Do we really need the interconnectors?
We do need interconnectors if we want cheaper electricity and a more efficient power system. Since the East-West interconnector was built the amount of electricity traded over the interconnector between Ireland and Britain has steadily increased and allowed us to export surplus wind power and buy in cheaper electricity from Britain.
The case for further interconnection will need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis given that we have already met our EU target of 10% interconnection 1. However, the EU has ambitions to increase this target to 15%. Under certain circumstances like increased deployment of intermittent renewables such as wind and solar, it could make economic sense for Ireland to build further interconnectors with other countries.
If national electricity systems across Europe are well connected, it would create a single market that will bring more competition between power companies across Europe, and increased competition in any service generally brings down prices.
The electricity system functioned for many years without an interconnector. While the ESB was aware of the potential benefits of interconnection the economic case was difficult to sustain. However, that situation changed with;
- Advances in high voltage direct current transmission technology that made it more cost-effective to transmit electricity over long distances
- Lower costs of capital (to invest)
- EU support for the interconnector
- The emerging need to accommodate wind energy on the system
These all combined to make the case for public investment in the East-West interconnector. Other developments under consideration include an interconnector to France and other Projects of Common Interest (PCIs) mentioned in the previous question 2,3.
The Commission for Energy Regulation has reported on the performance of the East-West interconnector and EirGrid has stated that it has cut electricity prices by around 8-11%, depending on the year 4,5.