Gas & Electricity

The future of renewable energy in Ireland

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As energy costs rise and fall and as fossil fuel resources deplete, we discuss renewable energy and its effectiveness in powering Irish homes.

Energy prices have always either increased or decreased, depending on changing economic and political factors. 

With gas being the primary source of electricity generation in Ireland and the majority of our own resources expected to be completely depleted by around 2025, the use of alternative sources of energy has been on the rise. 

In this guide, we explore renewable energy, the Government’s renewable energy targets, and the future of energy in Ireland. 

The biggest energy changes

2021 and 2022 were years of great change as they experienced heavy home energy price increases and more reliance on renewable energy sources. 

The Covid-19 pandemic and Ukrainian conflict contributed to this as they disrupted global supply chains. 

Around 62% of the world's global electricity was reported as coming from fossil fuels in 2021, while 38% came from renewables according to data site Ember-climate.org.

Multiple countries have been leading the way in the renewable energy movement according to a report by the World Economic Forum.

Countries such as:

  • Sweden
  • Norway
  • Denmark
  • Switzerland
  • Austria

Overall, the use of renewable energy around the world has been on the rise, shifting from just under 10% in 2001 to over 80% in 2021, according to a report by the International Renewable Energy Association.

Are there cheaper options for energy in Ireland? 

Yes. 

Ireland has been investing in renewable sources of energy since 1992 when the first wind farm was built, as reported by Fáilte Ireland. 

The Irish Government has been investing in renewable energy for quite some time and continues to do so. 

Ireland’s renewable energy targets

In 2021 the Irish Government released a Climate Action Plan that aims to achieve a 51% greenhouse gas reduction by 2030 and net-zero emission by 2050. 

The aim is to make Ireland more sustainable by reducing carbon emissions.

2022 alone saw the planning of multiple wind farms across the country along with promising statistics from existing wind farms, outlined further down. 

Renewable energy sources

There are three primary sources of renewable energy:

  • Wind
  • Solar
  • Tidal

Other sources include:

  • Biomass
  • Wood and wood waste
  • Municipal solid waste
  • Landfill gas and biogas
  • Ethanol
  • Biodiesel
  • Geothermal

Wind energy has been the main focus of Ireland, followed by solar, and tidal. 

Ireland’s electricity grid

Progress is being made in the use of renewable energy in Ireland. 

ESB’s Green Atlantic at Moneypoint programme is a new energy hub based in County Clare that is set to be Ireland's main renewable energy hub. 

ESB Networks will also be updating its renewable energy portfolio from 1GW to almost 5GW. 

Plans include investing in maintaining electricity resilience and furthering their finance systems to help system operators cope with higher volumes of renewables. 

Now, let’s take a closer look at the three main types of renewable energy.

Wind energy

Wind energy uses the wind to generate electricity and is the least expensive of all forms of energy. 

The most common way of generating wind energy is through wind turbines; wind turns the turbine blades around a rotor, which spins a generator and creates electricity.  

There are currently around 300 wind farms in the Republic of Ireland, with one being offshore according to Wind Energy Ireland. 

Offshore wind farms are considered to be superior to onshore, because the ocean is free from obstacles, and the wind is faster and more consistent. 

However, the cost is significantly higher for offshore farms due to the required infrastructure. 

A good quality wind turbine has a lifespan of more than 30 years and will produce around six million kWh per year according to Wind Energy Ireland. 

What happens when they reach the end of their life though? 

University Cork is asking that exact question.

They’re teaming up with Queen’s University Belfast and the City University of New York to research and discover the best way to make use of decommissioned turbine blades, without harming the environment. 

How efficient is wind energy? 

In March 2022, wind energy provided 33% of Ireland’s electricity and it was reported by RTE as having brought energy prices down by 12% on the windiest days.

The following month was recorded as being the strongest month of April for wind generation in Ireland, according to the April Wind Energy Report by Wind Energy Ireland. 

32% of April’s electricity was generated from wind, resulting in a price of €218.26 per megawatt-hour compared to €293.25 in March.

This led to renewed calls for an overhaul of the planning system by Wind Energy Ireland as the implementation of on and offshore wind farms can help Ireland to reach its 2030 renewable energy goals, and reduce energy costs for consumers. 

Minister for the Environment, Eamon Ryan, stated in March that a plan was in place for the streamlining of the development of renewable energy projects. 

He said that the first Maritime Area Consents (MACs) would be issued in the second half of 2022. 

According to Wind Energy Ireland, An Bord Pleanála's 18-week processing time for renewable energy projects is in reality taking 60 weeks and needs to change. 

Despite these delays, Ireland was reported as being on track for wind energy to provide power to 3.75 million homes by 2030, according to EirGrid. 

Wind energy infrastructure

In 2022 Eirgrid stated that wind farms on the east and southeast coast capable of generating 5GW (gigawatts) of power were already being developed or in planning, along with 1.65GW of battery storage for times with little to no wind. 

RTE reports that Rosslare Europort is intended to become Ireland's main offshore, renewable energy hub. 

€200 million is aimed at building the infrastructure to allow wind energy companies to harvest the generated electricity. 

The initiative will support Ireland in its climate action goals for 2030.

Solar energy

Solar energy is becoming increasingly popular among Irish homes due to its potential to cut energy costs. 

Unlike wind energy, solar energy is readily available to homeowners. 

This means that homeowners can cut their energy bills by having solar panels installed.

Types of solar panels

There are two ways that solar energy can be used:

  1. Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels turn sunlight into electricity 
  2. Solar thermal panels turn sunlight into hot water. 

Photovoltaic panels are made of a material that generates electricity when exposed to light and stores it in a heat pump, while thermal panels contain a fluid that transfers heat to the water tank. 

For photovoltaic panels, unused electricity can be stored in a battery if you have one, while any uncaptured electricity will spill onto the electricity grid. 

For more information and advice about getting your home retrofitted, check out our podcast on retrofitting your home

Solar energy progress in Ireland

Under the Climate Action Plan, 2.5GW (gigawatts) of solar energy is to be installed on the national electricity grid by 2030. 

In 2020, the Irish Examiner reported that Norwegian energy giant, Statkraft, acquired the rights to build five solar farms across Ireland in Meath, Laois, Cork and Tipperary. 

The five farms will deliver a combined 275MW (Megawatts). 

In late December 2021, Power Capital Renewable Energy announced plans to invest €140 million in six ready-to-build solar farms that would generate 240MW of power.   

In late April 2022, the first solar energy farm in Ireland was officially opened near Ashford, County Wicklow, and is set to power 3,600 homes.

Solar energy is lagging behind wind energy in Ireland, with only one farm having been opened.

However, solar energy is very affordable as large-scale project prices have dropped by around 85% in a decade according to the World Economic Forum. 

Grants available for installing solar panels 

If you’re considering getting solar panels installed at home, multiple companies can do this for you. 

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) offers grants that partially cover the cost of getting either solar panels installed. 

1. Solar photovoltaic PV panels

These panels are used to generate electricity. 

Grants from the SEAI start from €900 per kWp up to 2 kWp worth €1,800. This adds up to around six or seven panels which will cover the average home. 

A solar PV system can save you between €200-€300 on average annually on your domestic electricity bill.

2. Solar thermal panels

These panels will generate hot water only and are designed to meet over 50 - 60% of a household’s annual hot water requirements. 

A €1,200 grant is on offer by the SEAI to homeowners whose property was built before 2011. 

Tidal energy

Tidal energy works by converting the tides of the ocean into electricity. The ocean turns the turbines, which spin a generator, and produces electricity. 

Tidal energy should not be confused with hydropower, which pushes water through a pipe at high speeds, and into turbine blades to generate electricity. 

Tidal energy is only at the stage of being researched and discussed in Ireland, while hydropower is not being considered at all. 

Researching tidal energy for Ireland 

In March 2022, NUI Galway announced the theme of its first “Global Challenges” project which is focused on exploring the development of tidal energy technologies. 

Five PhD researchers will be recruited for the project and they will examine:

  • Economic appraisal
  • Societal attitudes
  • Ways in which the infrastructure will impact wildlife

The researchers say that globally, tidal energy is estimated at more than 1,200 terawatts per annum.

What does the future hold for energy? 

As Ireland moves away from fossil fuels and towards more renewable, sustainable forms of energy, it will be interesting to see how things play out. 

Will these alternative energies be enough to power the nation? 

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Main sources

ember-climate.org, irena.org (International Renewable Energy Association), fáilteireland.ie, esb.ie, windenergyireland.com, rte.ie, irishtimes.com, ireland2050, ewea.org - European Wind Energy Association, independent.ie, weforum.org (World Economic Forum).

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