Green electricity developers say they are shut out of the national grid

State agencies blamed for long delays in processing applications to connect to grid

The Irish Solar Energy Association claims that delays of 12-27 months in connecting new projects to the national electricity grid provided by State company Eirgrid and ESB Networks are shutting out potential extra supplies. Photograph: Paul Hackett/Reuters

The Irish Solar Energy Association claims that delays of 12-27 months in connecting new projects to the national electricity grid provided by State company Eirgrid and ESB Networks are shutting out potential extra supplies. Photograph: Paul Hackett/Reuters

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Delays in getting connections to the national grid are preventing new renewable projects from supplying electricity in the Republic, solar energy developers claim.

Electricity supplies are under pressure from stretched capacity, generator shutdowns and a lack of new power stations to replace ones closed in recent years.

The Irish Solar Energy Association claims that delays of 12-27 months in connecting new projects to the national electricity grid provided by State company Eirgrid and ESB Networks are shutting out potential extra supplies.

Conall Bolger, the lobby group’s chief executive, maintains that practically every renewable project struggles to connect to the grid.

“The costs are highly unpredictable, completely out of line with the rest of Europe and, worst of all, it takes far too long to deliver,” he said.

Mr Bolger said it should take six months from the point at which construction begins for a solar plant to begin generating power, but delays mean it takes more than twice that time.

He added there was a “reasonable expectation” that much of the 796 megawatts (MW) – equal to two gas-generating plants – of solar power approved for price supports would be connected to the grid by now.

“But despite consistent cajoling from the industry nothing seems to speed up the two state agencies to play their part,” he claimed.

Intervene

Mr Bolger said his association wants Minister for Energy Eamon Ryan to intervene on renewable developers’ behalf.

National grid operator Eirgrid responded that it processed all connection applications equally, irrespective of technology.

“Before a project can be progressed to construction, the developer must comply with the contractual obligations in their connection offer,” said the State company.

Eirgrid then moves ahead with the connection as quickly as possible. However, the organisation pointed out that in some cases, it had to reinforce the grid, which in turn could require planning consents, leading to an increase in the time involved.

“The timeframe is also directly influenced by the developers’ own ability to deliver their programme of works,” Eirgrid pointed out. “This includes planning consent, design and construction of their assets.”

The company added that connection costs are tied to variables including a project’s complexity, scale and location.

Solar cells convert the sun’s energy to electricity that homes and businesses can use.

The technology has come under fire recently because its manufacture consumes large amounts of electricity, much of which is supplied by coal-burning plants in China, where most of the world’s solar cells are made.

Fallen

However, the Irish Solar Energy Association maintains that figures show the amount of power needed to produce the cells has fallen over the last three decades.

At the same time, their use cancels out 15 times the greenhouse gas emitted by their manufacture.

The association says that by 2016, solar cells’ emissions were 20 grams of carbon dioxide for every kilowatt hour of electricity they generate, against 143g in 1992.

“That 20g of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour compares to the standard Irish electricity emissions – according to provisional figures from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland – of 295.1g of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour,” said the association.

The lobby group says that other calculations show that, over their life cycle, solar cells produce 96 per cent less emissions than coal and 93 per cent less than gas.

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