Limerick: Harnessing the green energy of the Shannon estuary
The potential of the Shannon Estuary to become one of Europe’s leading renewable energy hubs thanks to its unique natural infrastructure is almost undeniable, but “time is running out”.
This is the categorical assertion of Pat Keating, Managing Director of Shannon Foynes Port Company, the main catalyst for this unprecedented opportunity for the region and the state.
The Port Authority operates the ports of Foynes and Limerick and has statutory authority over all maritime activities over an area of 500 km2 on the Kerry Estuary at Loop Head and up to the town of Limerick.
Its impact on the Midwestern region and beyond is already telling; Ireland’s largest bulk port and second-largest port company influences the lives of almost every citizen in the region with its huge volumes of cargo each year. Whether it’s fuel for transportation or grassland seeds that help raise farm animals, it’s a safe bet that there isn’t a household that isn’t impacted every day.
But last December, he fully embarked on a new path as he set in motion a plan to transform the estuary into a national and international powerhouse that will offer a scale of transformation few could anticipate.
For some, the scale is so large that it almost requires a double take.
Thanks to new technologies, the Atlantic Ocean and the winds that have at times chiseled and battered the coastal counties and its inhabitants to near submission, now combine all their impressive power to potentially transform Ireland into an international exporter of energy.
According to the report, we have 70,000 MW of energy waiting to be tapped offshore by emerging floating wind technology. By realizing this potential, up to € 12 billion of investments will be channeled to the estuary by 2050 under a medium growth scenario and without including the potential for exporting to other markets.
That’s enough to meet Ireland’s climate charge targets and others. Enough to generate 30,000 conservatively estimated manufacturing and supply chain jobs across the region. Enough to materialize the ambition of the Ireland 2040 Project for balanced regional development.
The robust technology of these giant turbines is such that they are able to withstand the blows of the Atlantic winds and bring this energy ashore. Turbines ideally need sheltered deep water for assembly, hence the Shannon estuary with some of the deepest estuarine water in Europe.
The jobs will largely come in the supply chain, as the turbines will be mounted on giant concrete or steel platforms before being removed to distances beyond what the human eye can see, but where the wind blows mightily even on the calmest days on land.
But the opportunity offered by what has the potential to be Europe’s largest renewable energy bank to attract FDI investment, especially in energy-intensive data centers, adds another. layer of excitement.
Fixed offshore wind farms have already proven their worth over the past 15 to 20 years, said Keating, in the North Sea for countries like Britain and Norway and, indeed, with our own wind farm of Arklow Bank on the east coast.
“The industry, and like all technologies, is looking for more efficiency and more scale and this is where the floating offshore of the Atlantic comes in. Floating at sea gives you a new step forward in generating capacity and is more efficient than what you would have with your fixed offshore wind farms, ”said Keating.
Clare coast joint venture
If the story was almost too good to be believed in December, it wasn’t in April that Equinor, the world’s leading floating offshore wind farm, announced a joint venture with ESB to build a wind farm. floating off the Clare.
Better yet, they’ll use this renewable energy to create green hydrogen – the “fuel of the future” that should replace fossil fuels for heavy-duty vehicles.
Despite unparalleled opportunity thanks to our natural infrastructure, others have taken the lead, such as the Hywind Scotland development. But if we are to catch up and claim first, we need to invest in infrastructure to make the port and the estuary the catalysts we need.
“The wind resource we have on the Atlantic is an average wind speed of 12 meters per second, which is considered to be one of the best in the world,” Keating said.
“For wind developers and joint venture partners, this is an opportunity at a level you can only dream of. The very fact that the world’s most advanced companies in this industry are looking to grow here speaks volumes about the opportunity. But we have to make the most of it, ”he said.
“It is essential to locate your large-scale supply chain as close to the offshore wind farm as possible and this is where the Shannon estuary and deep water ports come in. If you don’t have this proximity, you expect higher costs. to work. That’s why the estuary here ticks all the boxes.
Keating said the power produced will exceed the country’s current needs, but prepare it for future increases in demand for electricity, including data centers with high power consumption.
“There is great concern about the demands that data centers are placing on the grid. There is a solution to that, and again, it is about developing this offshore resource. The estuary can be a hub for this. Create offshore energy and bring it ashore to support data center investments globally. “
There are, however, significant hurdles to overcome in order to realize this huge opportunity, especially in the area of planning and consents.
“Currently we have an obsolete Foreshore Act 1933, which was never written for this type of thing. Right now we don’t have a consent regime for the foreshore beyond 12 nautical miles, so you really don’t have a formal consent system to ask for. This, number one, needs to be resolved.
The government’s maritime development planning and management bill and the new Maritime Area Regulatory Authority, or Mara, will go some way to address these concerns, he said.
He cited Britain, the Netherlands and Norway as examples of countries with strong consent processes that make things clear for developers.
“It is essential that we seize this opportunity, because other countries with much less advantage, which do not have the wind, the deep waters of the estuary, will seize it if we do not have one – and they already are.
“The projects will go elsewhere. People will invest their money elsewhere because all of these big companies have funds allocated for investment projects. We need to update quickly because time is running out. We still have that time, but we really need to move. “