Ireland cites need for 1.9 GW more solar this decade to stay on track for net zero

Although wind power dominates the renewables scene in the Republic of Ireland and the North – and even natural gas has a bigger role to play – the grid companies of the neighbors have revised up their estimates of how much solar will be needed, after talking to the public and industry.

November 18, 2021

The authors of a plan to keep the island of Ireland on track to hit its 2030 and mid-century clean energy targets pulled no punches when it came to stressing how tough it would be to achieve the ambitious requirements of the energy transition.

“The scale of work outlined in this roadmap will be very challenging to deliver,” stated the 183-page technical version of the Shaping our electricity future report published last week.

In the shorter version of the strategy prepared for non-specialists, Mark Foley, chief executive of Republic of Ireland state-owned network company Eirgrid said: “This transition to clean electricity will affect everyone in Ireland and will unquestionably be difficult.”

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Just how difficult that could be for consumers was spelled out only in the technical version of the document, which stated: “Eirgrid and SONI [the cross-border System Operator for Northern Ireland, which is owned by Eirgrid] believe it will be challenging to maintain electricity prices at current levels.” The fact failing to phase out fossil fuels will be even more costly in the long run was reflected by the line: “The scale of this challenge is enormous – but the benefits will be immeasurable.”

In terms of solar, the two grid companies have estimated 1 GW of large scale PV generation capacity will be needed in Ireland this decade to help the nation generate at least 70% of its electricity from renewables, en route to net zero by mid century. A further 300 MW of big solar will be needed in the North.

The volume of small scale, household and business solar arrays needed this decade was revised up from an initial estimate of 200-400 MW for the whole island, to 500 MW in EU member state Ireland and 100 MW in Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K.

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That change was made following an extensive, 14-week consultation period to gather views from interested stakeholders from March onwards. The feedback generated – which included the fact people prefer solar to wind turbines when it comes to onshore renewables – also prompted Eirgrid and SONI to plan for 1.65 GWh of energy storage capacity to be added to the network this decade, more than double the initial 750 MW estimate.

The strategy also envisages 7.5 GW of wind by 2030, on and offshore, as well as 2.6 GW of derated gas with the latter “helping to fill any gaps while we make the changes needed,” according to the report. The dispatchability of the electricity sources this decade will be ensured by the use of batteries; demand-side response; the pending Celtic interconnector which will again hook up Ireland to the EU energy network; and ‘renewable-gas-ready conventional power capacity.’ Further out, longer-term energy storage technology and pumped hydro can be part of the network, the report added.

Another €1bn

With the island of Ireland already having plans in place for €2.2 billion of network infrastructure upgrades, Eirgrid and SONI reckon a further €1 billion will need to be spent this decade, on 40 new projects in Ireland and a dozen in the North. The former is set to need 24 upgrades, 11 new technology projects, four new circuits – underground lines and overhead cables – and a new transformer. Northern Ireland is set for seven upgrades, three new circuits and two new tech facilities.

The report stated Ireland currently draws on renewables for around 40% of its electricity and said the 70% target for 2030 was a minimum ambition, and could ramp up to 80%.

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