Northern Ireland has a key part to play in exploiting Ireland’s offshore renewables opportunity, according to NOW Ireland Secretary Brian Britton. NOW Ireland (the National Offshore Wind Association of Ireland) was set up in 2007 to promote the industry.
At present, the island has one offshore wind farm on Arklow Bank (25MW), a joint partnership between Airtricity and GE Energy and 2,670 MW capacity in shovel-ready projects in existing project areas. A further 5,000 MW could be released in the Irish Sea zone.
Britton emphasises that all stakeholders need to work together i.e. developers, supply chain, regulators, TSO, the Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish Government.
“I think the opportunity starts within Northern Ireland,” he told agendaNi. “Then you’ve got to open it out to the Republic of Ireland and the island of Ireland working together, with the massive resource it has, and then co-operation with our counterparts in GB. And then Ireland [and the] UK can lead the way to develop the renewables sector in Europe.”
He sensed “a little bit more foresight” in Northern Ireland than the Republic, proven by Dong’s announcement investment at Belfast Harbour.
“We would be very encouraged by the way Northern Ireland has come from behind the South to actually attract in industry: more than the South has done to date,” he added.
Existing planned projects could generate over €8 billion in investment and 20,000 jobs across the island, with the jobs figure rising to over 50,000 if the full potential was realised.
The offshore wind supply chain for the Irish Sea is worth around €60 billion, with another €300 billion in the rest of Europe.
Ireland potentially has the best offshore wind resource in the world, and its seas experience some of Europe’s strongest winds. Britton sees offshore wind as a key driver for meeting Ireland’s renewable energy targets, but industry sources warn that this will be “difficult if not impossible” in the current planning and grid environment.
An economy analysis published by Indecon in September 2008 indicated a primary net direct benefit for Ireland of up to €1.7 billion over 2012-2027. Extra quantifiable indirect benefits totalled
€2.1 billion, including the merit order effect, employment, carbon fines saved and reduced emissions.
Britton expects that electricity demand and fuel prices will return to their high 2008 levels by 2015, when offshore projects are up and running.
The offshore renewable energy feed-in tariff (REFIT) was announced by the Irish Government in 2008 (at €140 per MWh) but has yet to be implemented. NOW Ireland sees this as the most critical investment signal and is lobbying for action by government, especially as offshore renewables can transform Ireland into a net energy exporter.
According to the association, Ireland can replace almost €6 billion in energy imports with up to €10 billion in renewable energy exports, thus also ensuring the island’s energy security.
Ireland is already involved in the sector’s supply chain, through development companies, project delivery management, port facilities and marine services e.g. diving companies, work boats, forecasting and engineering and environmental services.
To deliver the opportunity, Britton emphasises that Ireland must develop a positive mindset, look beyond its shores for the opportunity, ensure that national policies support industry objectives, create the right market mechanism (linking Ireland, Great Britain and Europe), and “be the leaders of the change Ireland wants and needs.”