Ireland has just one offshore wind farm and wholesale prices are 20-50pc higher than the UK or Spain
ESB and Norwegian energy giant Equinor are exploring five sites off the Irish coast, which they say could generate enough wind energy to power four million homes.
Over the last four months, the companies have submitted foreshore licence applications to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage to study sites off the coasts of Dublin, Wexford, Waterford, Cork and Clare.
The move, a first step to submitting planning applications, includes plans for two ‘floating’ wind farms in waters that are too deep for fixed-bottom turbines.
“The coast of Ireland has strong wind conditions, making it an interesting market for offshore wind,” an Equinor spokesman said. “Together with our Irish partner, ESB, we are looking into several potential offshore wind projects, both bottom-fixed and floating.”
The Government has committed to generating 70pc of its electricity from renewables by 2030 – from around 40pc last year – which would require a further five gigawatts (GW) of capacity.
“When you get into the offshore projects, you’re in the gigawatt scale, so there’s factor of 10 in terms of the amount of electricity produced from one offshore wind farm, compared to onshore wind farms, just because they’re so much bigger,” said Paul Doherty, managing director at Gavin and Doherty Geosolutions, which has been working on offshore wind projects outside of Ireland for the last decade.
“In terms of our 2030 targets, it’s the only way we’re going to be able to deliver on those promises.”
The ESB-Equinor plans include a floating turbine 35km off the coast of Kerry and Clare, near the decommissioned Moneypoint coal-fired station, Ireland’s largest electricity plant.
That turbine, alongside a fixed-bottom project 20km closer to shore, could generate a combined 1.5 gigawatts (GW) of energy, enough to power around 1.5m homes.
The baseline cost of building 1GW of offshore wind capacity ranges from €1bn to €2.5bn.
Presenting ESB’s annual results yesterday, chief financial officer Pat Fenlon said it would set aside at least €1.1bn in capital expenditure (its 2020 spend) from now on.
Ireland has only one offshore wind farm, SSE Airtricity’s 25 megawatt (MW) Arklow Bank, off the coast of Co. Wicklow.
The Government has fast-tracked seven other offshore projects through the initial planning stage, including the 1GW Codling Wind Park off the Wicklow coast and ESB’s ‘Oriel’ venture with Belgium’s Parkwind off the Louth coast.
Wind energy wholesale prices are between 20pc and 50pc higher in Ireland than they are in more developed markets such as the UK, Spain or Sweden.
“We’re paying too much for wind energy in Ireland. We should be a lot cheaper,” said Justin Moran, head of communications for Wind Energy Ireland. “Ireland could be the Saudi Arabia of wind energy. For our size, we probably have the best wind energy sources in the world.”
Developers have high hopes for new planning rules currently winding their way through the Oireachtas and Ireland’s first offshore wind auction later this year.
“In anticipation of that, there is widespread interest,” said Mr Doherty. "There is more interest in the market than will ever be built out.”