Ireland could become a net exporter of energy for the first time
IRISH wind energy experts meet in Dublin this week for their annual conference, which will see Ireland take a step closer to becoming Europe's energy hub. They are confident wind energy could be worth €6bn a year in export revenue in less than a decade.
This is an exciting moment, with Ireland now on the threshold of moving from being a net importer of energy to net exporter for the first time.
Given the right circumstances, we have a very real opportunity to become a major generator of wind power and of exporting it to our neighbours, particularly the UK, which will face a critical shortage in years to come.
The benefits of renewable energy aren't just 'green'. They are far more tangible, ranging from significant job creation; long-term and sustainable investment; growing export opportunities; and a mature indigenous industry.
The proactive and strategic development of wind energy has a clear role to play in Ireland's road to economic recovery and in stimulating employment growth.
Most pieces of the renewable energy jigsaw are finally coming together for Ireland to be well on its way to reaching its EU targets and to becoming a major energy exporter.
Currently, there is enough wind power in Ireland to meet half of the country's electricity demand.
This wind energy has the effect of reducing the requirement for more expensive fossil fuel plants. This will reduce carbon dioxide emissions and lower the wholesale price of electricity.
The Government recently introduced a new scheme which aims to provide long-term contracts and fixed prices for renewable energy producers in Ireland.
This is a great milestone event for the wind energy sector and will allow for confident investment in the industry, which in turn, will provide increased stability for all concerned.
The scheme provides a much-needed shot in the arm to the industry and underpins the Government's renewed commitment to renewable energy.
The Government is also currently in discussions on developing a bilateral trade agreement with the UK on renewable energy which would allow Irish wind farms to export their wind energy surplus to the UK. This would allow the British market to meet its energy needs while ensuring wind energy harnessed by Irish wind farms is fully utilised. Given that Ireland has the best wind regime in Europe, this puts us in a powerful position in terms of export capability.
An opportunity is emerging; we must seize it.
However, while capability is important, capacity is also key. Without the necessary infrastructure and regulatory framework in place, Ireland will squander this opportunity to capitalise on the maximum potential our windy island has to offer.
We currently import approximately €6bn worth of energy supplies. Under the right conditions Ireland could be in a position to take in more than €6bn in revenue from renewable energy exports by 2020.
This is something people never thought possible and something that was certainly never widely discussed. But it is possible; it is within our reach to become an energy centre for Europe -- as long as we have the right tools to do so.
Wind will never, and should never, be the only energy option but it should form part of a diverse energy offering, with diverse benefits.
Wind energy represents a first-rate opportunity to secure job creation and long-term inward investment, as well as to position Ireland at the heart of Europe's energy solutions.
Kenneth Matthews is chief executive of the Irish Wind Energy Association. Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte will deliver the keynote address at the IWEA's annual conference which takes place in Dublin tomorrow and Friday.