Powerless wind if the grid is not upgraded
The government has set itself an ambitious target of providing 70% of our electricity from renewables by 2030, but this cannot be achieved with the current electricity system.
It is not widely known outside the Irish energy industry, but we are a leader in tackling climate change in two important ways.
No other country – nowhere – gets as much of its electricity from onshore wind as we do in Ireland; around 38% of demand last year, and this is only possible because EirGrid and ESB Networks are the world leaders in integrating renewables into our power grid.
These achievements save millions of tonnes of CO2 emissions each year, strengthen our energy security by reducing our dependence on expensive imported fossil fuels and create jobs here.
But, the increased deployment of onshore wind and the planned development of new offshore solar and wind farms mean that we have reached a point where our current electricity grid can no longer do what we need.
Every time we lose renewable energy like this, fossil fuel generators are turned on, increasing our CO2 emissions and raising the price of electricity for families and businesses across Ireland.
But it poses an even greater long-term risk, because if we continue to see levels of energy loss like this, costing consumers tens of millions of dollars each year, it means renewable projects won’t. will not be built.
There are already wind farms in the West of Ireland with a full building permit, ready for use, but no construction projects are planned as the transport system is not powerful enough to carry the electricity from where it is produced to where it is needed.
We know that the electricity grid on the east coast of Ireland can only absorb 1.5 to 2 gigawatts (GW) of additional renewable energy without significant upgrades, but the government’s ambition is to get 5 GW offshore wind power by the end of the decade, most of which is to be on the east coast.
If the grid is not strong enough to take power from wind farms, our members will not build them. We will not be building turbines to sit idle in some of the best wind conditions in the world.
We know that we have the pipeline of projects, on and at sea, to carry out. We now need an electricity grid adapted to our needs.
That’s why, for anyone interested in Ireland’s energy future or tackling climate change, there is no more important debate right now than the one launched by the EirGrid consultation. on “Shaping Our Electricity Future”.
This gives everyone in this country the opportunity to have their say about how we are developing our electricity grid.
over the next 10 years.
We cannot decarbonize Ireland without first decarbonizing our electricity system. And we cannot reduce the CO2 emissions of our electricity system without a much stronger grid.
We need a complete overhaul and strengthening of the transport system, with particular emphasis on regions of the country where large volumes of renewable energy will be developed.
An electricity grid and market designed for fossil fuel generators is not suited to a future where most of our electricity will come from renewables. We need to reform the market to make sure our new system is efficient and profitable.
Developing the electricity network will not be easy. We need to work with the communities that will host new wind farms or new grid infrastructure. We need to make sure they are empowered to be part of our energy transition and we need to find ways to adapt, where we can, to address their concerns.
We need to accept that we don’t have all the answers and listen to those who know their land and their community best – the people who live there – and the solutions they offer. We must also try to maximize the use of the existing electricity grid, which will help reduce the need for new infrastructure.
It is therefore disappointing to see that the commitment in the 2019 climate action plan to facilitate so-called “ hybrid connections ”, where several wind or solar farms can use the same connections to the grid, was removed from the new plan. It urgently needs to be restored.
But the reality is, we won’t decarbonize our power system without new overhead lines, new underground cables, new substations, new battery projects, new wind farms, and new solar farms. Once the consultation is over and a solution has been identified to strengthen our network, we – all of us – must come behind.
If we are successful, as we work towards a zero-rating society by 2050, we can build an energy independent Ireland, offering warmer homes, cleaner air and tens of thousands of new jobs.
Securing that future will require leadership and political courage. And that will only happen if we bring people with us, showing them the benefits of a truly just transition.
- Noel Cunniffe is Interim CEO of Wind Energy Ireland.