Mary Holland explains how SEAI provides data to support sustainable-energy schemes: its wind atlas provides information on wind speeds and turbine sites; geothermal maps show subsurface temperatures and geologic regions; and bioenergy maps indicate areas for growing bioenergy crops

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) launched a new online Energy Geographical Information System (GIS) in 2015 to support the development of sustainable energy schemes in Ireland with a focus on wind, bioenergy and geothermal energy. This continues SEAI’s interest and involvement in energy mapping, which dates back to 2003. The Authority’s effort and investment recently received a Special Achievement Award in GIS at the 2016 Esri International Conference in California in June.

The award recognises organisations that have used GIS to improve the world and set new precedents throughout the GIS community. SEAI was the only Irish winner among 167 winning organisations from over 300,000 eligible candidate projects across a broad range of sectors.

The power of GIS systems lies in the ability to combine related databases with geographical analysis tools. SEAI’s enhanced GIS system has intuitive features which make it easier for users to get insights into the potential value of existing and new sustainable energy projects while concurrently accessing other public spatial datasets such as land use and environmental designations. The system can be used in a variety of ways with the technology enabling a huge amount of information to be handled, visualised and interrogated together so that users may better understand the data.

Multiple audiences can derive value from SEAI’s Energy GIS, including local authorities, investors, infrastructure system owners and operators, researchers, communities and homeowners. For example, users can find out about the suitability of a certain area of land for growing bioenergy crops; understand the potential for geothermal energy generation at a specific location or analyse wind speeds at possible new wind farm sites.

How it works?

The SEAI Energy GIS is hosted on the Esri ArcGIS platform, which enables organisations to manage and drive their own data mapping and analysis projects. This dramatically improves the accessibility of spatial data on Ireland’s renewable energy resources. With these geographical tools, SEAI supports informed decisions on mapping energy sources and potential in Ireland.

The Energy GIS currently comprises three map viewers:

Users can now directly integrate with the SEAI Energy GIS as each layer is served as a web service. You can link to these services here. These viewers will be complemented with further functionality as SEAI continues to develop the Energy GIS.

Wind atlas for Ireland

Wind atlas

Wind atlas

The objective of developing a wind atlas for Ireland is to assist the on-going strategic development of the onshore and offshore wind resource. A wind atlas provides estimates of wind speeds derived using a computational algorithm and historical meteorological data. The first wind atlas was developed in 2003 by Truewind and ESBI Engineering, and it provided detailed information on wind speeds at 50m, 75m and 100m above ground level on a nationwide 100m horizontal grid basis.

As part of the development of the new GIS system, a remodelled wind atlas for Ireland was developed in 2013 by the UK Met Office, under contract to SEAI. This Atlas is based on a full ten years (2001-2010) of forecast data at 4km resolution and provides wind speeds for heights at 20m, 30m, 40m, 50m, 75m, 100m, 125m and 150m above ground level. In addition to the traditional mean wind speeds, other data are also available including Weibull parameters and a representative time series for 2006 which is considered to be the most typical wind year.

The wind atlas includes data layers such as wind speeds, county and electoral divisions, protected sites and offshore constraints like navigation channels. With this information now readily available through a simple online user interface, citizens, policy makers, statutory authorities and developers can all consider the respective opportunities and constraints in their local area. Not that long ago, before we had the power of GIS tools at our fingertips, the immense value of this data and information went untapped.

Both the 2003 and 2013 wind atlas are available on SEAI’s GIS. The 2013 atlas generally has lower wind speeds than the 2003 edition, especially in sheltered areas, but tends to have stronger winds over the mountain tops. These differences arise from the advances in the computational methods used and the variation in the long term meteorological datasets from which the wind atlases are derived. The core ten-year meteorological period of interest in developing the 2003 Atlas was 1990-1999 inclusive, a period which included several years with very high average wind speeds when compared to the long-term average.

It is important to emphasise that the wind atlas does not provide a measurement of the average wind speed for a location. Instead, it provides an estimate of the wind speed derived using a computational algorithm. This is preliminary that must subsequently be confirmed through detailed on site measurements.

Geothermal maps

geothermal wind atlas

Geothermal map

Depending on the resource depth and associated temperature, geothermal energy can be used in a number of ways such as for space heating/cooling, district heating, as a direct source of heat for large energy users, or even in certain circumstances for electricity generation. In 2004, SEAI commissioned environmental consultants CSA Group, Cork Institute of Technology and the Geological Survey of Ireland to complete a study identifying the potential geothermal energy resource in Ireland. One of the outcomes of the project was a series of geothermal maps for Ireland.

This study surveyed and compiled data on warm springs and groundwater temperature trends. In addition, in order to map the subsurface temperatures, all available borehole data in the Republic of Ireland was assembled. Temperature data from mineral and oil exploration holes was retrieved from previous surveys while existing, open boreholes were surveyed to obtain their temperature profiles. The study indicated that Ireland is particularly well suited to the use of ground source heat pumps due to its temperate climate and rainfall levels that ensure good soil conductivity and year-round rainfall recharge.

The compilation of this data resulted in the development of the geothermal maps, which allow an assessment of the geothermal potential at any location in Ireland. Modelled subsurface temperatures are provided at depths from 10m to 5,000m depths, as well as spatial information on geological regions and rock type.

In addition, SEAI’s Energy GIS links to the Geological Survey of Ireland’s mapping services to display information on ground source heat energy, sometimes called shallow geothermal energy. This energy can be collected from the ground and boosted with heat pumps, potentially yielding up to four times the energy used to collect it. This heat energy can be harnessed, or collected, using different types of collector systems. The suitability maps can be used by homeowners to indicate which type of ground source heat collector is most compatible with the geology below their site.

Bioenergy maps

bioenergy wind atlas

Bioenergy map

The bioenergy maps were first developed in 2008 to accelerate deployment of Ireland’s bioenergy resources. They were intended to best enable an assessment of location specific information related to current bioenergy resources, demand, gaps and future opportunities and to allow modelling work to be undertaken.

The maps were developed through the compilation of data from SEAI and a large number of different agencies across agriculture, forestry, waste and environmental management sectors. These datasets covered (although not exhaustively) bioenergy resources and bioenergy demand as well as the current surrounding road network. The resultant maps indicate areas suitable for the cultivation of bioenergy crops, such as miscanthus, oilseed rape, reed canary grass and willow.

The country is divided into 50m by 50m grid squares and each square has been assigned one of five categories: high suitability, medium suitability, low suitability, unsuitable and unavailable. Factors modelled in this system are aspect, height, slope, rainfall and soil type.

The Energy Crop Suitability Tool is one of the added value components in the bioenergy maps and may be of particular interest to landowners. It allows the user to assess the suitability of a selected area of land for growing energy crops. In addition, the user can download the data in CSV format for further modifications to assess the cost of delivered biomass, delivered energy from existing bioenergy crops, or the potential energy and economic value that may be obtained should energy crops be planted on suitable land.

In addition to the bioenergy crop tool, the identify tool provides valuable summary data on soils and forestry information and information on waste. Potential biomass users can use this tool to select an area around their site and view what resources may be available within a certain distance.


SEAI’s Energy GIS is flexible and facilitates the development of enhanced online geospatial information datasets. These can be accessed by users in a GIS environment to provide distinct customised outputs and unique energy-related geospatial insights according to individual needs. Provision of spatial information improves the citizen and business end-use experience by providing access to technical and environmental information and data. SEAI will continue to provide authoritative mapping on Ireland’s renewable energy resources and related services to everyone.

There are also plans to expand the organisation’s GIS offering to include information on other renewable energy resources. Development is currently under way on a heat-map viewer, due to be launched before the end of 2016. In addition, SEAI’s recent Energy Research, Development and Deployment Programme Call for Proposals highlighted geospatial tools as an area of particular interest.

As a result, SEAI has received a number of exciting applications for such developments. The outcome of these research projects includes datasets related to, for example, a solar atlas for Ireland. SEAI looks forward to including this new information on the Energy GIS system and further meeting users’ needs in terms of geospatial information for renewable energy sources in Ireland.

Mary Holland, data-management executive, SEAI. For further details on the GIS, please click here. O'RiordanElecenergy,renewables,SEAI,technology,wind
The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) launched a new online Energy Geographical Information System (GIS) in 2015 to support the development of sustainable energy schemes in Ireland with a focus on wind, bioenergy and geothermal energy. This continues SEAI’s interest and involvement in energy mapping, which dates back...