Wind Energy in Ireland

Ireland.jpgIn 2016, Ireland’s wind energy sector saw continued and steady growth. The total installed wind power capacity grew to 2,800 MW—an increase of 345 MW compared to 2015. This represents a new record for annual capacity addition, exceeding the previous peak of 270 MW in 2014.

As part of their commitment to the 2020 national renewable electricity target, the Irish government supported robust growth in deployment by extending deadlines for the Renewable Energy Feed-in Tariff (REFIT) II support scheme. Yet despite the strong growth, the percentage of electricity demand met by wind to fell to 20.9% and wind-generated electricity curtailment levels fell to 2.8% in 2016. This was largely due to a low wind year and increasing electricity demand.

An ongoing national R,D&D effort enables wind energy to achieve continued growth, particularly on grid integration issues. For example, the Delivering a Secure, Sustainable Electricity System (DS3) program executed by the Irish Transmission System Operator (TSO), EirGrid, has brought changes to electricity system operation, allowing an increased limit on the maximum instantaneous wind energy penetration [1].

Obtaining acceptance of new wind energy projects by host communities remains a challenge. The government has prioritized the introduction of measures and practices to improve this, supporting their measures with robust research.

Policies Supporting Development

The primary support scheme for renewable electricity in Ireland is the REFIT scheme, which has been in place since 2006. Applications for the 2012 REFIT 2 scheme closed in December 2015. In December 2016, the government extended the required ‘connected’ date for projects from 31 December 2017 to 31 December 2019 and extended the requirement to have a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) in place from 30 September 2018 to 31 March 2020.

The increasing amount of wind energy and falling wholesale electricity prices (including depression of prices by wind power) have contributed to an increase in the consumer levy. The projected cost of a consumer levy for supporting all renewable electricity output from 2015-2016 was approximately 156.4 million EUR (164.7 million USD); over 90% of that cost supported wind energy.

The inflation-adjusted REFIT tariffs for wind in 2015 were 69.72 EUR/MWh (73.42 USD/MWh) for wind farms larger than 5 MW and 72.167 EUR/MWh (75.992 USD/MWh) for wind farms smaller than 5 MW.

Given the closure of the REFIT II scheme, the government initiated the high-level design of a replacement Renewable Electricity Support Scheme in 2016. The Department of Communications, Climate Action, and Environment (DCCAE) advertised a Request for Tender (RfT) for an “Economic Analysis to Underpin a New Renewable Electricity Support Scheme in Ireland.” The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) also tendered for a study on models for community renewable energy schemes in October 2016.

Renewable Energy Targets

Under the 2009 EU Renewable Energy Directive, Ireland is legally bound to meet a target of 16% of its total energy demand from renewable energy sources by 2020. Crucially, 40% of electricity demand is to be met with renewable sources.

An assessment of projected contributions to this renewable electricity target indicates that 32% of electricity demand, or 80% of the renewable electricity target, will be met with land-based wind energy. Wind energy will also contribute approximately 7% of total energy demand, making up nearly half of the overall 16% national renewable energy target [2].

A 2016 generation capacity review identified that, due to a projected increase in electricity demand, Ireland must increase wind-generated electricity 3,800–4,100 MW by 2020 to achieve 40% renewable electricity. This will require an average of 1,150 MW of new wind power capacity to be added over the next four years. This requirement may increase with further upward revision of demand projections.