Wind energy body outlines three things Ireland needs to harness its offshore wind potential

The Irish Wind Energy Association's annual report shows that a third of Ireland's electricity was powered by wind energy last year.

Wind energy was the number one source of Ireland's electricity during the first three months of 2020.

The Irish Wind Energy Association's annual report also revealed that a third of Ireland's electricity was powered by wind energy last year.

The association's CEO Dr David Connolly said Ireland has been very successful in harnessing onshore wind, but that we need to start harnessing our offshore potential if we want to tackle climate change.

"Our onshore wind energy shows that Ireland can be successful at climate action, starting from zero, practically."

Ireland's first wind farm was built in 1992 in Mayo, but it wasn't until the mid-2000s that Ireland started to seriously invest in onshore wind farms. Now Ireland is a world leader in wind energy.

"Annual figures for [wind energy usage] in 2019 show Denmark was number one, and Ireland number two in Europe, but... Denmark is only number one because they have taken advantage of their offshore wind. We haven't done that yet in Ireland. When you compare onshore only, we are actually ahead of Denmark."

This is a serious achievement, considering Denmark invented the wind turbine. However, Ireland's offshore wind resource is lying idle.

According to Dr Connolly, there are three components required to harness renewable energy: a planning permission framework, a connection to the electricity grid, and funding.

"During the previous government of Fianna Fáil and the Green Party, those three pillars were put in place for onshore wind. That is what the success story is built on."

However, offshore wind is currently falling at the first hurdle: planning. "There isn't even a planning regime in place. For someone to build an off-shore wind farm right now, they are really stuck at the very beginning because you can't get planning permission to proceed with a project."

The Marine Planning and Development Management (MPDM) Bill, which contains a new planning mechanism for offshore wind farms, was supposed to solve this issue. "This was sent to the Oireachtas Committee responsible for it just before the election was called. Now the bill is stuck and can't progress until a new government is in place," says Dr Connolly.

Dr Connolly says the government's 2019 Climate Action Plan contained a 2020 quarter one deadline for the grid offer process, which has been missed. The financing of offshore wind farms is due to be finalised next year.

However, the lack of government formation and the Covid-19 crisis means these goals have fallen off the radar somewhat. "We know it is likely there will be some delays," says Dr Connolly.

Dr Connolly says this is particularly frustrating because Ireland has one of the best offshore wind reserves in Europe, but there is no way for this to be harnessed. He also believes this form of energy is crucial to achieving the carbon reduction targets set out in the Climate Action Plan.

"Today, we produce about 4,200 megawatts of power from onshore wind. The Climate Action Plan wants us to double that in the next decade, to get to 8,200 megawatts by 2030."

As for offshore wind, the Climate Action Plan outlines how Ireland should go from essentially zero to 3,500 megawatts by 2030. Dr Connolly says there's only one demonstration project in Wicklow today, which produces 25 megawatts.

"The Climate Action Plan will fail if renewable electricity fails. The only success story Ireland has with climate action is renewable electricity. Renewable heat and transport have not been progressing very well.

"The Climate Action Plan aims to save 16 million tonnes of CO2 per year by 2030. The target of having 70% renewable electricity by 2030, which is predominantly made up of on and offshore wind, was going to deliver roughly half of that. 7-8 million tonnes [of the savings] would have come from renewable electricity alone."

Fortunately, there is no shortage of investment for wind farms. Many people with capital are keen to switch from fossil fuels, either for environmental or economic reasons, with a carbon tax looking inevitable in the future.

However, investment alone is not enough. The planning and grid connection framework must be there too. "You could have all the money in the world, but you couldn't get planning permission for an offshore wind farm in Ireland," says Dr Connolly.

However, he is hopeful that with the right investment and infrastructure put in place, Ireland can deliver.

"When we put in place the robust policy framework, we can really deliver. Onshore wind has shown us we can be world leaders."