Reaping the rewards of wind power
First proposed three years ago, the Spirit of Ireland project aims to turn the country into a net exporter of electricity by using pump storage systems located in coastal regions
ONE OF THE biggest renewable energy projects every conceived of in this country is the Spirit of Ireland. First proposed three years ago, it envisages using coastal-based pump storage facilities to turn Ireland into a net exporter of electricity.
The proposal, which was first conceived by TCD Professor of Applied Physics Igor Shvets, seeks to resolve the biggest issues facing those involved in wind generated electricity, namely what to do when the wind is not blowing.
Some 50 potential sites have been located along Ireland’s Atlantic coast. The Spirit of Ireland would use the excess energy generated by several large wind farms to pump seawater up to a reservoir at the top of a cliff.
The water is released when the wind is slack, turning a turbine which generates huge amounts of electricity.
Pump storage is a proven technology that is used in countries such as Italy and Japan to generate electricity. There is a small one at Turlough Hill in Co Wicklow.
What puts the Spirit of Ireland on another level is the use of seawater for electricity generation.
The proposal is still in the planning stages, but the backers of Spirit of Ireland are hoping that it will be the largest part of a mosaic of interlocking renewable energy projects in the future.
The overall cost of the project is estimated at €3.6 billion. The first round of sourcing funding has been taking place over the last month and it is hoped to raise seed capital which will be used to fund environmental assessments and initial outlines of the Spirit of Ireland project with the aim to have it built within five to six years.
In the meantime, the Spirit of Ireland group has set up Irish Energy Co-operatives. The purpose behind the project is to form a network of community-based renewable energy initiatives to feed into a common grid.
Irish Energy Co-operatives spokesman Cormac Walsh says the aim is to keep electricity generated locally within the local community.
“The local producer-owner model is as good as any other when it comes to maximising employment and RD opportunities of renewable energy – it shouldn’t only be a question of local communities leasing their land to big developer-owned renewables projects,” he says.
“Well planned, medium-scale projects that will attract innovation will keep the secondary benefits of renewable energy in the control of local communities. This is just as important as the big multi-million euro projects.”
The first of these was created last month with the establishment of Fuinneamh Oileáin Árann Comharchumann Teoranta (Aran Islands Energy Co-operative).
The Aran Islands has had a long history of self-reliance. It is hoped not only to make the islands self-sufficient in electricity but to create a hot bed of technological experimentation.
The Aran Islands currently has three wind turbines on Inis Meáin which are not in use. It is hoped that the Aran Islands energy co-op will be able to team up with the new owners of the turbines.