Goal to attract wind-energy players to set up €7bn supply chain in Ireland’s midlands

30 Apr 2013

Manufacturers of wind-turbine components and transmission technology are meeting today in Tullamore, Co Offaly, to discuss the potential of setting up a local supply chain in Ireland’s midlands that could be worth in the region of €7bn.

Today’s event is being hosted by Offaly County Council along with Mainstream Renewable Power. The latter is developing the ‘Energy Bridge’ project that proposes to export 5,000MW of wind power from Ireland to the UK, starting from 2017.

Eddie O’Connor set up Mainstream in 2008, after Airtricity was sold to E.ON and Scottish and Southern Energy.

According to Mainstream, Energy Bridge will capture wind power generated onshore and offshore in Ireland, transport it under the Irish Sea and connect it to the UK via a grid connection that the company has already secured.

Today’s conference is being held to explore supply chain opportunities for businesses as a result of the Energy Bridge infrastructure project.

Manufacturing base

Per Mainstream, Energy Bridge will require 1,700 turbine towers, 5,000 blades, 1,700 nacelles, 16,000 kilometres of inter-array cabling, 1,700 converters, 30 electrical substations and 400km of HVDC underground cables between 2016 and 2020.

Rather than importing these materials, which Mainstream estimates would be worth well in excess of €7bn, the plan is to attract manufacturers to set up plants in the midlands.

At the moment, Ireland is home to about 1,000 operating wind turbines with a capacity of about 2,000 megawatts (MW). The industry employs 1.5 people for each megawatt installed, according to Mainstream. But by making Ireland a manufacturing base for wind-farm components, there could be scope to directly employ between four and eight people per megawatt that is installed, suggests Mainstream’s O’Connor.

“This is a game changer for Ireland. It is already being done successfully in other countries so we really need to focus on making this happen,” he said.

“This is about taking the wind blowing freely above our heads and turning it into a multi-billion euro industry with tens of thousands of jobs. Unemployment in the midlands is more than 3pc above the national average. This has the potential to make a real difference in an area that needs it most,” added O’Connor.

Wind-turbine players and manufacturers of transmission technologies, such as Siemens, ABB, General Electric, Alstom, LM Wind Power, XEMC Darwind and Goldwind are exhibiting at today’s event in Tullamore.

Damien Harte from wind turbine blade manufacturer LM Wind Power said today that it would make sense for the supplier to set up a dedicated blade manufacturing plant in Ireland’s midlands. He said this move could spawn 800 jobs.

“Over a five to eight-year period, that could mean a total investment of about €550m in the region,” said Harte.

Meanwhile, XEMC Darwind’s Larry de Vaal said the wind turbine manufacturer has already looked at manufacturing opportunities in Ireland. With a project of this scale, he said there is a “very real opportunity” to locate component manufacturing, assembly, installation and long-term maintenance in the midlands.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic