We answer the key questions on energy cost, supply and infrastructure in Ireland today.
We answer the key questions on energy cost, supply and infrastructure in Ireland today.
The Gate 3 Process is an application processing mechanism for the allocation of grid connections to introduce additional renewable electricity generating capacity. Wind currently has the capacity to generate 2,547 MW of electricity (5.14 TWh generated in 2014) and the additional capacity sought under Gate 3 will increase this capacity by 3,510MW. This figure would more than allow Ireland to meet its 2020 target to have 40% of electricity generated from renewable sources. Wind-generated electricity is variable however. On windy days, over half of Ireland’s electricity comes from wind, while on other days it can be as low as 4%. During times when more wind electricity is being generated than can be safely absorbed by the grid, EU rules allow for the excess to be exported. Up to the commissioning of the East-west interconnector to Britain this excess had to be curtailed at a cost to the consumer. This changed with the operation of the East-west interconnector and curtailment was reduced even with more wind on the system. With the projected growth in wind power the potential development of interconnectors to France is being explored. In the future, with such facilities in place it would be possible for wind farms to be developed in Ireland to service the export market.
Constraint payments are those made to electricity generators where there is a change to the agreed amount of electricity that a supplier provides to the national grid or a change in the agreed priority compared to other generating sources. Normally, priority is assigned to suppliers of renewable energy and lower cost operators first. Changes in prioritisation may result from transmission system overloads or to maintain the stability or security of the system. A particular constraint payment, referred to as “curtailment” is operated within the wind energy sector. Curtailment occurs typically on windy days when the amount of wind electricity generated by wind exceeds the capacity of the grid to accept it and the supplier may need to be excluded from the system. Wind energy operators are compensated with curtailment payments when this happens. Overall, constraint payments, including curtailment fees, amounted to €113 million in 2016, down from €156 million in 2015, and €176 million in 2014.
Ireland is required to have 16% of our energy provided from renewable sources by 2020. The minimum requirement for transport is 10% from renewable sources. For electricity generation, the target is even greater. Government policy is to have 40% of electricity generated from renewable sources by 2020. For now, onshore wind farms remain the most cost-effective way of achieving this target. Alternative renewable options such as offshore wind farms or solar power are still relatively expensive and, in the case of solar, not best suited to our climate. However, the cost of both these sources is falling dramatically and are likely to become economic post 2020. The other renewable alternative that could be used is biomass and organic wastes, although these are again relatively expensive and difficult to source in sufficient quantities. With organic wastes it is often possible to meet energy and environmental goals, for example, generating electricity from landfill gas.
Irrespective of the proportion of wind energy generated, we need an up-to-date grid infrastructure that can accept power from competing suppliers and transmit it safely and reliably to where it is needed. The grid needs to be flexible – able to switch between sources when breakdowns occur and able to manage the import and export of electricity. In addition, there needs to be enough electricity capacity supplied to each region of the country to support industrial development across the country.
Wind is a key source of renewable electricity that contributes 18% of the current 22% total generated from renewables. To meet our 2020 target of 40% of electricity generated from renewables, the amount of electricity coming from wind needs to rise from 2,400MW at present to between 3,500 and 3,800 MW. Wind remains an attractive electricity source, both to reduce emissions and to provide a secure, indigenous supply. Moving beyond the current level of wind power creates challenges for the network and transmission system that will need to be addressed. The network will need to be able to cope with an increasing proportion of electricity generated from an intermittent source. Energy storage solutions may be required to act as a buffer between supply and demand.
Wind is one of the largest and lowest cost sources of renewable energy for electricity currently available in Ireland. It has already contributed significantly to lowering emissions from electricity generation. In addition, as it is an indigenous source, it has reduced our dependency on imports.
It is estimated that between 1,100 and 1,400MW of new wind capacity will be required to reach the 40% renewables target. This equals approximately 35 new wind farms of 12 large turbines each.
Technically it is possible to replace some or all of the coal used at Moneypoint with biomass. However, the ESB, which owns the plant, and others, including An Taisce and the ESRI, have expressed doubts about whether it would be economically feasible to do so now. Concerns include the price and availability of biomass; the costs involved, including additional investment; and the impact on electricity prices for consumers through an increase in the PSO levy. EU energy policy for 2030 focuses on greenhouse gas emission reduction. The ESB has acknowledged that Moneypoint’s long-term future of electricity generation will require conversion to a low carbon energy source. However, none of the current proposed options (re-powering with biomass, coal or gas carbon capture and storage, a nuclear generating station) appears to be viable in the short to medium term.
There are several reasons accounting for the relatively low levels of biomass use for power generation in Ireland, including the comparatively expensive price and limited availability of local biomass, the high cost of imports and its inconvenience compared with competing fuels, such as oil and gas. Developing a secure and economically affordable supply chain is necessary for large-scale biomass use. It would require incentives for landowners and power users, as well as the creation of a new large-scale processing industry. UK experience suggests that subsidies could be higher than other options, such as wind.
Many central and northern European countries use district heating systems, whereby a community’s need for hot water and heat is supplied from a central source. A highly efficient way of powering these systems is through a centralised biomass-fired co-generation of electricity and heat. We only have a limited number of district heating systems and our low density of population means that the initial costs of installing such a system and the heat losses could be higher in Ireland.
Developing our biomass resources would contribute to achieving our renewable heat target of 12%, of which only 6.6% was reached by 2014. The government’s proposed Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) – which is pending EU approval – will also help.
Solar energy uses sunlight to produce usable energy in the form of electricity (solar photovoltaic) or for heating and cooling (solar thermal).
Following a boom in the production of solar panels, the average global cost of solar PV has fallen by 80% in the last eight years. Utility scale solar costs are expected to fall by a further 43% to 59% by 2025 as the technology advances. In conjunction with a decline in costs, installed solar capacity around the world has increased sharply from 50GW in 2010, to 306.5GW by the end of 2016 and, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, up to 600GW by 2020. The rapid growth in capacity in 2016 was driven by China and the United States, who both doubled their additional solar installation rates in the space of a year.
Despite impressive rates of investment elsewhere, Ireland still has negligible levels of solar penetration. Solar energy is not one of the renewable energy technologies currently supported the Government’s Renewable Energy Feed in Tariff (REFIT). However, with reducing costs, rising interest in solar in Ireland, and in anticipation of future Government support, grid connection applications for utility scale solar plants have soared. Since 2015 over 4 GW has been applied for, which is over 1 GW higher than the total installed capacity of onshore wind in Ireland in 2016.
Ireland has a marine territory around ten times the size of the country's land area. This abundant natural resource offers considerable potential for renewable electricity from technologies like offshore wind, wave, or tidal. SEAI’s Wind and Ocean Energy Roadmaps suggest a potential for up 30 GW of offshore wind and a further 29 GW of wave/tidal and in Ireland’s surrounding waters. This compares with today’s peak electricity demand of between 3 GW and 5 GW in the Republic of Ireland.
Offshore technologies are very much in the development and demonstration phase. At the end of 2015 only 0.5 GW of ocean energy and 14.4 GW of offshore wind was installed worldwide. In Ireland, there is one offshore wind farm (25 MW), a first-of-its-kind tidal stream device in Northern Ireland (1.2 GW), and modest plans for new wave devices in the next five to ten years.
The International Energy Agency foresees ocean energy coming to fore in 2030 with growth accelerating up to 2050. Ireland’s 2015 White Paper and the Offshore Renewable Energy Development Plan (OREDP 2014) make provision for the potential of offshore energy in the future as the technology advances and it becomes more cost competitive. Various government supports are currently available for ocean energy prototypes, research and development.