Thomas Mc Hugh – Director of Public Affairs, Cork Chamber
The development of large-scale renewable energy generation is critical to Ireland’s competitiveness, climate credentials and international reputation as a progressive state.
In the context of the deepening climate crisis, and the phased decommissioning of an ageing fleet of coal and peat fired energy facilities, the time has come to invest in progressive sustainable technologies that can dramatically decarbonise our grid.
We’ve had success with onshore wind power pioneered by Cork County Council through the mapping of the County’s wind profile and facilitation of multiple developments commencing over a decade ago. Nationally, a glance at Eirgrid’s energy dashboard shows 37% renewable electricity power on the grid over the past month. Efforts to date have clearly been progressive and fruitful, yet they must only be regarded as first steps.
Our next steps must be bold and impactful. We must promote and facilitate the development of offshore wind. As an island nation, we have a unique opportunity to build on our rich maritime heritage and enhance our blue economy. Offshore wind turbines generate incredible outputs with a single 8MW turbine creating power for 7,500 homes and up to 13,500 on a good day. Turbines of this scale are located just 8km off the shore of Liverpool and manufacturers such as Siemens, GE and Vestas continue to push the envelope with outputs of up to 12MW.
Power from installed offshore turbines runs through underwater cables along the seabed to an offshore substation which cleans and filters the electricity before an underwater cable carries the energy to shore. Underground cabling continues from here, connecting to a final substation that plugs the power to the grid at the most appropriate point. The technology is clean, inspiring and discreet.
Looking to the progress of our nearest neighbours shows the offshore sector can deliver exceptionally well in a favourable regulatory environment. Over the past decade the UK has attracted almost 50% of European offshore wind investment worth €40bn. The UK activity of the leading offshore wind developer Orsted provides the perfect example. Multiple projects such as Burbo Bank Extension 258MW, Race Bank 573MW, and Walney Extension 659MW, have been delivered over the last decade providing power for almost 3.3 million homes. Three further projects, Hornsea 1, 2 and 3 will provide up to 5,004MW and power 4.6 million homes. To highlight the scale – these Hornsea projects have an equivalent output to that used by the Irish grid daily.
In Europe, almost 19,000MW of offshore wind generation is installed. In 2018 over 2,500MW was installed and over 4,200 MW of projects reached final investment decisions, representing €10.3bn in asset investment. It is clear then that Ireland has the potential to enter a robust and mature market, both from a technology and financing perspective.
We are not without offshore progress. The Arklow Bank continues to generate 25MW of power on an ongoing basis and a second phase has potential for a further 520 MW. A floating turbine may be deployed at an SEAI site near Belmullet in Mayo by 2022 and DP Energy Ireland have a proposal for a 720MW wind farm off the coast of Ballycotton in Cork. By developing assets such as the Eirgrid Celtic Interconnector that will connect Ireland with France via a 700MW subsea cable we may even have the opportunity to trade energy with Europe as the EU continues to more forcefully back the sustainable agenda.
While Ireland has been slow off the mark, the market for offshore is now mature and proven and this represents opportunity for us. The technology has advanced at an exceptional pace and the level of investment required has fallen dramatically. The state investment cost of offshore wind in Europe has fallen from €4.41 million/MW in 2013 to €2.45 million/MW in 2018. In the Netherlands and Germany specific zero-euro bids have even been successful.
How can Ireland turn on this renewable energy source? The establishment of a planning and consent regime that is sensible and attractive to developers, coupled with an active subsidy regime will deliver renewable energy of scale for Ireland. The publication of the National Marine Planning Framework this Tuesday is a welcome step but the swift progress of the Marine Planning and Development Management Bill, guidelines and a competitive subsidy scheme are now essential. The Bill needs to be prioritised by the Houses of the Oireachtas over the next couple of months to keep it on track.
In short, the value of offshore wind to the state has never been higher in monetary terms or more critical in environmental terms. The technology is proven, and the sector is mature. There are multiple record-breaking large-scale wind farms in the Irish Sea, yet they do not power Ireland. Irish planning and licencing must be defined, and a subsidy regime must be put in place. But these are only details. The real impediment is the lack of urgency.