Ireland and United Kingdom have signed agreements to scale up co-operation on renewable energy, notably offshore wind and green hydrogen production, with Britain strengthening commitments to maintain the security of the State’s natural gas supplies over the coming decades.
The agreements, signed in London on Monday, maximise co-operation on energy with the UK despite Brexit while the Government believes they will enable Ireland to achieve net-zero emissions — a key priority of its climate policy — sooner than a 2050 target.
The UK is to provide know-how on scaling up offshore wind and guarantee gas supplies to Ireland, which are set to increase from 75 per cent of supplies to 90 per cent in coming years as the Corrib gasfield depletes.
Even if there is a disruption to supplies, the UK has agreed there will be equal “pain sharing” so the State will not be penalised in comparison to parts of the UK, with any reductions to be on “a proportional basis across the UK and Ireland”.
Two memorandums of understanding were signed by Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan and UK secretary of state for energy security and net zero Claire Coutinho. They include an agreement to build two power interconnectors between the island of Ireland and Britain by the mid-2030s. One already exists while another is being built connecting Co Wexford to Pembroke in Wales, which is due to come into operation next year.
The agreements will make it easier to export Irish renewable electricity — likely to be generated from its offshore wind resources — and include commitments on helping to build energy networks including shared grids capable of serving several markets at the one time and significantly reducing infrastructure costs. The UK is already leading development of such “multipurpose hybrid assets” in the North Sea.
“Climate change does not recognise borders so it is vital that we work in collaboration with our closest neighbours when it comes to realising the potential of renewable energy to achieve our climate goals and greater energy security,” said Mr Ryan.
Improved co-operation on offshore renewable energy, offshore grids and enhanced interconnection was productive and timely for the Republic because of the UK’s status as the global leader in the development of offshore renewable energy, and Ireland’s considerable offshore renewable resource, he added.
“In future most of our energy needs will be met by renewable electricity, but as we transition natural gas will play a crucial back-up role in Ireland’s energy system. I welcome the opportunity to reaffirm and strengthen the well-established arrangements and engagement with the UK as we work to enhance the security of energy supply in parallel to decarbonising our economy.”
‘Shared energy goals’
Ms Coutinho said: “As two nations committed to boosting energy resilience and reaching net zero, today marks a historic moment for the UK and Ireland, as we work more closely together to achieve our shared energy goals.”
The agreements, she added, will “deepen our energy partnership with Ireland, to deliver cheaper, cleaner and more secure energy to our homes and businesses, and grow our economies”.
Mr Ryan told The Irish Times the energy co-operation and gas security elements “go together”. Combined with getting interconnection right, this would provide a more secure, cleaner and affordable energy system “which is good for both countries. Despite Brexit everybody realises you have to co-operate on energy”.
There is commitment to develop an offshore transmission strategy exploring “potential for multipurpose interconnectors in order to maximise export opportunities and facilitate offshore renewable energy development”, Mr Ryan confirmed. This was with a view to providing a European “supergrid” with the ability to transmit power rapidly to where it was needed. This would be challenging but not impossible but governments needed to make the technology, economics and regulation of this work.
This was about balancing variable supply and demand across Europe including the UK, he underlined. “You can’t do net zero without that,” he said.