Northern Ireland Electricity
|Private (subsidiary of ESB Group)|
|Founded||25 October 1991|
|Revenue||£693.2 million (2006)|
Number of employees
Northern Ireland Electricity Networks Limited (NIE Networks) is the electricity asset owner of the transmission and distribution infrastructure in Northern Ireland. NIE Networks does not generate or supply electricity. NIE Networks is a subsidiary of ESB Group.
NIE Networks has three transmission interconnectors with the transmission grid in the Republic of Ireland. The main interconnector was built in 1970 between Tandragee and Louth but "the Troubles" saw the interconnector destroyed in 1975 and left in that state for twenty years until repair.
NIE Networks should not be confused with Power NI, its own former supply business, which was not part of the sale to the ESB and remains owned by Viridian. NIE Energy changed its name to Power NI on 25 July 2011, as ESB retained the NIE name in Northern Ireland.
In 1973 the Northern Ireland Electricity Service (NIES) was formed as a public utility to generate, transmit and supply electricity to Northern Ireland.
During the Ulster Workers' Council strike in 1974, when electricity supplies were severely disrupted, the government considered generating power using Royal Navy nuclear submarines in Belfast Lough but the idea was abandoned as being technically unfeasible.
In 1991, the company was incorporated as a government-owned public limited company, Northern Ireland Electricity plc. In 1992 the four power stations at Belfast Harbour, Ballylumford, Coolkeeragh and Carrickfergus (Kilroot) were demerged and sold. In 1993 the remainder of NIE (transmission, supply and retail businesses) was privatised as Northern Ireland Electricity plc. In 1998, Northern Ireland Electricity plc became part of Viridian Group plc, with Northern Ireland Electricity a subsidiary of that holding company.
NIE has been criticised for having the most expensive electricity in Europe. This is attributed to a number of factors including the small population of Northern Ireland, the large areas of thinly populated countryside the company is required to serve and the network's over-dependence on oil-fired generation. The introduction of the Single Electricity Market (SEM) in Ireland in late 2007 was designed to increase competition in the Northern Ireland market.
In 2008 NIE Networks sponsored a new solar roof for Straidhavern Primary School through its Smart programme.
In May 2010 NIE Energy Supply announced that it will be running a scheme to help farmers afford solar-powered water heaters.
On 7 July 2010 BBC News reported that ESB was to purchase NIE for £1 billion. On 21 September 2010 it was revealed unionist politicians (Peter Robinson and Reg Empey) had written to the Taoiseach objecting to the transaction. They said it was "inappropriate" and that it amounted to the purchase of a "key component" of Northern Ireland's infrastructure. ESB is a statutory corporation in the Republic of Ireland whose board members are appointed by the Irish government.
Acquired by ESB in December 2010, NIE Networks remains an autonomous organisation with its own Board and management teams and separate regulation via the Utility Regulator.
Its transmission and distribution network consists of 45,000 kilometers of overhead lines and underground cables, 75,000 pole mounted transformers and 258 major substations. As of 2018, NIE Networks transports power to over 840,000 business and domestic customers.
Network monitoring and control
NIE Networks operates the distribution network from a primary control centre based at Carn Industrial Estate, Craigavon, County Armagh. A secondary control centre in Omagh, County Tyrone, provides a disaster recovery facility, and control is regularly assigned to the Omagh control centre for testing. The primary control centre is staffed 24 hours a day, and adjoins the Customer Contact Centre and Dispatch room. Using the Oracle Utilities Network Management System, the control centre staff can monitor the status of circuit breakers and other assets in both the 11kV and 33kV networks using SCADA.
A detailed computer model is supplemented by a large wall-mounted mimic board which features LED indicators showing the status of key assets, and paper diagrams drawn by NIE Networks' in-house drawing team.
Much use is made of custom-created information systems for reporting on the status of faults between the Customer Contact Centre, Dispatch, the Control Room and the Incident Centre.
NIE Networks has developed a set of procedures for dealing with major incidents, such as storms and snow, driven by the Boxing Day Storm of 1998, during which 162,000 customers were off-supply. At the company's office in Craigavon, a small incident management room sits in a constant state of readiness. Each week, the Duty Incident Manager meets with the other designated incident team members, in charge of resources, customer contact and network status, to perform a risk assessment of the week ahead.
The risk assessment takes into account the weather forecast, provided by the Met Office, notable events happening throughout Northern Ireland, such as concerts or VIP visits, and any planned maintenance on the network, or services required for the normal operation of the system such as IT and telecoms. The team assess the risks and decide if any action should be taken to mitigate them. If any risk factor is deemed too high, such as a strong chance of high winds over 45kts, a pre-planned escalation can be scheduled for the day in question. At any time, if there are many concurrent faults, the control room staff can escalate to an Incident Level. During an incident escalation, the Duty Incident Manager and their team man the incident room continuously and co-ordinate operations between dispatch of linesmen and other field staff, communications with customers and the media, and resourcing.
5% of NIE Networks' staff are paid a retainer to be available on-call. Every member of staff has a secondary roll, right up to the Managing Director. During a major incident, staff may be called upon to fulfil their secondary role, which may involve answering calls from customers in the Contact Centre or helping to co-ordinate operations.
One of the major criticisms levelled at NIE during the Boxing Day Storm was the inability of customers to obtain up-to-date and accurate information on the expected resolution time of faults, and in many cases customers simply could not contact the company at all. To prevent this from happening again, NIE have retained Eckoh plc to provide the High Availability Call Answering system (HVCA) from Twenty First Century Communications. This system automatically directs callers to an automated IVR system when all of the company's call handlers are unavailable. This system captures information from the caller to identify their premises, and automatically links them to a known fault if possible. Once tagged to a fault, the customer is provided up-to-date status information by the automated system.
HVCA operates at the telecoms network level, and means that thousands of simultaneous calls can be handled, ensuring that customers never hear an engaged tone.
Normally staffed by 6 people during the day (overnight, calls are taken by the Dispatchers), the Contact Centre has the capacity to be expanded up to 70 call handlers during a major incident.
The company is currently (June 2016) experimenting with publishing live fault information on Twitter, and provides updates from 9am until 4.30pm during the week. From Monday 13 June 2016, this will be extended until 6pm each night.
- List of Irish companies
- Energy policy of the United Kingdom
- Energy use and conservation in the United Kingdom
- Green electricity in the United Kingdom
- Electricity sector in Ireland
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