What are the roadblocks to renewable energy currently
By TJ Hunter, Senior Director, Onshore Ireland and UK
While our mission is simple, the execution isn’t so straightforward. There are three primary roadblocks to growing the renewable energy sector in Ireland and meeting the 2030 targets for onshore wind, offshore wind, solar energy and storage as set out by Government.
First is the inefficiency of the current planning system. A recent analysis by Wind Energy Ireland found that An Bord Pleanála has not been able to meet the 18-week statutory objective for processing strategic infrastructure development planning applications. The average decision-making time for this has in reality been 69 weeks. For planning appeals, the time is 60 weeks.
In Ireland, the planning and permitting phase of an onshore wind farm and grid connection typically takes four years or more, not including appeal or judicial review. With the offshore sector about to scale up and with our 2030 targets only seven years away, delays and bottlenecks in the planning system must be addressed.
The second roadblock is the speed of connection. Using a soccer analogy, renewables only have one ‘transfer window’ per year - one opportunity to connect to the national grid through an EirGrid connection. The annual nature of the ‘connection window’ means that unless you have planning received in advance, you have to wait a full year to apply again, which in turn leads to delays.
The third roadblock is the capacity of the electricity grid itself. For additional renewables to come on-stream, the electricity grid in Ireland needs further investment and innovation to substantially upgrade, enhancing capacity and project viability. Without additional grid capacity, renewables cannot grow. It is essential that Eirgrid’s new plan, Shaping Our Electricity Future, comprehensively addresses this and enables development of both onshore and offshore assets, both of which are required for a stable energy mix.
The short answer is “absolutely yes”. Since commissioning the world’s first offshore wind farm in 1991, Ørsted has been a global leader in the quest to make this vast resource cost-competitive.
In Ireland, wind energy is abundant, cheaper than fossil fuels, and increases our energy independence.
While emerging technologies such as renewable hydrogen and derivatives are not yet cost-competitive to conventional fuels, they are expected to follow the path of solar and on and offshore wind generation, all of which saw costs decline rapidly over the past decade as the global installation base multiplied exponentially. It is in the gift of national decision makers to incentivise investment in such emerging technologies through clear targets, roll out strategies and subsidy regimes. This is what we’ll be watching out for in Ireland’s new national hydrogen strategy.
Ireland has set a national energy target of 80% renewable electricity by 2030. That includes the generation of 7GW of electricity from offshore wind, 8 GW from onshore wind, and 5.5GW from solar. To put this in context, 1GW of offshore renewable electricity is enough to power up to 1 million homes.
From how we are currently tracking, it is extremely unlikely that we will meet these targets without some serious interventions to speed up delivery.
This is a key priority for Ørsted, both in Ireland and overseas. Significant capital investment is needed throughout Ireland for onshore and offshore generation and storage.
At Ørsted we are aiming to meet our global 50GW 2030 target by using multiple renewable technologies. Our recent acquisition of our first Irish solar project, located between Carrigaline and Cork City, is a key part of that strategy in Ireland. Expected to be operational by 2025, the Ballinrea solar project will power up to 16,000 homes and will add a further 65MW of solar to Ørsted’s global goal of 17.5GW of onshore renewables by 2030.
We are continuing to invest in our Cork-based team of over 90 people and development projects to grow our existing Irish operational asset base of 327MW.
The Government needs to be in crisis mode. We saw from the quick response to the pandemic that when that urgent need is there it is possible for the Government to mobilise the State’s resources quickly and effectively in pursuit of a collective goal. There needs to be a similar response to the energy crisis - leveraging cross-departmental collaboration, dedicated investment in the national grid, and accelerating timelines for delivering projects.
Our main ask for Budget 2023 was to increase resourcing for An Bord Pleanála, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, the Department of Energy, Climate and Communications, and set aside funding for the establishment of the Environmental and Planning Court to ensure an effective permitting system for renewable energy.
We would welcome a national Plan for Net Zero, similar to the National Planning Framework for Ireland.
From a sustainable energy point of view, the budget was conservative.
For example, there was no change to Capital Acquisitions Tax for solar, which could be much more supportive for landowners thinking about renewables rather than it throwing up barriers.
It was helpful to get more clarity from Government regarding windfall tax for the energy sector. We believe that the companies which have made windfall profits from the high energy prices should contribute financially by returning some of that profit to the consumers. Considering the extraordinary circumstances, this seems fair and should be implemented as part of the short-term response to the energy crisis.
The invasion of Ukraine and its impact on our energy supply has crystalised the urgent need for Europe to build and reinforce its own supply chain for wind and solar. With an increasingly volatile global landscape, we need to be prepared, and we need to be working towards energy independence.
This can be done by focusing on net zero targets and ensuring that all policy, market, infrastructure and supply chain actions align to deliver the multi-technology onshore and offshore blend, of generation, storage and interconnection required for energy independence and stability.
We are at a critical juncture when it comes to how we drive renewable energy as a technology for a decarbonised society. Now is the time for ambitious and decisive action, future-proofing and accelerating current and planned projects in the near future.
Instead of just talking about hydrogen we should expand the scope to Power-to-X, with technologies that convert renewable electrical power into a new resource that provides versatility to the generation and demand cycle, and allows further penetration of renewable energy into our transport, heating and manufacturing systems.
Knee-jerk market reforms and tax interventions must be replaced with markets for net-zero and a just transition. To get to net-zero, a colourful mosaic of technologies is needed - not black and white solutions.