the EU will contribute €530m to the €1bn Celtic Interconnector project, which will connect Ireland to Europe’s electric grids via an undersea network linking east Cork with Brittany, France.

With construction set to start in 2022, it is aimed to be completed by 2026, by which time it will bring 700MW of capacity to the grid, making it enough to power 450,000 households.

The Brexit effect

While allowing us to tap into vast renewable systems from mainland Europe, this plan also gives us greater energy security following the events of Brexit.

Giving a sense of the challenge at hand, Foley said the political fallout has led to a lot of unhelpful speculation.

“We used that time to work with all of the stakeholders; to look at what the different scenarios might be. We formed the considered view that the impact of Brexit on the all-Ireland, single electricity market will be minimal,” he said.

“The single electricity market [on the island of Ireland] is the single best example of north/south collaboration since the Troubles ended. It’s delivered security supply, it has delivered a power system that can handle 36pc renewables last year and it has delivered lower costs.”

International outreach isn’t limited to France and the UK, however. Foley also said that EirGrid is expanding its outreach internationally, such as trying to learn from global renewable leaders such as Denmark.

“We’re in big outreach mode and we also intend to establish technical partnerships with global players, technology companies to come in here, work with us and help us on this journey to deliver a green power system,” Foley said.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic