Building offshore wind farms requires the accelerated development of ports throughout Ireland
Ireland is on the cusp of developing up to 7 gigawatts (GW) of offshore wind by 2030.
While much of the focus is currently on the development of the legislative framework for these developments, Ireland is also in urgent need of developing its port infrastructure – to ensure that both the short-term goal of 7GW can be realised, not to mention the government ambition of at least 30GW of offshore wind energy by 2050.
What happens if the infrastructure is not developed?
At best, thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of euros of investment in the local supply chain will not be created, as developers will utilise ports and facilities outside of the island of Ireland.
We need a clear national ports policy to facilitate offshore wind projects
At worst, our national renewable energy and climate action targets will not be met.
So why is there such a delay in this infrastructure development?
There are a number of factors involved. Port development is difficult to gain consent for, mainly due to the environmental and planning constraints at the interface between the land and sea.
It is also very expensive, due to the complex type of structures required, the volume of materials necessary to build the ports, the sophisticated plant and equipment needed, and the construction and safety risks present in marine construction. But fundamentally, the port companies need a clear policy and roadmap for offshore renewable energy development and finance.
Recently, the Government awarded seven Maritime Area Consents (MACs) to what it hopes will be the first of Ireland’s new offshore wind projects. These so-called ‘phase one’ projects include Oriel Wind Park, SSE’s Arklow Bank 2, Bray Bank, Kish Bank, North Irish Sea Array, Codling Wind Park, and Skerd Rocks.
The award of MACs ensures that only projects with the greatest viability to deliver Ireland’s energy targets can progress into the planning system.
The award of a MAC follows a comprehensive assessment by the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications into each project’s financial and technical competency.
This approach enables all phase one projects to begin their pre-planning application engagement with An Bord Pleanála.
The award of a MAC also enables phase one projects to participate in the ORESS One – the first auction for offshore wind under the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS).
ORESS One is expected to procure approximately 2.5 GW of electricity generating capacity.
As it currently stands, there is a lack of suitable ports on the island of Ireland which have the capacity and facilities to support the relevant phase one offshore wind projects – which involve fixed-bottom foundation technology – for the turbines.
That said, a number of ports have commenced development plans which aim to support the development of the offshore wind projects at phase one, phase two and the enduring regime projects for post-2030. These ports include Rosslare Europort, the Port of Cork and Shannon Foynes Port.
Port infrastructure typically has a design life of 50 years minimum
The phase one projects will have different infrastructure requirements to the phase two and enduring regime projects, which will primarily be Floating Offshore Wind (Flow) projects.
The Flow projects will have significantly more onerous requirements from the ports, including increased water depth, wet storage facilities, increased quay length, and unrestricted air draft.
All of these requirements come at an increased development cost to each port.
While it is encouraging that a number of Irish ports, such as those mentioned above, have proposed plans to support the floating offshore wind projects, this needs to happen sooner rather than later – if the country hopes to meet its offshore renewable energy targets by 2030.
As offshore wind developers, we must support the accelerated development of Irish ports by providing certainty in our development timelines.
As a nation, we need a clear national ports policy that facilitates and encourages offshore wind projects.
We must ensure that the ports are suitably funded to develop the infrastructure needed if we are to attract and retain international offshore renewable developers and supply chain.
Port infrastructure typically has a design life of 50 years minimum. We must therefore ensure that this infrastructure is suitable for both the 2030 and 2050 targets, and will be adaptable to service emerging off-takes such as hydrogen/ammonia.
Development plans will also need to be cognisant of the requirements to support the operation and maintenance of the offshore infrastructure during the lifetime of the projects, and the technical operatives and services required – while at the same time respecting the existing functions of the ports and harbours, which includes fishing and commercial shipping.
Shane McCarthy is technical and engineering manager with DP Energy, an Irish firm that develops, constructs and operates renewable projects worldwide