Smaller, community-friendly energy projects may be cost-effective – ESRI

Study notes 2030 renewable energy target will be met largely by wind and solar power

With the community acceptance measures, far more locations see some small energy investment while without them the State would have larger installations at fewer locations. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

With the community acceptance measures, far more locations see some small energy investment while without them the State would have larger installations at fewer locations. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

More renewable energy developments acceptable to the public could be achieved without a major jump in costs, a study by the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has concluded.

Such projects would include smaller wind and solar installations that are set back from residential areas. They may also be more cost-effective if public opposition to big projects is sufficiently high, the research said. But it also noted that having smaller installations in more areas would change “the spatial development of energy investment” in the Republic.

The ESRI’s study noted that the State’s 2030 renewable energy target – to have 70 per cent of its electricity needs generated from renewable sources – will be met primarily by wind and photovoltaic solar power.

However, as in other countries, there is significant public opposition to the development of some renewable energy projects. As a result, several measures to increase “community acceptance” have been proposed.

Set-back distance

These include increasing the set-back distance of projects from residences, limiting the overall scale of the project and increasing self- sufficiency, whereby locally installed renewable energy projects serve a greater proportion of local electricity demand.

The ESRI report analysed the potential additional cost of pursuing these measures and the spatial impact on the electricity system itself.

It did this by limiting the capacity at each location on the grid, which it said mimics the effects of increased set-back distances, increased self-sufficiency and reduced scale.

The study found the increase in costs from these more community-friendly policies “is slight”, equivalent to about 3 per cent. But the spatial development of energy investment varies considerably.

With the community acceptance measures, far more locations see some small energy investment, while without them the State would have larger installations at fewer locations.

Transmission system

The transmission system would require more upgrades under the least-cost larger installation scenario, as renewable supply must be exported from high-generation regions to high-demand regions, the study noted.

In contrast, the policy-driven development means less demands on the transmission system, as more energy is generated and consumed locally.

The study concluded “the increased cost of public acceptance policies is relatively small, but the local effects vary significantly”.

“Policymakers may consider the increased costs to be justified if costs from public opposition, such as delays to infrastructure development, are sufficiently high,” it said.

“Second, the increased costs from the policy-driven scenario increase as the renewable energy target itself increases. This increase in costs is ultimately borne by consumers which may in turn fuel opposition to renewable energy development,” it said.