Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 15 February 2022

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action

Commission for Regulation of Utilities Strategic Plan: Discussion

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin Bay North, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the representatives of the CRU to the meeting. I am interested in a few issues. The first is smart metering. I understand that almost 1 million smart meters are now in place in the system. Why are customers not being offered the opportunity to avail of off-peak rates and to avail of charging when renewable energy is on the grid? That could spread peak load. Nearly 1 million meters is very significant; it must be at least half of the customer base. It seems as if we are missing a beat here by not offering those consumers a chance to get cheaper electricity. The cost of energy is a major factor at present.

On another issue that interests me, it is well known that there are very good deals being offered to new customers or customers who switch in the marketplace. However, the impression I get from talking to constituents, particularly older people or people who might be less tech savvy, is that they find it very hard to get somebody to talk to who will agree to make that switch and explain to them their rate and pattern of use. Would the CRU consider introducing a requirement like the one that is applied in the UK, whereby when a contract is coming towards its expiry date not only is the customer informed of that but he or she gets a quick response, QR, code showing his or her patterns and rates of charge and patterns of use? Then the person can easily go to some of the comparison sites and identify a package that would suit his or her needs. We have to confront this friction which effectively allows profiteering from people who are less equipped to make those changes.

I also have a question about the issue of demand management and the pressures that were much reported when the gas plants were out of action. I refer, in particular, to the high users of energy. To what extent has the CRU sought to negotiate with some of these large users the type of flexibility that many of them could bring to their reliance on the grid? Some of these users can divert flow to other parts of their system, not necessarily in Ireland. I know it may have some additional cost for them, but at a time when we are trying to facilitate the digital spread, remote working and all the advantages that come from digital technologies, some flexibility in this would appear to be a route worth travelling.

The last issue on which I am interested to hear our guests' views is offshore renewable technology. In their view, where are we on the timing when that might become competitive in the grid?