Next two years ‘critical’ for Ireland’s offshore wind energy sector

Irish Wind Energy Association says single biggest barrier to development is Ireland’s electricity transmission grid

Offshore wind energy is at the heart of Ireland’s climate plan to cut emissions in the electricity sector by two-thirds

Offshore wind energy is at the heart of Ireland’s climate plan to cut emissions in the electricity sector by two-thirds

 

Ireland has a pipeline of offshore wind projects big enough to deliver major decarbonisation and to meet key Government targets, but lack of a robust planning system risks derailing development, according to an Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA) report.

If combined with failure to strengthen the national grid over the next decade to take this new source of power, “we are on track to fall well short of the target”, the report published on Monday warns.

The Building Offshore Wind report shows how the programme for government’s target of 5 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind energy can be met, but what the Government does over the next two years will determine whether Ireland reaches this 2030 target.

With modelling of possible scenarios it concludes Ireland can become “a consistent net energy exporter” if expansion is directed with the appropriate policies, infrastructure and planning framework.

The report is the fourth in a series setting out Ireland’s pathway to a 70 per cent renewable electricity system by the end of the decade.

Based on the analysis, IWEA chief executive Dr David Connolly pointed out starkly: “If a project does not have planning permission by the end of 2025 it will not be built by the end of the decade. It is as simple as that, which means today we are on course to fail unless immediate action is taken.

“We have the pipeline to deliver our 2030 target with more than 16GW of offshore projects at some stage of development off the coast of Ireland. But we do not have a planning regime for offshore wind, there is no system for projects to connect to the electricity grid and no way for them to sell their power on the market,” he said.

Wind energy was already delivering more CO2 savings than every other form of renewable energy combined, he said. “With 5GW of offshore wind energy we can make this Government’s vision a reality and cut carbon emissions in the electricity sector by more than 7 per cent annually. But it cannot, and it will not, happen unless the problems we have identified are resolved.”

Essential

The report spells out eight recommendations to Government that it considers are essential to enable industry to develop projects in time.

These include:

– Enacting the Marine Planning and Development Management (MPDM) Bill – which creates an offshore planning system – by the end of the first quarter of 2021;

– Setting clear statutory deadlines for decisions on wind farm planning applications and provide Bord Pleanála with staff and additional expertise to process applications promptly;

– Starting now to develop the transmission system on the east coast to integrate the power from these offshore wind farms;

– Holding the first offshore wind energy auction as soon as possible in 2021 and plan more to ensure enough new contracts are issued by 2025 to provide 5 GW of power.

Some progress is visible with the MPDM Bill starting its way through the Oireachtas, it adds, while commitments from Minister for Climate Action Eamon Ryan indicates an offshore auction, offering an agreed price, will take place next year.

“We need to acknowledge there has been a substantial increase in the time, energy and resources the Government is putting into development of offshore wind energy. No one could deny they are taking this seriously and moving forward,” said Dr Connolly.

The scale of what we are being asked to accomplish is unlike anything ever done in Ireland before, the IWEA analysis points out. “Building 5GW of offshore wind energy in 10 years – creating an entirely new industry from next to nothing – requires urgent, rapid and co-ordinated policy development.”

This needs to include a wide range of Government departments, State agencies and other key stakeholders, particularly coastal and fishing communities, he said. “We need to acknowledge the progress this Government is making while also being clear that we need to accelerate.”

The IWEA report concludes the single biggest barrier to development is Ireland’s electricity transmission grid. EirGrid, which operates the grid, estimates the east coast of Ireland can accommodate 1.5GW of wind energy yet the programme for government ambition is for 5GW.

Dr Connolly added: “Our members will not build wind farms to sit idle off our coast. We must get the power to shore. Industry needs to know EirGrid and ESB Networks will have the resources they need to develop the grid and have the confidence it will be reinforced in time.

“It can take years to build infrastructure to strengthen the transmission grid. This work needs to start immediately if it is to be completed in time to ensure the Ireland of 2030 is one that is powered by renewable energy.”

Over the first 11 months of 2020, wind energy provided 37 per cent of Ireland’s electricity. In 2018, according to the most recent report from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, wind energy avoided 3.15 million tonnes of CO2 and cut our fossil fuel import bill by €432 million.

This will accelerate the ongoing decline in CO2 emissions from the electricity sector and drastically cut Ireland’s bill for foreign fossil fuel imports, the report predicts.

Emissions

Offshore wind energy is at the heart of the climate plan’s ambition to cut emissions in the electricity sector by two-thirds and increase the renewable energy share of electricity demand to 70 per cent by 2030 from its current 35 per cent.

Already Ireland has an offshore wind energy pipeline at various stages of development, it confirms; enough to supply more than Ireland’s electricity needs.

Beyond 2030, as the costs of developing and connecting floating offshore wind energy continue to fall, progress towards a net-zero electricity system will become unstoppable, it finds.

“With the necessary levels of interconnection there is no reason why Ireland’s offshore wind industry cannot provide increasing amounts of power to its neighbours, turning Ireland into a consistent net energy exporter for the first time in line with the programme for government ambition to export 30GW.”