IOOA CEO, Mandy Johnston, writes for Irish Independent
Our vulnerability as a country in an uncertain world has been laid bare for all to see. Covid-19 has shown how quickly life as we know it can be changed utterly. The tragic legacy of Covid-19, the harsh reality of Brexit, as well as the international tussle between Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United States over energy, each represent a challenge to our ability to recover.
It is time to reflect and where necessary amend our medium and long-term strategies, back-up plans and contingencies. As the Russian-Saudi relationship swung radically from co-operation to competition, it is worth remembering that global political power plays are no longer far-off war games; they will eventually land on individual doorsteps.
Imagine how different the landscape would be if the next crisis were deepened by power cuts, blackouts and brown-outs. Homes, businesses and in a health crisis even our hospitals struggling to have the power to carry out daily routines.
Yet the security of Ireland’s own energy supply has been notable only for its absence in terms of Brexit preparations, our response to fresh international power plays and in so far as we can ascertain, even in the inter-party talks on the formation of a new Government.
The harsh reality is that Ireland is uniquely vulnerable in Europe and the prospect of the lights going out during future international uncertainty is very real.
Since the 1970s, our offshore natural gas fields, first at Kinsale Head and later at Corrib, have buffered us from the energy impact of wars, global stand-offs and shortages. It is also worth noting that the current emergency has coincided with a period of high atmospheric pressure over Ireland.
As the winds dropped, natural gas from the Cork and Mayo coasts stepped up, providing up to 75pc of electricity generation.
However, the wind-down of those existing fields is now becoming real. This means that in the not-too-distant future, all the gas, along with all the oil, we need to supplement our renewable power will have to be imported.
With the ability to only store eight days’ national supply itself, do we honestly believe that post-Brexit Britain would in the event of a shortage give priority to powering Ireland?
Such an energy shortage is not unthinkable. It was just three months ago that fresh tension between the US and Iran sparked fears of such a shortage. Or closer to home, what if UK energy workers were ordered to stay home because of a virus or strike?
The only way we can keep our own independent energy security and end our reliance on Britain is to repeat the success of Kinsale and Corrib. Science tells us the prospects are good. Such a find will also give us the space needed to develop other untapped Irish energy sources, such as the wind and waves off our Atlantic coast.
Our new Government, whatever its formation, must at the very least look to address a serious weak point in our national security.
Once they have taken that step, with the right vision they could also see the potential off our coast and promote and support a sector which not only powers our economy but delivers jobs where they are needed most, in rural and coastal communities.
Ensuring we have secure, always-on energy to keep our lights on would be a good place to start.
Mandy Johnston is CEO of the Irish Offshore Operators’ Association