Ireland must quickly build its own infrastructure and expertise to construct offshore wind farms or will lose many billions’ worth of business to British ports and other foreign firms, industry experts warn.
A report today by renewable energy consultants Carbon Trust finds that not one of 21 ports and harbours in Ireland is capable of anchoring a construction project for offshore wind.
It says the State - potentially alongside private investors - needs to plow €50m to €100m into an east coast port soon to make it capable of serving as a hub for constructing offshore wind farms.
While the 188-page report itself doesn’t pick a favourite, lead author Liam Leahy said the Port of Rosslare comes closest currently to “checking all the boxes” needed to compete for this business.
But even Rosslare could require speedy investment in the €50m-€100m range to allow it to compete credibly with UK ports, said Mr Leahy, a Limerick native who is manager of offshore wind for London-based Carbon Trust.
At stake is which firms and locations will gain as an estimated €8.6bn is spent over the coming decade building the first major offshore wind farms off the east and southeast coasts of Ireland.
Currently the Carbon Trust estimates that Irish firms can compete for less than a quarter of that cash – and mostly in providing support services once foreign firms build the wind turbines and farms themselves.
The Government’s Climate Action Plans wants more than a dozen offshore projects still stuck in the planning pipeline to deliver at least 3.5GW of power by 2030.
Right now, the report concluded, only the ports of Belfast in Northern Ireland and the ports of Mostyn and Barrow in Britain have the quality of essential infrastructure and skills in place to anchor the construction of offshore wind farms in Ireland.
These UK ports would compete for Irish business, the report found, “under a ‘do nothing’ scenario where Irish ports fail to take advantage of the offshore wind opportunity”.
The report found that several Atlantic-facing ports – including Cork, Killybegs and Foynes on the Shannon - had relative strengths in place for future offshore wind farm development.
But Ireland’s initial offshore projects will focus on the Irish Sea, where weather conditions are less hostile and the seabed is sufficiently shallow to construct fixed turbines into the earth.
Most plans for Atlantic wind farms envision the deployment of floating turbines – a much more expensive and longer-term proposition unlikely to become reality before the 2030s.
The report found that ports serving as construction hubs need harbours with at least seven metres’ depth. That rules out all but three ports on the Irish Sea: Dublin (11m), Rosslare (10m) and Dún Laoghaire (8.5m).
Report authors said Dublin Port was less likely as a construction hub for offshore wind farms because it already is an exceptionally busy port for container traffic.
The report said offshore wind projects require large dedicated quaysides not directly competing for space with container ships and, ideally, 20 hectares for storage and manufacturing facilities where the massive wind turbines are assembled.
Rosslare was a construction hub for Ireland’s sole offshore windfarm in existence, the 25MW Arklow Banks seven-turbine site built as a technology demonstration project in 2004.
But the report notes Rosslare currently lacks key equipment to build today’s much bigger and powerful turbines – two cranes capable of lifting at least 80 tonnes.
It said Rosslare also had relatively little land for storing and building the turbines – but could be best placed geographically to do this work for both Irish and UK locations.
“Of all the Irish ports, it has the most strategic location in proximity to both the east and south coasts while also in a strategic location that could possibly serve export markets,” the report said.