Weather factor feeding into skyrocketing gas prices

Exceptionally low levels of wind in July meant it supplied only 12 per cent of Irish electricity need, compared to 31 per cent in 2020. Natural gas had to fill the gap “already in summer”, says Prof Brian Ó Gallachóir.

uncommon weather patterns in Ireland and throughout much of northwestern Europe have produced havoc with replaceable energy supplies so far this year, contributing to a turbulent period for energy prices.

Low wind conditions – a record low during the summer – and cooler temperatures for the most part from early spring and persisting right by to summer, considerably reduced wind energy capacity.

This fed into a crisis whereby drastic gas shortages across Europe have triggered soaring gas prices, with electricity prices soon to follow. For many, it will be a long winter.

Ireland experienced the coldest April since 2003, explains Ó Gallachóir, an energy specialist with MaREI research centre in UCC, which meant gas reserves were not built up in late Spring, as usually happens.

And it highlights our volatility because of the State’s limited options. In July, 54 per cent of electricity came from natural gas, higher than the UK, with 41 per cent.

“The UK has nuclear strength and biomass strength, which both provide an additional cushion against gas price fluctuations at times when wind speeds are low,” he points out.

That would be fine typically but Ireland’s two main gas-fired strength stations were out of action due to inability to fully service and continue them during Covid-19. That gap is due to be rectified in coming weeks.

Other factors in other places exacerbated matters including a surge in gas and electricity need post Covid-19 and a warm summer in Asia requiring increased air conditioning.

Scaling up reneweables

Europe desperately needs the politically controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia, which is awaiting approval by German regulators. Some analysts believe this explains the squeeze on supplies. Others suggest it makes the case for scaling up renewables.

The collapse of the strength system in Texas due to a winter storm and other weather-related risks (notably a cold break when wind does not blow and electricity need shoots up) had prompted MaREI researchers to estimate the resilience of the Irish supply system earlier this year.

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