Gas & Electricity

The future of renewable energy in Ireland

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Sarah Rigney
Staff Writer

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

Gas has always been the primary source of electricity generation here in Ireland, however, the majority of our own resources are expected to deplete by around 2025. As such, 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. 

A slow transition towards renewable energy

Throughout 2021 and 2022, Ireland was hit with an energy crisis, which saw gas and electricity prices skyrocket and cemented the fact we must move towards renewable energy.

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

Despite this willingness to switch to renewables, the transition will occur at a snail's-pace. According to research carried out by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), it’s estimated that by 2032, fossil fuels will still account for 78% of the global energy mix, down only slightly from 81% in 2022. 

The electricity sector will account for most of this reduction, amid the adoption of renewables and a revival in nuclear power.

According to a report by the World Economic Forum, multiple countries have been leading the way in the renewable energy movement. These countries include:

  • 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 (IRENA).

In a more recent report released in December 2022 from the International Energy Agency (IEA), it was found that the capacity for renewable energy is set to almost double globally by 2027, overtaking coal as the largest source of electricity during this period.

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.

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:

Investment in wind energy has been Ireland's main focus, followed by solar and tidal.

ESB’s investments in a renewable future

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

As the name suggests, 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. 
  • Kerry, the county that provides 20% of the nation's wind energy, currently has 364 wind turbines, more than any other county in Ireland.
  • In 2022, wind turbines generated 34% of Ireland’s electricity needs, 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 of offshore farms is significantly higher due to the infrastructure required for them to function. 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 College Cork is asking that exact question.

The university is 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 January 2023, it was reported that wind energy had cut Ireland’s gas costs by €2bn in 2022. It was also noted that November 2022 was the best month on record for the volume of wind energy produced last year.

There have been 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. 

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. 

In an average year before the energy crisis, around €75m worth of surplus wind went to waste, but its value has soared over the last 18 months. Investment is needed to harness this excess wind energy.

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.

Despite these developments, Ireland will still need to attract billions of euros of investment in the next decade to build the onshore and offshore wind farms that will help end our dependence on fossil fuel gas.

There has also been some criticism around the expansion of wind turbine infrastructure, with heritage groups, environmental campaigners and wind awareness groups, stating wind turbines can scar landscapes and damage wildlife. 

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 for homeowners, meaning that homeowners can easily cut their energy bills by installing solar panels.

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

In October 2022, the Government opted to put a planning permission exemption in place for rooftop solar panels on homes and other buildings in Ireland, making it easier for households to instal solar panels.

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

So far there has been a large investment in solar farms in Ireland, with Norwegian energy giant, Statkraft, acquiring the rights to build five solar farms across Ireland in 2020.

In late December 2021, Irish developer Power Capital Renewable Energy announced plans to invest €140 million in six ready-to-build solar farms that would generate 240MW of power. Later, in January 2023, Power Capital Renewable Energy secured €100 million from European leaders to fund local and international solar projects. There’s also the potential of another €140 million being added to the fund in the future.

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.

While lagging behind wind energy here, 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 

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 converts 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.

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Main sources

eiu.com, ember-climate.org, esb.ie, ewea.org, fáilteireland.ie, irena.org, rte.ie, weforum.org, windenergyireland.com.

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