Ireland will be an energy exporter by the end of the decade, Environment Minister Eamon Ryan has said.
In what would represent a massive turn-around for the country which has long relied on imported fuels to generate electricity, Mr Ryan said a surplus of power would be generated here within just seven years.
“It's going to happen, it’s a real certainty now,” he said. “The industry is gearing up and the State is going to make it work.”
He said with all the renewable electricity projects in development, 55 terawatts of power would be generated in Ireland by 2030 while the country’s needs at peak demand would be 50 terawatts.
With work underway on two electricity interconnectors linking Ireland with Wales and France, the surplus could be sold abroad.
“By the end of this decade, we’re going to be an energy exporter with a view to becoming a much larger exporter in the next decade,” he said.
Mr Ryan shared his optimistic outlook at the annual conference of industry body, Wind Energy Ireland (WEI).
The two-day gathering has heard concerns repeatedly expressed that the planning and regulatory systems and national infrastructure are not adequately prepared or resourced to cope with the rapid up-scaling of renewable electricity.
Alejandro de Hoz of international energy company Corio, which is developing what would be Ireland’s first Atlantic based offshore windfarm off the Galway coast, said slow permitting and grid connection were concerns.
“We need a well-resourced planning authority and appropriate expertise to challenge and approve projects,” he said.
The problem was not just in Ireland but worldwide.
He said global wind energy output needed to increase nine times by 2050 to hit global climate action targets but at the current pace of development, it would only meet two-thirds of that goal.
He said solar and hydroelectricity also faced high targets but in addition, solar presented challenges because of the space required for installations and hydro because of the environmental impact.
“So wind can not fail,” he said.
Mr Ryan accepted that the planning system for onshore and offshore developments here needed to be better resourced and said it was a priority for the Government.
However, he said he was convinced Ireland could meet its renewable energy targets and the public want this to happen.
“They just want to know what’s the practical way of doing it and is it real, is it tangible, is it deliverable? I’m absolutely convinced it is.
“It’s different to fossil and nuclear which is hierarchical, which you can hold people to ransom over, which is used as a threat in war.
“The ownership of this is more diverse and its ubiquity gives it real potential.”