Securing Ireland’s potential as a renewable energy financing hub
22nd August 2012
Much achieved, more to do
23rd August 2012

Renewed commitment to green energy

Turbines-&-Rapeseed Exports of wind energy, at no cost to consumers, are envisaged in the Government’s 2012-2020 renewable energy strategy.

The Government has published its ‘Strategy for Renewable Energy 2012-2020’ following cabinet approval and consideration of it by its climate change and green economy committee. Launching the strategy, Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte said that Ireland’s coastal location “gives us a real advantage in having natural resources of real scale and significance.”

The strategy contains five strategic goals:

• more electricity from onshore and offshore wind, for domestic and export use;

• a sustainable bioenergy sector supporting renewable heat and power generation;

• green growth through R&D in renewable technologies in advance of an ocean technologies market;

• sustainable energy in the transport sector through biofuels and electrification; and

• an ‘intelligent, robust and cost efficient’ energy networks system.

In its plan for more renewable electricity, the strategy states that exporting offshore wind to the UK and north west Europe will be explored, if economically beneficial. The potential for projects of scale onshore, including storage, are also being considered with a view to exporting. The strategy states that a framework for exporting (provided the cost benefit analysis is positive) will be implemented “without cost for the Irish consumer and to the benefit of the economy”.

Co-operation with other member states is highlighted: the British-Irish Council’s commitment to a “fully integrated government approach to the development of the offshore wind, wave and tidal opportunities”; the move to a single EU electricity market; and the North Seas Countries’ Offshore Grid Initiative.

To achieve the Government’s 40 per cent renewable electricity target by 2020, the department will consider a further group processing approach to grid connection offers (gate) following a review of Gate 3 take-up. It will work on overcoming existing obstacles and delays in the gate processes and consider, with the Commission for Energy Regulation and the Department of the Environment, streamlining authorisation and planning processes for renewable projects.

SEAI will publish a national wind atlas in 2012. The department will implement REFIT 2 for onshore wind and maintain a REFIT support framework for this energy source. Transmission and distribution networks will be rolled out “so that on average at least 200MW of new renewable generation is being connected per annum to ensure we can deliver our 2020 target.”

There is no commitment to further interconnection after the East-West interconnector (only analysis to inform decisions) but micro-generation will be encouraged “having regard to the costs and benefits.”

Central to developing the bioenergy sector will be a new bioenergy strategy, to be published in 2012. The department will also liaise with Northern Ireland agencies to develop an all-island approach to bioenergy resources. Implementation of the biofuels obligation scheme’s sustainability criteria is promised, as is consultation with stakeholders this year on the timing and increase of the obligation (currently 4 per cent of road transport fuel must come from biofuels).

The importance of the new REFIT 3 scheme for biomass is highlighted. It gives certainty to the sector and recognises the importance of more sustainable waste management (through anaerobic digestion and waste-to-energy), according to the strategy. The scheme will also encourage a biomass supply sector (through stable demand) and private forestry.

Green growth

Support for developing Ireland’s wave and tidal resources is re-iterated in the strategy. This will be done through SEAI’s ocean energy development unit, working with other agencies and the sector. “In common with offshore wind, the ocean energy sector requires a planning framework underpinned by a comprehensive resource assessment and continued support for research and development and test sites,” it states.

It highlights the economic potential from commercialising key ocean energy projects and advanced technology sensor and data management systems.

To support ocean energy, the strategy commits to two actions in 2012: a final offshore renewable energy development plan (a draft was published in November 2010) and a new offshore licensing and permitting regime this year (following foreshore legislation).

The Ocean Energy Development Programme will continue and the department will review and decide on how best to support the proposed grid connected wave testing site off Annagh Point in County Mayo.

Transport

For Ireland to meet its target of 10 per cent of transport energy from renewables by 2020, the Government re-affirms its commitment to electric vehicles charging infrastructure “as well as ensuring an appropriate regulatory and cost recovery framework is put in place for the long term.” It promises to pursue the introduction of EU-wide regulation and standards for recharging infrastructure rollout throughout Europe.

Grid development

“Ireland is at the forefront globally,” the strategy states on grid development, “through the work of EirGrid of identifying and overcoming the operational challenges inherent in managing high levels of intermittent wind.” Ireland will become a world leader in intermittent renewable energy integration through the ongoing work of EirGrid and state-funded research.

EirGrid’s work includes the DS3 programme on enhancing generation portfolio performance, developing new operational policies and system tools, and a review of the system’s needs. “Ireland has all the ingredients,” the document states, “to realise first mover advantage in the development of exportable technologies related to smarter transmission and distribution of electricity”.

To develop competitive advantage, alliances between research institutions, multinationals, SMEs and start-up companies will be formed.

Launching the strategy, Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte was keen to highlight the potential for energy exports. “We use six to seven gigawatts ourselves each year and I believe we could be exporting the same quantum to the UK and beyond in the coming years.” Bilateral talks with the UK Government on a framework for exports have taken place since the strategy was launched. A memorandum of understanding on renewable energy trading is due by the end of this year.

The strategy acknowledges that while renewable energy deployment has increased, there are “significant challenges inherent” in further increases: the need for support frameworks to attract investment at a competitive cost; regulatory certainty; coherence between environmental and renewable energy objectives; large scale penetration of renewables on the system; winning public acceptance; and tackling barriers to developing renewable heat demand.

It committed to reconvening the renewable energy development group this year “as a key advisory forum on renewable energy development.” Minister Rabbitte will chair the group.

Industry reaction

The Irish Wind Energy Association welcomed the strategy and the Government’s re-stated support for the wind energy sector. CEO Kenneth Matthews said that the strategy “provides a great platform from which to continue working towards achieving our targets.” He pointed out that the strategy “recognises the need for a coordinated approach by stakeholders in the renewable energy sector”.

For the Irish BioEnergy Association, bioenergy is “somewhat deferred to another ‘cross-departmental’ bioenergy review going on presently.” REFIT 3 for biomass, while welcome, “is talked up almost to the point of being a panacea for the bioenergy sector.” The association also pointed out that there was no mention of bioenergy in the strategy’s research priorities.