Energy Institute

Should we have more wind?

Ireland has committed to a target of 40% of renewable energy in electricity demand by 2020 to meet our EU requirements 1.

In 2014 wind generators met about 18% of our electricity supply needs. When hydro, biomass, and landfill gas sources are included; 22% of our electricity supply in 2014 was from renewable sources 2(Fig. 7).

Figure 7. Renewable energy contribution to gross electricity consumption by source 1990-2014

SEAI (2016) Energy Security in Ireland: A Statistical Overview. Available Online

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

The Government believes that we need between 3,500MW and 3,800 MW of wind to meet the overall 2020 target; at the moment we have around 2,400MW. One way of visualising this need is an additional 40 wind farms of about 40MW each 3. This requires an added average of 310MW of extra wind capacity installed per year (Table 1.) 4.

Table 1. Projected renewable energy sources in the Republic of Ireland 2015-2025

EirGrid/SONI (2016) All-Island Generation Capacity Statement 2016-2025. Available Online

Year End 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022 2023 2024 2025
All Wind 2400 2710 3020 3330 3640 3950 4120 4290 4460 4630 4800
All Hydro 237 237 237 237 237 237 237 237 237 237 237
Biomass/LFG (including Biomass CHP) 54 54 122 147 172 204 204 204 204 204 204
Waste (assume 50% renewable) 9 9 40 40 40 40 40 40 40 40 40
Edenderry on Biomass 35 35 35 35 35 35 35 35 35 35 35
Solar PV 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 45 50 50 50
Total RES 2745 3060 3474 3814 4154 4501 4676 4851 5026 5196 5366

Studies supporting the deployment of wind to meet this target put forward the arguments firstly, that wind deployment in Ireland has at little or no extra cost,

  • reduced emissions,
  • increased security of supply and
  • reduced imports and crucially,
  • there are no better alternatives at this time 5,6.

However, the system challenges will be greater and potentially more costly as we break new ground. The costs and issues entailed will have be monitored and evaluated. Issues will be raised regarding the stress on the system and its management arising from the intermittency of wind and its priority dispatch status. Greater levels of interconnection and possibly other means such as large-scale storage will be required if wind is to supply above 40% of our electricity needs. The option of a 700MW connection to France to meet this need is being evaluated by EirGrid as well as other linkages to Great Britain 7.

New plant and system adaptation will be required to accommodate the intermittency of wind. This might occur either through technological developments and investments to allow conventional plants to respond quickly, increasing the flexibility with the development of pumped storage and variable speed pump turbines, reducing plants minimum operating levels from the usual values and developing energy storage facilities or smart grids along with demand side management 8.

Battery storage enhances grid reliability by providing fast response ancillary services. The 10 MW of interconnected energy storage being built at Kilroot in Northern Ireland is the first step to a planned 100MW energy storage array. The 10MW is estimated to be able to provide £8.5 million in savings per annum and eliminate an equivalent of 123,000 tons of CO2 per annum 9. Local electricity storage capacity is also being considered - potentially in the form of the batteries in electric vehicles to decarbonise the electricity system and make a contribution to renewable energy in transport targets as well . Available Online  '>10.

Compressed air energy storage (CAES) is another option under consideration. This converts excess energy to compressed air to be stored underground in geological caverns and later released through an electricity generator. A CAES project has been submitted to the planning division in December 2015, at Larne in Northern Ireland. The facility is said to be able to generate up to 330MW of power for up to 6 hours 11.

Evidence-based decisions on what renewable technologies are the most cost-effective at reducing our emissions will help to ensure that we have a competitively priced and secure supply of sustainable electricity.