State plans to export renewable electricity as interconnector expansion to Europe and UK agreed

Government to consider new electricity links with Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands – and expand current links to UK and France

A multibillion euro expansion of power interconnectors from Ireland to mainland Europe and the UK has been agreed by the Government, with a view to the State becoming a major exporter of renewable energy.

The plan, approved by Cabinet on Tuesday, aims to ensure Ireland can harness its potential for renewable electricity, particularly offshore wind, after 2030, while more immediately addressing concerns about precarious energy security due to our heavy dependence on imported fossil fuels.

It envisages building interconnectors to France, Spain, Britain and either Belgium or the Netherlands. This is in addition to the €1.6 billion Celtic Interconnector to Brittany from Co Cork which is due to start construction shortly and to be commissioned in 2027, as well as the Greenlink from Co Wexford to Pembroke in Wales, which is due to come into operation next year.

The expansion brings the prospect of cheaper energy bills for households, though it will include buying some nuclear generated electricity from France. The direction of the flow will depend on whichever market has lower energy prices at the time.


Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan welcomed the Cabinet approving the policy statement which “plans to make Ireland central to Europe’s energy future”, he said.

“Electricity interconnectors provide a way to share electricity between countries and proposed new interconnection developments, aligned with the State’s growing renewable energy sector, could allow Ireland to become a net exporter of electricity,” Mr Ryan said.

Interconnectors balance electricity supply and demand between countries and provide a valuable backup power supply when power systems have reduced capacity. They also allow for increased energy imports in the case of an adverse shock, which may occur during extreme weather events.

The key aspects of the new policy include supporting a further connection to the UK by 2030 with another to follow after.

Separately, Cabinet approved a draft memorandum of understanding on energy with the UK.

The statement commits to developing an offshore transmission strategy and to explore the potential for use of multipurpose interconnectors (MPIs) “to maximise export opportunities and facilitate offshore renewable energy development”.

MPIs are subsea electricity cables connecting a country to neighbouring markets but also connecting offshore generation to shore.

“Increased electricity interconnection will be a key enabler in our growing use of renewable energy. It will also play an important role in our transition to become a net energy exporter, making Ireland central to wider European energy plans,” Mr Ryan said.

The island of Ireland has two interconnectors with Britain; the East-West Interconnector from Rush in Co Dubllin to Shotton in Wales; and the Moyle Interconnector linking Northern Ireland and Scotland. The Republic’s interconnection capacity currently stands at 500 megawatts (MW) but is set to more than treble by 2026 to 1,700MW.

It is understood the offshore transmission strategy will be designed to provide certainty for investors, while the policy statement is understood to be “technology agnostic” and will evaluate emerging proven technologies including the possibility of a pan-European supergrid.

EirGrid will continue to have a central role in grid development and design but there will be also be opportunities for commercial projects.

Planning for new interconnectors will be co-ordinated with new phases in offshore renewable energy developments, including supporting inputs into proposed designated maritime area plans (DMAPs) under new marine legislation enacted this month.

Further interconnection will be considered to support export of renewable electricity in the context of other uses, notably green hydrogen.

“Increased electricity interconnection will be a key enabler in our growing use of renewable energy. It will also play an important role in our transition to become a net energy exporter, making Ireland central to wider European energy plans,” Mr Ryan said.

“The integrated forward planning approach outlined within this policy statement, will be aligned with offshore renewable energy forward planning, enabling the delivery of necessary infrastructure to facilitate our energy ambitions,” he said.

The first of the two principal provisions of the memorandum is to facilitate increased high-level co-operation and information sharing between Ireland and the UK, “focused on the energy transition and deployment of onshore and offshore renewable energy, including renewable/low-carbon hydrogen”.

The second provision is increased co-operation specifically focused on exploring opportunities for further interconnection between the island of Ireland and the UK, “including offshore hybrid asset projects, which can comprise offshore wind farms, offshore energy islands and hybrid/multipurpose electricity interconnection”.

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan

Kevin O'Sullivan is Environment and Science Editor and former editor of The Irish Times