In May this year Airtricity entered the Northern Ireland domestic electricity supply market, offering prices that it claims can undercut NIE Energy by as much as 14%. Airtricity already supplied electricity and gas to commercial customers in Northern Ireland and energy to commercial and residential customers in the Republic of Ireland, where it now has 200,000 customers.
Airtricity is now the third largest and fastest growing energy company across the island of Ireland, growing its customer base in the Republic four-fold last year. Its Airtricity Utility Solutions division maintains about 300,000 street lights for 90 councils in Ireland.
Airtricity is a wholly-owned subsidiary of one of the UK’s largest retail energy suppliers, Scottish and Southern Energy plc. SSE has 9.35 million customers and is one of the 30 largest companies listed on the London Stock Exchange. This also makes it one of the biggest energy companies in Europe.
As well as being a retail supplier of energy, SSE is the largest generator of renewable energy in the UK, through its SSE Renewables subsidiary. It operates over 2,200MW of renewable electricity generation capacity. It intends to expand the portfolio to over 15,000MW of renewable energy capacity, through schemes under construction or in development. These renewable energy projects include 18 wind farms in Ireland, producing 400 MW of electricity. Of these, six are in Northern Ireland – including one opened this summer at Slieve Divena in County Tyrone.
The largest new renewable energy project in the UK is currently being developed by SSE, working jointly with RWE npower renewables. The Greater Gabbard offshore wind farm is sited off the Suffolk cost and will have 140 wind turbines in place when it begins operations in 2012.
SSE bought Airtricity in 2008 from a group of private investors, members of its senior management, NTR (a specialist sustainable energy business) and Ecofin (investment managers who specialise in the utility sectors). Airtricity was already a significant operator in the electricity market in Ireland and operated wind farms in many countries, including continental Europe and China. Airtricity disposed of interests in the United States in 2007.