Changing winds: Ireland’s step to becoming a global wind energy player (report)

1 Apr 2014

Ireland could be potentially surrounded by an invisible goldmine of wind energy that will provide billions for the economy and fuel homes. Is this just a pipe dream or are we seeing the winds of change in Ireland’s energy?

According to the recent The Value of Wind Energy to Ireland report from Pöyry, an international engineering and energy consultancy, the answer is right in front of us.

Almost sounding too good to be true, the Finnish consultancy firm claim that the potential investment and gain from mass wind energy products will have almost zero, if any, effect on the Irish taxpayer by the time we reach our target of 20pc of our total energy use originating from renewable energies as laid down by the Europe 2020 agreement co-signed with our fellow European Union members.

As it stands, if we are to make this target, some super-human levels of work will need to be undertaken to turn around our current levels of fossil fuel use.

According to the report, Ireland has the unenviable position of being the fourth biggest importers of fossil fuels in Europe, standing at 85pc, joined preceding Cyprus, Malta and Luxembourg, three countries which have almost no existing forms of energy creation.

This would appear to be a rather damning indictment for a country that is renowned for a country in the middle of the North Atlantic Drift, one of the biggest air channels that makes the west coast one of the windiest coastlines in Europe.

 If, as a nation, we were to halt wind energy production at the end of this year, the report estimates our reliance on energy imports of coal, oil and gas will increase in cost from €900m in 2013 to €1.1bn in 2020 and €1.5bn in 2030.

Thankfully, we have an out.

Reaching our potential

The report suggests that if the country were to install the necessary 3.8GW of wind capacity required to meet the Republic of Ireland’s 2020 targets and even developing a further 1.6GW between 2020 and 2030, we could see €8.3bn of investment into the Irish economy along with €1.6bn in tax revenue and 22,510 jobs created to build the projects.

If this were to happen, the economic benefits of wind technology would double the recent news of Intel’s €5bn investment into the indigenous tech industry.

The difference being, of course, the latter is confirmed, while the wind energy projects are estimates.

According to Kenneth Matthews, head of the Irish Wind Energy Association, this idea is certainly not a figment of their imagination: “One thing we saw at our conference [to launch the report] has been a phenomenal appetite from international investors in coming to Ireland because they recognise our ability to integrate wind at a very low cost which means that there’s less chance of retrospective legislation in the sector, thereby finance is very keen to support the wind sector in Ireland.”

One such company who are about to make their mark on Ireland’s wind energy projects is Brookfield Renewables, a Canadian renewable energy company who have acquired Bord Gáis’s 17 wind energy projects across Ireland worth an estimated €700m with 125MW of wind energy in projects already in construction, as well as an approximate 300MW wind-development pipeline…in the pipeline.

Closer to home we have our own indigenous company looking to make a name for themselves on the world stage. Airsynergy, A Longford-based wind energy technology company recently closed out its latest funding round bringing their total monies raised to €5m on their advanced turbines which can produce twice as much wind than a traditional turbine for 20 per cent extra capex.

Jobs across all sectors

The claim that 22,510 jobs will be created nationwide by a significant investment in wind energy in the next six years is a bold statement by any stretch of the imagination and begs the questions of where these jobs will be represented.

Creating a new reliance on the construction and engineering trade through the construction of wind turbines might rest uneasily with some who might see the idea as harking back to the boom times when the sector built with no end-goal in mind except to keep building.

This report expects the level of employment in the Irish economy to rise by between 1,150 and 1,800 jobs per annum in the period to 2020 and by between 1,600 and 2,300 per annum thereafter to 2030 and, more importantly, will not be solely in the construction sector as there would be expectations to fill other roles including safety management, assessment, jobs in legal, advisory, finance utilities and electrical infrastructure, to name a few.

Perhaps the potential beauty of undertaking such a project is that we can actually build more than our national requirements as the regulatory bodies of the European Union leave a market wide-open to exporting our energy assets in the same way we rely on Russia for our natural gas which currently powers 50pc of all our electricity generation.

Given the recent geo-political situation in Eastern Europe over the Crimea and European sanctions against Vladimir Putin’s government, Irish companies looking to invest in wind technologies could arguably take a significant percentage of Europe’s reliance on natural gas in the east, to Ireland’s wind power in the west.

At least, according to Matthews in the IWEA: “If you look at where energy policy is across Europe right now and if you look at beyond reports, over 28pc of our overall energy needs which has actually lowered the overall cost of electricity so what you have beyond Europe is the tightening of the gas market.

We currently have the situation with Putin [in Russia] who has caused a gas price spike so wind is lowering prices and is a hedge against this while providing for the GDP of the economy.”

Under the report’s most ambitious scenario, additional cumulative tax revenue to the State could amount to €8.4bn; investment in the economy could total €16.6bn from 2013-20 and €14bn from 2021-30.

The actual environmental effects

With such impressive financial figures, it’s not surprising that the real long term effects of the weaning off of fossil fuels can have on the country from an environmental standpoint. While hardly the most polluted nation in the world, Ireland is by no means near the top of any list of enviable environmentally-friendly nations.  

By doubling the output of wind in Ireland by our 2020 target, the annual carbon emissions avoided and displaced would be over 21 metric tonnes up to 2020, a 35pc decrease on current levels.

As companies like AirSynergy and Centrica push for increasing the power and spread of wind technologies, we could be on to an industry that will not only keep the ‘Emerald Isle’ green, but could power our economy in the same level of scale as our push for pharmaceutical industries to locate here in the 1980s and 1990s.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic