Enjoying the sun? So could our national grid with more solar power

12 Aug 2022

Image: © RNetfalls/Stock.adobe.com

The Irish Solar Energy Association has called on EirGrid to not let sunny days go to waste and connect solar farms to the grid at scale.

Thousands will be flocking to beaches across the country this weekend as Ireland continues to experience what many are calling a heatwave for days in a row.

But a refreshing swim and a light tan (hopefully not a sunburn) are not the only benefits of the scorching sun so rarely seen on this island. With amber alerts issued for two days in a row this week, Ireland’s electricity market could do with a much needed solar power boost.

“As the country is enjoying a prolonged spell of sunny weather, it is worth remembering that the sunshine can be used for more than recreation,” said Conall Bolger, CEO of the Irish Solar Energy Association (ISEA).

“Ireland has huge potential to generate solar energy to support the national grid. This will be most important in periods of fine weather as, typically speaking, it is less windy.”

‘The sunlight falling on Ireland is a natural resource. Every day we are not making use of it, is a lost opportunity’

Bolger is calling on EirGrid, which operates Ireland’s electricity grid, to develop the network necessary to connect solar farms at scale. The aim is to address the narrow gap between electricity supply and demand highlighted by the amber alerts, which are likely to get more frequent in coming years.

“There is no shortage of daylight and no shortage of ambition to utilise this to generate solar energy,” he went on.

“However, one of the most significant factors impacting solar’s delivery is the ability of the national grid to take that power. EirGrid needs to be developing the backbone of the network so that it can accept that green electricity.”

When the Government published the €125bn Climate Action Plan 2021 last November, Bolger welcomed the ambition of an up to 81pc reduction in emissions for the electricity sector, but was quick to warn that it must be backed by action. The success of this plan will depend on the pace of its delivery, he said.

“Achieving this target will require a strong contribution from solar,” he said at the time, adding that a target of 1.5 to 2.5GW for solar energy “underestimates” the potential of the sector. “ISEA estimate Ireland could deliver 6GW of solar this decade if the right conditions are provided.”

Last month, the Government announced a significant increase in its target for solar energy, now aiming for 5.5GW by the end of the decade. The move was welcomed by the ISEA.

Bolger said 2022 has been a major year for solar energy in Ireland so far. The first-ever solar farm was connected to the national grid in Millvale, Wicklow earlier this year, with several others in progress.

“The sunlight falling on Ireland is a natural resource. Every day we are not making use of it, is a lost opportunity,” said Bolger.

“In the context of the climate emergency and security of supply issues, this is no longer acceptable, and we need firm commitments on actual network delivery to avoid future problems.”

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic