Ireland could be energy independent in under a decade - expert

IRELAND COULD become energy independent in less than a decade using nothing more than wind and hydro power

IRELAND COULD become energy independent in less than a decade using nothing more than wind and hydro power. The technology already exists, the only thing missing is a commitment from Government, according to a Trinity College Dublin scientist.

Prof Igor Shvets outlined how we could break our addiction to oil, end costly imports and become world leaders in renewable technologies in a public talk yesterday in Dublin entitled, Intelligent Energy Options for the Future.

He also believes that pursuing such a course could help reverse the recession by diverting idle building contractors into energy- related construction projects.

Ireland faces a bleak energy future if it fails to act, according to Prof Shvets who is head of Trinity's applied physics research group. We already spend €6 billion a year on energy imports, but our energy worries would end if we moved decisively towards renewable energy options, he said.


Our daily electricity demand can peak at 2.5 billion watts but typically runs at about 1.5 billion watts. We would need no more than four large wind farms, each about 10 kilometres square, to meet all our daily electricity demand, he told his audience in Trinity's McNeill Lecture Theatre.

A greater challenge was to adjust electricity production to meet fluctuations in daily demand, for example during the 4pm to 9pm peak when usage rises sharply. The system must also cope with periods when the wind was slack and electricity production declined, Prof Shvets said.

These peaks and troughs were easily met using pumped storage hydro-electricity production, such as already exists at the ESB's Turlough Hill hydro plant. Water is pumped from a lower reservoir to a higher one at night using off peak electricity. The water is then run back down a pipe through a turbine to produce extra electricity at times of peak demand.

Bath County, Virginia has the largest such plant in the world, capable of producing 2.1 billion watts of electricity, he said. Just one such plant, based on a single artificial lake 20km square and 20 metres deep and 250 metres above sea level, would be needed to produce two billion watts and supply our national electricity requirement, he said. "It is not easy to find a 20km by 20km site but we found plenty if the lake was 750 metres by 750 metres.".

His research group found 30 possible sites for lakes of 500 metre square, dotted along our western seaboard. Developing just 10 of these would easily meet energy peaks and bridge across days with little wind, he said.

The Bath County plant cost €1.3 billion 20 years ago, but Prof Shvets believes costs here would be lower. Only one lake per plant was needed if located within a few kilometres of the sea. Even if costs were comparable this was still less than four months of oil imports.