As Ireland decarbonises, renewable providers are ready, say Pinsent Masons
Ireland’s vast sea area is ideal for offshore wind farms, but support is needed to deliver
Oisín McLoughlin of Pinsent Masons, which has been at the centre of Irish energy transition through supporting clients with their next wave of projects across a range of technologies
Ireland’s commitment to the long-term, progressive decarbonisation of its energy system presents considerable opportunities for the renewables industry, according to Oisín McLoughlin, senior associate with Pinsent Masons Ireland. “The route to market is becoming clearer with recent policy developments on changes to grid connection processes and the long-awaited publication of a high-level design for the new Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS) last year,” he adds.
Pinsent Masons has been at the centre of this energy transition through supporting clients with their next wave of projects across a range of technologies, McLoughlin points out.
“In solar, there have been hundreds of planning-permission applications for ground-mounted solar PV parks in Ireland. There is no shortage of projects looking for an effective route to market, whether via the RESS or otherwise. In our Dublin office we have a number of our sponsor and developer clients engaged with locally based corporates on opportunities including supply-provision high-energy-using facilities such as data centres that are looking for long-term price security.”
There are also market developments in battery storage. “Battery storage is a good means of smoothing peaks and troughs in electricity generation,” he explains. “It can help ease technical constraints such as frequency control, offsetting the need for grid reinforcement. In addition to becoming of growing importance to the grid, there is potential for co-location opportunities with other technologies to maximise revenue streams and we have seen a number of projects where ground-mounted solar PV parks are examining battery storage for their sites.”
The greatest opportunity, however, may lie in offshore wind, a technology where Ireland was once a world leader. “We need to get back there, and quickly”, says McLoughlin. “The only operational offshore wind farm in Ireland remains the Arklow Bank Wind Park Phase 1 – this has been in place for more than 15 years. This is despite the fact that Ireland has a sea area that is approximately 10 times the size of its land mass. Much-needed detail on how the RESS will support offshore wind projects is awaited.”
A number of major offshore projects are already at the planning stage, including an ESB and Parkind development off Dundalk which will have the capacity to generate enough electricity to cater for 280,000 households. “That would certainly get a lot of smart phones charged,” says McLoughlin.
“We have extensive track experience in offshore wind in the UK and we have been at the forefront of seeing the sector go from strength to strength there,” he adds, noting that the world’s largest operational wind farm opened in the UK last year.
“By 2030 it is thought that offshore wind will have the potential to generate more than a third of the UK’s energy requirements,” McLoughlin continues. “If Ireland could follow suit this would greatly help the country meet its renewable energy targets for 2030. Ireland should be taking advantage of the high wind speeds and favourable sea conditions off the east coast to develop the offshore wind industry here.”
He believes that changes to energy policy, market frameworks and legislation can all help to support the development of offshore wind in this country. “The Maritime Area and Foreshore (Amendment) Bill, which has yet to be enacted, can facilitate a more straightforward planning and consent system which would take away some of the current difficulties in developing offshore wind projects,” he points out.
“Similarly, industry working together with government and other authorities could help to clear up some of the uncertainty around network connection agreements for offshore wind and how supports under RESS can make projects more viable. Ireland can capitalise on second mover advantages in terms of the continued development and falling cost of offshore wind technology and learning from other markets such as integrating strategy on the development at ports and quays.”
Pinsent Masons is playing its role in helping to support the renewable energy market in Ireland, he says. “We are well placed to add value here in the renewable energy sector through working in a very co-ordinated and integrated way with our colleagues right across the sector in different offices to make use of our deep knowledge and extensive practical experience in making energy cleaner and more sustainable in other parts of the world. The issues are transferable – so are the solutions.”