Brexit a ‘bump in the road’ for Irish single electricity market

Brexit is just a “bump in the road” for the all-island integrated single electricity market in Ireland (I-SEM), and will not have any effect on the project in the long-term.

“The direction of travel is clear,” said Patrick Keatley, a research fellow at the Centre for Sustainable Technologies at the University of Ulster. “It would be insane, having got as far as we have with the SEM [single electricity market], not to continue on that road and to turn away from an all-island interconnected system and market, which works for everybody on the island.

“It would be nuts to turn away from that to become a weakly-connected appendage of the [Great Britain] system, and I don’t think we’ll end up there,” said Keatley, speaking at an energy conference in Belfast, organised by the Policy Forum for Northern Ireland. “Because we share many of the same challenges, it makes much more sense for us to integrate further with the all-island system.”

Chief technical advisor at the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Bob Hanna, insisted the delay to the I-SEM “was not because of Brexit”, but was “for pragmatic reasons, and to ensure we get it right”.

The I-SEM was originally due to go live on 1 October 2017, but the SEM Committee announced last month that a delay to the programme meant this would not happen until at least 23 May 2018. The Committee said this was because of “a number of implementation challenges that could not be surmounted by October 2017”.

However, Hanna assured conference delegates that “having succeeded, we are not going to walk away from the I-SEM.”

Also speaking at the conference, deputy chair of the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Committee for the Economy, Steve Aiken, said: “We need to see some of the physical manifestations of what we can do to minimise the effect of a potentially hard Brexit.”

He said projects the Committee would like to see going ahead “very quickly” are the north-south interconnector and the I-SEM.

“Those two things would clearly state that we’re working hard to make sure there isn’t a hard border [between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland],” he added. “We consider all-island assimilation as the best thing for the energy market.”