Energy Institute

Is the new wind coming in Gate 3 for export or only for domestic needs?

Because the vast bulk of wind-power applications for grid connections under Gate 3 will avail of the Renewable Energy Feed-In Tariffs (REFIT) that is designed for the domestic market and supported by Irish electricity consumers, the new wind power will be to satisfy Ireland’s need for renewable electricity in line with our 2020 targets.

EU regulations assign priority grid access rights to renewable generators like wind farms to ensure that all of the electricity available from renewable sources is utilised before fossil fuelled sources are despatched. There are and will be times, especially on windy nights, when wind generators will produce more electricity than the system can safely absorb. In the case where the electricity system security may be compromised, wind generators may be required by the System Operator (SO) to reduce their output to the grid, known as being “curtailed” or “constrained down” (for more information on these terms refer to question on constraint payments).

To minimise the cost of wind curtailment, the SO is permitted under EU regulations to arrange the export of excess electricity. At present, a deficit of cross-border interconnection capacity limits our ability to export surplus electricity to Northern Ireland and is the greatest cause of curtailment or constraint in the All-Island electricity system. The System Operator has estimated that this results in an annual cost in excess of €25M being incurred from re-dispatch of generation from the market optimal.

In the future, with increased interconnection to the British and potentially the French electricity systems, we will see higher levels of electricity trading with electricity flowing to where it gets the best price. In this trading context, especially beyond 2020, wind-power could be built in Ireland with export markets in mind. Should this come about it will, with effective market design, mean lower costs for all.

“Group Processing”, of which Gate 3 is the third round, is the term used to describe the strategic approach to processing grid connection offers in response to applications from intending generators. While efficiency, time and resources are issues in processing, the main reason for adopting group processing was that under the previous sequential processing arrangement, generators could be offered connection for the same available network capacity. Once a grid connection offer was accepted by a generator, other connection offers depending on the same capacity became null and void. This meant some generators’ connection offers were cancelled, potentially multiple times, in which case it could be many months (or even years) before they could secure a connection agreement.

The primary support scheme to meet our needs for renewable electricity is REFIT. It is in place since 2006 and it superseded the Alternative Energy Requirement (AER) scheme.  REFIT guarantees the prices for renewable electricity delivered for a 15-year period offering some security to investors. REFIT 1 is restricted to wind farm projects that applied to the scheme before 2010; qualifying projects had to be executed before the end of 2015. REFIT 2 opened for applications in March 2012 with qualifying projects having to be on stream by the end of 2017. The consultation on the future renewable electricity support scheme can be found here 1. REFIT 3 is underway now and is for electricity produced from Biomass 2 including Biomass Combined Heat and Power (CHP). The REFIT scheme guarantees generators any shortfall between the set REFIT price and the market price for electricity and compensates suppliers, who contract with renewable energy generators, for their market balancing costs. The cost is recovered through a public service obligation (PSO) levy on all electricity consumers.

An installed capacity of about 3,500MW 3 of wind power in Ireland will be sufficient to meet our 40% renewables in electricity demand, if onshore wind accounts for 80% of our renewable electricity target. This is a key part of our renewable energy target under EU rules.

As of late 2015, the total installed capacity of wind was 2,547 MW (mostly Gate 2, Gate 1 and some pre-Group Processing). The additional contracted (those with connection agreements and mostly Gate 3) capacity was 3,510MW4. The excess allows for some level of project delinquency and anticipates a continuing policy commitment to wind post-2020.

The renewable electricity target of 40% is an annual average, with around 32% expected to come from wind.  In 2014, onshore wind accounted for 18.2% of gross electricity consumption in Ireland. On the windiest days, however, there were times when wind contributed to over 50% of the total electricity generated, on other days it could have been less than 4% 5. The provisional figure for 2015 according to the SEAI is 22%. This elevates Ireland’s position from 4th to 3rd worldwide for contribution of wind energy to electricity demand. In January 2016, the record output from onshore wind in the Republic of Ireland peaked at 2,132 MW 6.

Figure 1. Renewable energy contribution to gross electricity consumption by source 1990-2014

SEAI (2016) Energy Security in Ireland. Available Online

  • Renewables % of Gross Electricity (normalised)
  • Hydro
  • Wind
  • Biomass
  • Landfill Gas
  • Biogas