Sunday 19 November 2017

Irish firms urged to take advantage of €200m in EU solar energy business

SEAI chief Jim Gannon
SEAI chief Jim Gannon

Paul Melia Environment Editor

IRISH companies could capture more than €200m of business annually from the EU solar energy market by cashing in on expertise in development of building products, smart grid controls and ICT.

A report from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) says the solar market across Europe will be worth €10bn a year by 2030 if the bloc takes ambitious action to tackle climate change.

Speaking at the SEAI Energy Show which opened yesterday, SEAI CEO Jim Gannon told the Irish Independent that opportunities existed to develop autonomous devices, integrated solar panels for rooftops, and panels that could be installed on public transport systems including bus and rail.

Autonomous devices could include stand-alone arrays not connected to a grid in isolated areas such as sub-Saharan Africa which would power refrigeration and mobile devices.

"The opportunities we're trying to identify are in niche areas where Ireland already has good expertise, particularly where industry and research have collaborated in the past," he said.

"There's manufacturing processes in ICT, in building products and building materials and also in grid controls and smart grid, but it needs collaboration.

"We're talking about integrated solar panels in the roof, or that could be part of the façade of the wall.

"We have the Dublin Energy Lab based at the Dublin Institute of Technology looking at this, and also have companies like Kingspan and CRH with global pull and world-leading research. We're at the right end of the scale. We're saying to companies: think big and a little bit further down the road. Let's look at the next step."

There are some 4,000 solar installations across the country, most located on domestic rooftops, with commercial arrays in the North, including one which connects directly to Belfast International Airport. There is another at Rasharkin in Co Antrim which recently become operational, and is providing enough energy for 14,000 homes.

Rollout of commercial arrays in the Republic has been slower, as there is no subsidy for solar as applies for other forms of renewable energy including wind.

Amarenco, headed by former Bord Gáis boss John Mullins, says it has planning permission for eight solar farms in the south of the country and is ready to invest €56m if subsidies are put in place.

Mr Gannon said a tariff for developers would be needed to ramp-up investment in the sector, and was likely to be in place next year but it was important to get it right.

"If you look across Europe, there are support regimes in place and coming into place," he said.

"There could be a place for tariffs, to decarbonise the economy and to diversify (the portfolio of renewable energy developments).

"Sometime in early to mid-2018 is reasonable and possibly appropriate. It's important to get it right. if you advance the programme and go very fast, there are harsh lessons to be learned."

A report prepared for the SEAI, 'Ireland's Solar Value Chain Opportunity' notes the cost of solar has reduced by 80pc since 2009 and Solar PV (photovoltaic) is positioned to become one of the most important energy technologies to help reduce fossil fuel-dependent energy generation.

It says that Irish firms are unlikely to break into large-scale manufacturing of panels, which is largely carried out in China and Taiwan, but that research and development of new materials, product design and testing, software and controls, maintenance services and storage technologies present opportunities.

"Know-how from sectors where Irish industry and research is strong can potentially be applied in this wider value chain to allow them to capture a portion of a rapidly-growing global market," it says.

The value of the EU market could reach €10bn by 2030, and up to €340m in Ireland.

"The total potential value that Irish organisations could capture is estimated to be between €42m and €216m per year, depending on deployment and the degree to which Irish organisations can engage."

Mr Gannon was speaking at the SEAI Energy Show in Dublin's RDS, which runs again today. Up to 5,000 visitors are expected to attend.

More than 150 exhibitors are in place, with more than a dozen embassies, 15 trade and professional organisations and a demonstration area where electric vehicles, including a converted DeLorean, are in place.

Last year, exhibitors said sales worth €86m were generated.

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