Pylons are only a part of what EirGrid does. But, at the moment in any case, it’s the most visible part.
The energy business, a commercial semi-state, is dedicated to the provision of transmission and market services for the benefit of electricity consumers.
It’s an enormous remit, given the sheer scale of the projects involved, currently including the Grid Link project, the Grid West Project, the North South Interconnector and the Grid25 strategy. To do it, the company employs 400 staff, a quarter of them in Northern Ireland.
In recent years it has hit headlines in relation to public protests about the proposed positioning of pylons.
Having a strong commitment to good corporate citizenship ensures the company is always oriented to consider the matter from its stakeholders’ perspective, according to EirGrid Director Michael Walsh. “Our business is about delivering secure electricity and pylons are just one route by which we can do that. We are open to other solutions, whether they be smart grid or other tools,” he said.
“It’s important that we do this in a positive manner, which is why we go through a considerable consultation process in the marketplace.”
In relation to the GridLink project, EirGrid received more than 38,000 responses from members of the public.
“Initially our aim was to gather the broad themes that emerged, and then go back and drill down into the responses we’ve received in more detail. When you’re delivering infrastructure of this scale, it’s very important that you have a very open, visible consultation process.”
While it is the public that is the end user, EirGrid’s customers include energy companies such as Airtricity, ESB, Bord Gais and wind farms across the country. It runs customer relations surveys every two years, to ensure it is scoring well in terms of customer satisfaction, with formal tracking systems in place to track customer metrics, which are then reported to the board on a monthly basis.
“It’s all part of our commitment to continuous improvement,” said Walsh. “Equally, we are constantly looking at ways to improve our procurement processes, running sustainable procurement workshops with suppliers and potential suppliers. What’s more, when we have finished a tender process we go out of our way to give quality feedback to unsuccessful bidders.”
There is a strong business case for doing this, he pointed out.
“This is a very small industry we are in, and acting in this way gives us a reputation as people who are good to do business with, which is an important way for us to keep the pool of suppliers are large as possible. The larger the pool of suppliers, the easier it is for us to do business economically as possible.”
Understandably, work on its commitment to the environment has been to the fore in terms of its CSR activities.
“We have made very strong progress in terms of monitoring our footprint and achieving verifiable goals in relation to reducing emissions, waste and water. We are also making great strides at decarbonising our electricity supply, by integrating renewables such as wind into the supply.”
Helping to foster innovation among its suppliers has helped it on this front.
“One of the biggest factors limiting electricity is that you need your supply to be very stable. As a result of this, traditionally power system operators would only let 10 – 15% of supply come from wind, for example. However, by working with vendors we’ve helped developed a wind stability tool that will allow up to 50% of wind be used, using real time information regarding the system and its stability. We have also worked with different vendors to help develop much better wind forecasting tools, which gives the power system operators more confidence.”
CSR in the workplace initiatives at EirGrid include a top notch training programme for mapping resources in the organisation and upskilling people. Good employee engagement has been crucial in helping the workforce cope with recent structural changes, in particular the process of integration that taken place between operations in Northern Ireland and the Republic.
“It was a very significant change programme but having strong employee engagement and good consultation processes in place enabled that transition to take place very smoothly. What’s more, we captured a lot of feedback at the end of that process which we have learned from and which will of use to us for future reference,” he said.
With so much going on, why bother with the Business Working Responsibly Mark? “For us it’s about ensuring CSR is embedded in the organisation. Given our activities, our visibility and profile, we felt it was important to challenge ourselves to be best practice in CSR terms, and the Mark was the best way to do that.”