Development of offshore wind energy over the next decade would enable Ireland embrace an electric future and decarbonise its heat, transport and industry, according to SSE Ireland managing director Stephen Wheeler.
Ireland had a real opportunity to make a change in delivering renewable capacity at the scale needed to meet its carbon reduction targets, "if we embrace our offshore wind potential", he told the Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA) spring conference.
“In the short term, projects along the east coast can contribute to our 2030 targets while the west coast presents a longer-term ambition to export excess offshore wind once Ireland has met its own needs,” he added. The latter option would be challenging but floating technology could be successfully deployed there.
He said five projects were in planning or ready to go in the Irish Sea, which could provide four gigawatts of power by 2025. But a pipeline of projects would be required. SSE has seven gigawatts in various stages of development, while its most recent project, the 588 megawatts Beatrice offshore wind farm in Scotland, is due to begin operation this year.
"Our seabed is one of the largest in Europe; more than 10 times the size of our land mass – we need to develop our offshore resources to support Ireland's economy and to decouple economic growth and emissions," added Mr Wheeler.
Technology was making the low-carbon transition more affordable and achievable, he said. By 2025, turbines with a capacity of up to 15 magawatts, and the size of London’s Shard, would be available.
The Government’s renewable electricity support scheme (RESS) had opened the door for offshore wind but was only a first step. “The reality is you don’t have to look too far to see this is working,” he said – referring to the UK, which is planning for 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030.
Yet, he noted, the best wind-resourced country in Europe – Ireland – would be paying fines in 2020 for missing its emission targets. Its failures in this regard “is not something we should be proud of”, though there was better news on adopting renewables and decarbonisng power generation.
Since 2010 almost €70 billion in total has been invested in offshore wind in Europe; “the finance is available if we have the projects”.
What Ireland lacked, however was a policy framework to support offshore; “there is no clear route to market, no process to get an offshore grid connection as quickly as possible or a facilitative planning environment”.
ESB director of generation trading Jim Dollard underlined the importance of enacting the Maritime Area and Foreshore (Amendment) Bill and for RESS auctions that provided clarity to developers.
To ensure success, meaningful engagement with coastal communities was essential and strategic partnerships, because of the higher risk with offshore projects, he added. The deployment of “enabling technologies” such a smart grid, storage options including batteries, and flexible generation would all be necessary if Ireland was to realise a low carbon future.
Peter Harte of the IWEA underlined the need for planning reform, whereby An Bord Pleanála would be sufficiently resourced to give a decision within eight to 12 weeks, as happened with local authorities. "It does not lead to poor decisions," he said.
In addition, there was a need to address the issue of serial objectors to infrastructure who availed of section 50 B of the Planning Act to bring judicial review proceedings. While it was a good idea, it was being “abused horribly” as it allowed “a free bet” in taking proceedings.
Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland chief executive Jim Gannon said fixing and resourcing "the engine" processing infrastructure development and service delivery did not mean taking away the democratisation of planning, but that was a need to make it "transparent and clear".
If Ireland closed peat and coal use in electricity generation in the morning, it would save up to eight million tonnes of CO2 a year, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan told the conference. Moneypoint power station would be out of service, but it was still be possible to power the country through deployment of renewables, use of interconnectors and gas-fired power plants, he said.
Bord na Móna workers in the midlands had the skills necessary to begin retrofitting one million homes with the deployment of heat pumps, insulation, solar panels and electric vehicle recharging points. He suggested that 3,000 people be taken on immediately to undertake this work, and that the programme begin in rural areas – which would also ensure a just transition for those most affected by decarbonisation.