Floating wind energy can transform Ireland into a European renewable energy superpower if the Government acts now to put the right policies in place to enable the industry to start building floating wind farms this decade.
A lot of us are familiar with the first generation of fixed-bottom wind farms on our east coast where the base of the turbine is fixed to the seabed. But a turbine can also be mounted on a floating platform that is then secured to the seabed by mooring cables and anchors. These floating wind turbines can be deployed at much greater depths than fixed-bottom turbines, thereby significantly increasing the scale of the opportunity for Ireland.
The potential of floating offshore wind (FLOW) energy off the west and southern coasts of Ireland is huge. If enabled in the proper manner, offshore wind energy in Ireland would not only contribute to our own renewable goals but such is the scale of the potential that Ireland could export enormous amounts of clean energy to Europe.
As it stands, the Programme for Government contains a target for 5,000 MW of offshore wind energy by 2030 and, in the long-term, 30,000 MW off our western coast. While most of the 2030 target will be delivered through existing fixed-bottom turbine technology, a proactive approach from Government is needed to ensure floating wind turbines are in the water before the end of the decade. This would unlock our floating wind potential and kick-start an entirely new industrial sector for Ireland, which has never been seen before.
Floating wind energy is not simply an idea. A strong pipeline of projects are under development in other countries, ready to seek consent and to be built once the proper policy and regulatory framework is put in place.
The fact is our neighbours are forging ahead of us. We only have to look across the water to see ambition and action. The UK, France and Norway have so far shown the greatest ambition: the UK has set a 2030 target of 1 GW of FLOW – enough to power circa 800,000 homes – and announced plans to design new leasing opportunities for early commercial-scale projects in the Celtic Sea.
France, meanwhile, has launched its first commercial-scale tender for a floating wind project of between 230 and 270 MW to begin operation this decade, with further tenders planned for the coming years; while Norway has recently opened three areas of up to 500 MW each for FLOW. When governments act the industry responds and clean sources of energy get built.
There are a number of specific actions that can help transform Ireland’s energy outlook when it comes to floating wind energy. Firstly, floating wind energy projects must be allowed to carry out essential environmental surveys outside the 12 nautical mile limit. To do this the Government must amend the Maritime Area Planning Bill. This is a simple step that must be prioritised.
We must also plan our electricity grid to deal with an influx of floating wind energy. To facilitate this, EirGrid must ensure that their new strategy for grid development, due out later this year, strengthens the grid on the western and southern coasts where most floating wind projects are located and will be further developed.
Another area the Government must anticipate and support to realise a renewable energy future is the infrastructure required to build and maintain offshore energy. Investments in our ports infrastructure must be anticipated, and delivered in the coming years. The wind will blow but we need viable bases on land from which we can service the floating turbines.
It is vital that the offshore renewable energy auction planned for 2025 has a dedicated floating wind energy pot to support projects that are ready to go. This would not only be a strong signal to the sector, but would be a good stake in the ground in the journey towards making this country a superpower.
We cannot overstate the industrial potential in floating wind off the coast of Europe’s most westerly island. If we are to be truly global leaders we must put floating wind energy at the heart of a new industrial strategy for renewable energy backed by the strategic engagement of the IDA and Enterprise Ireland.
It will require the full might of the state, its expertise, resources and knowledge to help Ireland become a superpower of renewable energy, but the opportunity is immense.
This could be hugely positive for this country and we need to strike now to reap the benefits in the coming decades. Floating wind energy is a resource waiting for Government action. It is part of the jigsaw that could help Ireland become a true climate action leader.
Val Cummins is chairwoman of Wind Energy Ireland’s floating committee