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Power firms warn time is short for green energy plan


Stock image. Photo: Getty Images

Stock image. Photo: Getty Images

Dara Lynott

Dara Lynott


Stock image. Photo: Getty Images

Electricity firms have warned that Ireland cannot hope to switch to a mainly renewable supply without rapid roll-out of back-up power storage and other major infrastructure.

They say getting to 70pc renewable electricity by 2030, as currently planned, will need multiple battery-storage installations, the completion of three planned transboundary interconnectors and a strengthened transmission grid. Even with all these components in place, natural gas will remain essential to power supply in 2030 and beyond, albeit on a reduced scale.

They also warn that time is running out to put all these energy safeguards in place.

“With one year gone and nine to go to 2030, it is imperative that the Dáil turns its attention to ensuring that the correct policy signals stimulate appropriate market incentives and the right investments,” said Dara Lynott, chief executive of the Electricity Association of Ireland (EAI).

EAI members are responsible for more than 90pc of the electricity generation and supply across the entire island.

Mr Lynott told the Oireachtas Climate Action Committee that the sector’s ambition was for a fossil-free future powered by electricity and it fully supported the Government’s ambitions in this regard.

But he said research carried out for the association by the MaREI Centre at University College Cork showed this ambition was dependent on significant infrastructural investment.

MaREI reviewed 250,000 hours of historical weather data to determine the extremes to which an electricity generation system dependent on wind and solar would need to adapt.

Its researchers found that with all the new renewable energy projects planned, there will be capacity to produce 40pc more electricity but with overall emissions halved.

However, they said that would require completion of all three planned electricity interconnectors.

This relates to the controversial north-south interconnector that was first announced almost 15 years ago but has yet to commence, as well as the Ireland-UK Greenlink interconnector which is still in planning, and the Ireland-France interconnector for which a planning application is expected to be submitted next month.

All three are needed to ensure surplus wind energy can be sold when plentiful and that electricity could be bought in when renewable supplies are low.

Battery-storage facilities capable of storing 1.1 gigawatts of power would also be required to prevent ‘dispatch down’ – the situation where some wind turbines have to be turned off because the transmission grid cannot handle all the power they are producing.

Two battery-storage installations are in operation here so far, with capacity for 11 megawatts and 100 megawatts respectively, although there are proposals for other, larger ones.

Other forms of long-term energy storage would also be required, similar to the pumped-water storage facility proposed for Silvermines in Co Tipperary.

Mr Lynott said it was also essential to ensure there was sufficient demand for electricity or else the extra capacity would not be financed or built.

“This will require a much faster rate of switching from high-carbon fossil fuel to electric heat pumps and vehicles,” he said.

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