Entrepreneur and energy supergrid promoter Eddie O’Connor dies

Former chief executive of Bord na Móna went from being Ireland’s ‘leading polluter’ to a prominent promoter of renewable energy

Irish businessman and renewable energy entrepreneur Eddie O’Connor has died. Mr O’Connor was a former chief executive of Bord na Móna, the founder of Airtricity and the co-founder of Mainstream Renewables and SuperNode.

A former purchasing manager with the ESB, he went on to become chief executive of Bord na Móna before a late career change.

Mr O’Connor, who was 76, switched to the renewable energy sector in the late 1990s and went on to become one of its key business figures, with his latest project the promotion of a pan-European “supergrid” for renewable energy.

The ventures he established after leaving Bord na Móna made him an extremely wealthy man, although he told The Irish Times in 2021 that wealth accumulation was not his primary motivator.


“Money never motivated me,” he said, adding that he had been living in the same “small house” since 1988. “I’m very rich now and I have to manage that.”

From Roscommon, Mr O’Connor had a degree in chemical engineering and a master’s in industrial engineering, both from University College Dublin, as well as a doctorate in business administration.

Housing in 2024: ‘several more years before we see the quantity of houses we need’

Listen | 31:21

He was appointed chief executive of Bord na Móna in 1987 and radically overhauled its strategic focus over nine years. He left acrimoniously after its board concluded his remuneration package breached government guidelines.

In 1997 he became the founder and chief executive of Irish wind farm development company Airtricity. In January 2008 the business was sold for €2 billion to E. ON and Scottish & Southern Energy in a deal that was reported to have netted Mr O’Connor €40 million.

After Airtricity, Mr O’Connor was involved in the establishment of Mainstream Renewable Power, which went on to hold wind and solar assets in Europe, Latin America, Africa and the Asia Pacific region.

In May 2021 the Norwegian company Aker Horizons acquired a majority stake in Mainstream, and a year later Japanese multinational Mitsui became a long-term strategic investor.

The sale to Aker was worth approximately €500 million to Mr O’Connor, who described it in his 2021 interview as “a serious bit of loot at the ripe old age of 73″.

Meanwhile, he and Mainstream were developing the SuperNode project, which involves the projected use of extremely thin, superconductive metals cooled with liquid nitrogen to distribute electricity from renewable sources across Continent-wide areas.

Mr O’Connor also began to promote the idea of a European supergrid that would facilitate getting cheap offshore energy in northwestern Europe and solar energy from around the Mediterranean to where there was the most demand – in the centre of Europe.

More recently, Mainstream has encountered a large financial reversal. Following pretax losses of more than €1.2 billion in the period since the start of 2022, it announced a plan late last year to cut its cost base by more than one-third.

In his 2021 interview with The Irish Times, Mr O’Connor recalled how, during his time with Bord na Móna, a director had spoken to him about how the peat the company produced and burned in its electricity generating stations was damaging to the environment.

“I said: ‘Really? But that’s the only way we make electricity,’ and I was the leading polluter at the time in Ireland, responsible for 10 million tonnes of CO² from peat used in power generation. From then on, I decided this [renewable energy] was going to be the mission.”

Mr O’Connor’s book, Supergrid – Super Solution: The Key to Solving the Energy Crisis and Decarbonising Europe, which was co-authored by Kevin O’Sullivan, Environment and Science Editor with The Irish Times, was published in March 2023.

Diagnosed with an illness last year, Mr O’Connor was working until recently. He is immediately survived by his wife Hildegarde, daughter Lesley and son Robert.

Noel Cunniffe, chief executive of Wind Energy Ireland, paid tribute to Mr O’Connor, saying he “revolutionised how we produce and use energy in this country”.

“Ireland’s wind energy industry was built on the foundations he and others laid in the 1990s and their vision of a cleaner, more prosperous, energy future for all of us.

“In recent years he has pioneered the idea of a trans-European supergrid, an electricity transmission system that can be the foundation of an energy-independent Europe, no longer reliant on imported fossil fuels, delivering warmer homes, cleaner air and leading the response to the global climate emergency.

“Working together to make this idea a reality, to achieve energy independence and to build a clean energy future, is the best way to honour a man who gave so much to our industry and to this country.”

Eamon Ryan, Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications and Minister for Transport, said he was “truly saddened to learn of Eddie O’Connor’s passing”.

“He was, without doubt, a true pioneer when it came to the development of wind energy, both in Ireland and across the globe.

“From his time as chief executive of Bord na Móna to his establishment of Airtricity and the subsequent creation of Mainstream Renewable Power and SuperNode, he was always several years ahead of everyone else in his thinking,” Mr Ryan said.

Mr O’Connor, he said, was not just one of the first people to understand Ireland’s enormous potential for renewable energy, but he had also acted upon it. “More recently, he has been a passionate and articulate advocate for a European supergrid, which he understood would ensure people across the Continent would enjoy clean, secure energy into the future,” he said.

“There are few people who will leave behind such a positive and long-lasting legacy as him.”

Ibec chief executive Danny McCoy said: “Eddie O’Connor was an inspiring business leader with a bold vision and the capacity to get things done, as demonstrated throughout his varied career, making him a prominent and successful renewable energy entrepreneur.”

John Fitzgerald, chief executive of SuperNode, said Mr O’Connor was “a rare and amazing person with great intelligence, vision, vitality, courage and resolve”. He said everyone at the company was “devastated” by the loss of Mr O’Connor.

Noel Cunniffe, chief executive of Wind Energy Ireland, said: Eddie O’Connor revolutionised how we produce and use energy in this country. Ireland’s wind energy industry was built on the foundations he and others laid in the 1990s and their vision of a cleaner, more prosperous, energy future for all of us.”

  • Sign up for push alerts and have the best news, analysis and comment delivered directly to your phone
  • Find The Irish Times on WhatsApp and stay up to date
  • Our In The News podcast is now published daily – Find the latest episode here
Colm Keena

Colm Keena

Colm Keena is an Irish Times journalist. He was previously legal-affairs correspondent and public-affairs correspondent