The future role of wind power in Ireland’s energy mix
28 April 2015
Engineers Ireland’s Annual Conference 2015 takes place from Thursday 14 May to lunchtime Friday 15 May in Killarney’s Malton Hotel. Delegates will attend a plenary session on day one, with a choice of two breakouts on Friday morning. For more details, and to book your place, see EngineersIrelandConference.ie.
Ireland’s wind energy industry is well positioned to take a controlled step up to the next level, according to Ken Boyne, managing director of Dublin-based Wind Prospect Ireland.
Boyne, who is due to speak at this year’s Engineers Ireland Annual Conference on 14-15 May in Killarney, believes the improvements made over the last three years, and those planned for the next three years, mean that the industry is in a healthy state. “The right projects can now be built if they make commercial sense,” he said. “At the moment, there are no particular obstacles in the way. There are a number of local issues for individual projects, but in a national sense there are no regulatory or market obstacles.
“There have been issues in the past where projects were ready to go but, for one reason or another, could not be built. We have had this stop-start industry for the last decade. For the last two years, and hopefully for the next three years, we’re going to have an ability to build projects if the specifics of each project make sense – and if the project is right for the environment in which it’s being built,” Boyne added.
By 2020, it is expected that 16 per cent of Ireland’s total energy consumption will come from renewable sources. This target will be made up of contributions from renewable energy in electricity and transport and renewable energy for heat and cooling.
Over the last ten years, there has been a huge amount of work done by the wind-energy industry in relation to these targets. Boyne believes that the preparation will enable the wind-energy industry to help other industries that could struggle to meet their own targets. “The 2020 targets can certainly be delivered. The question is: do we have the capacity to go beyond the 2020 targets? Can we help other areas of the economy where the 2020 targets are not going to be achieved?
“If you look at the projects that are being delivered now, you’re talking about projects that were instigated six, seven or even ten years ago. The industry has been gearing up for the 2020 targets for the last ten years to get to the place now where it has a good percentage of the projects constructed and already operational,” he said.
“There are decarbonisation targets for other areas of industry that are struggling. At a national level, is it appropriate for those industries that can over-deliver to help those that are struggling? I think the wind industry is certainly one of the industries that can do that,” added Boyne.
Potential export of unused produce
Now that the finish line is in sight, in relation to Ireland’s 2020 renewable-energy targets, the targets are no longer the driving force behind the industry’s progress. Newer and more effective technology has ensured that the industry is well placed to move beyond 2020, potentially shifting to the export of its excess produce.
According to Boyne, the level of support that the industry requires is very low in comparison to other countries and it now has a great opportunity to become more efficient in what it does. “As a country, we thrive in industries that use our natural resources, not only to support ourselves but to export to others. There’s a dream amongst those within the wind energy industry that, with the right developments in the right places, not only will we be able to serve our own needs but also export significant quantities.”
Boyne can see no technical reason why this move should not take place. New market mechanisms, due to be in place by 2017, should help with the increased use of interconnectors and encourage increased trading.
“Seamless trading across interconnectors should allow for the greater export of green electricity from Ireland to other countries – maybe not in the way that the proposed project in the Midlands was pure export, but we would naturally export the excess we are not using ourselves,” he said.
Developing Ireland’s transmission system
The spread of onshore wind facilities and new technologies across Ireland has had a clear impact on how the electricity system is operated and configured. Boyne sees the introduction of data centres as another change that will quicken the development of Ireland’s transmission system.
“Large data centres distributed around the country are going to change the way in which the transmission system in this country operates, both in terms of its spread and in terms of the demand on the system over the day. Traditionally, the system has been predictable with manageable winter and summer peaks and troughs along with day and night peaks and troughs.
“Data centres are constant and they’re going to change the dynamic of the transmission system here from a load perspective,” he continued. “With renewable technologies and other forms of generation changing the generation portfolio across the country, all of that’s going to cause a large change in how the transmission system is set up and operated.
“Add into that increased interconnection with the north, increased interconnection with Britain and talk of interconnection with France and you can begin to see that in the next decade, the electricity system will be very different from the one that existed in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s,” added Boyne.
Boyne thinks that these changes will bring opportunity, not just for wind but for renewable technologies, energy efficient technologies and energy storage technologies also. He sees the transmission area developing from the traditional and conventional world of the past few decades to an exciting and dynamic area to work in.
Wind Prospect Ireland operates in an industry that has received its fair share of negative publicity. Commentators, politicians and public interest groups have been vocal about what they see as the negative impact of onshore wind farming. Boyne feels that the Irish public are more accepting of onshore wind farming than is sometimes portrayed.
“The media and some of the more political elements of the community latch on to things that they feel are going to generate publicity. I think the general public are still very supportive of onshore wind, but there are a number of people who are against wind for their own ends. You absolutely have people in local areas that have real fears and concerns around proposed developments. I think some of that is through something new changing in their environment.”
Boyne acknowledges that many protesters have real concerns. He sees the key to a successful community engagement policy as early communication and honesty. “It’s important to engage with those with real concerns to try informing them and reassuring them. If they can’t be reassured, then make information available to them so that the fear element is gone. People should understand what’s going to happen and there should be no surprises.
“In the absence of proper information, from developers or contractors, the public are picking up information that is skewed in a way to generate fear. Dissemination of real information is a key part of what developers and the wider industry must do.”
This type of stakeholder engagement is important in Ireland, where there are still a number of areas suitable for onshore development. In comparison to industrialised countries such as England and Germany, Ireland can still avail of large undeveloped areas of land, removed from centres of population, which are suitable for onshore wind farming.
“Onshore wind farming is far more cost competitive than offshore wind farming. Despite all of the improvements in efficiencies in offshore wind, it’s still 50-60 per cent more expensive than onshore. What offshore options offer is immediate scale, especially for those countries that are largely developed in an industrial sense like England and Germany,” Boyne added.
Ireland’s robust planning system ensures that windfarm developments only occur in appropriate locations. This is something that Boyne feels the general public sometimes misses. “Ireland still has significant amounts of suitable sites. We’ve a very robust planning system that endeavours to ensure that windfarm developments only occur in locations that are appropriate. As an industry, we’re trying to find the right locations and there are enough sites that have planning permissions to build the level of windfarms we need.
“Developers are always looking for more sites. As technology improves, some sites that probably wouldn’t have been viable a number of years ago are becoming viable. I think we still have quite an amount of sites to be developed onshore at a reasonable cost – and certainly on much preferable terms of cost to the large offshore developments that we’re seeing around the shores of Britain,” Boyne concluded.http://www.engineersjournal.ie/2015/04/28/future-role-wind-irelands-energy-mix/http://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/ThinkstockPhotos-460589979-1024x683.jpghttp://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/ThinkstockPhotos-460589979-300x300.jpgElecelectricity,energy,infrastructure,wind