New EirGrid plan to transform Ireland’s electricity system by 2030

10 Nov 2021

Minister Eamon Ryan and EirGrid CEO Mark Foley at COP26 in Glasgow. Image: EirGrid

The Shaping Our Electricity Future roadmap proposes placing data centres near major towns in the west and south, with more windfarms on Ireland’s east coast.

In order to prepare Ireland for a future where at least 70pc of its electricity comes from renewable sources, State grid operator EirGrid has launched a plan that will see the country’s electricity system transformed in a time of “unquestionably difficult” change.

It comes a week after Taoiseach Micheál Martin announced Ireland’s climate commitments to world leaders at COP26 in Glasgow, and the Government published the long-awaited Climate Action Plan 2021 outlining the significant changes each sector faces in a €125bn scheme.

Unveiled at COP26 today (10 November) by Minister for Environment, Climate, Communications and Transport Eamon Ryan, TD, and EirGrid executives Mark Foley and Liam Ryan, the new roadmap is designed to meet the Government’s target of a net-zero emissions future.

“We must radically reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and make the transition to cleaner, indigenous renewable energy. Increased renewable energy will insulate Ireland from the volatility of international gas and carbon prices, which are near an all-time high,” Ryan said.

Data centres and windfarms

The blueprint, called Shaping Our Electricity Future, is the result of a 14-week cross-sector consultation, two years of research by industry experts, and “tens of millions of technical simulations”, according to EirGrid.

It comprises 40 new grid infrastructure projects, representing a total fresh investment of more than €1bn – on top of an existing €2.2bn programme of grid infrastructure projects that EirGrid already has funding for and has started to work on.

“The plan shows a clear path to delivery on our commitments to decarbonise our electricity grid, harness our natural resources and bring renewable energy into the heart of our communities,” said Ryan, adding that it will help Ireland meet future increases in demand.

In September, EirGrid predicted “electricity supply challenges” for Ireland in the next nine years, in part due to “growth of demand driven by large energy users and data centres”. It expects data centres to account for one-quarter of all power consumption by 2030.

Four different approaches to managing electricity on the grid were presented to members of the public and businesses during the consultation, with clear support for a blend of a generation-led approach and a demand-led approach – which EirGrid has largely decided to go ahead with in the Republic, along with a third, technology-led approach.

The generation-led approach will focus on generating clean electricity close to where most power is used, likely resulting in more windfarms off the east coast of Ireland. The demand-led approach looks at putting large electricity users close to sources of clean energy – meaning that data centres and other high-demand users would be placed near major towns and cities in the west and south of Ireland.

“The grid requires unprecedented change in the next 10 years. This transition to clean electricity will affect everyone in Ireland and will unquestionably be difficult, however the benefits will be truly transformative at both a societal and an economic level,” said Foley, who is the CEO of EirGrid.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic