Renewables target will be missed without grid investment, IAE warns

5 Oct 2020

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Experts claim the Government will struggle to achieve its goal of 70pc renewable energy by 2030 without significant investment and expansion of the national grid.

The Irish Academy of Engineering (IAE) has published a new report warning that the Government’s renewable energy targets will not be met without significant investment into the national electricity grid.

The report, entitled The Future of Electricity Transmission in Ireland, states that expansion of Ireland’s national grid is necessary to meet the Government’s goal of reaching 70pc renewable energy generation by 2030 under the National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP).

The IAE believes that Ireland will struggle to achieve this target without a grid system that can manage the scale of renewable energy generation, which is necessary to achieve a fully decarbonised economy.

Dr Jim Browne, president of the IAE, said that without additional carrying capacity, the grid will be “unable to transport power” from new renewable energy projects to places where it’s needed.

“By not overcoming this hurdle, Ireland will fail to reach its 2030 target, resulting in a hugely disappointing failure towards our obligations on climate action.”

The IAE report raises 10 questions that it believes require urgent consideration to ensure that targets are met. Among these is the social acceptability of transmission expansion by local communities. The IAE suggested that Government needs to take direct ownership of this issue and that Ireland is “not unique” in its difficulties in financing and constructing new transmission infrastructure.

European case studies

“There is a way to ensure that NECP targets are met and it includes the Government and Minister Eamon Ryan, who is responsible for the climate action agenda, taking direct ownership of the grid expansion issue,” Browne said.

“Countries such as Denmark and Germany have already done this and as a result, they have successfully addressed public objections to the expansion of their electricity networks.”

Pointing to examples in Denmark, the IAE said that the Danish minister for transport and energy established an ad-hoc committee of stakeholders in 2007 to examine public resistance to the development of overhead line development. The Danish committee report estimated the costs associated with under-grounding new lower voltage circuits and the likely impact on electricity tariffs.

The IAE recommended a similar exercise in Ireland. Browne claimed that grid expansion risks being “disowned” by the Government, which has left the issue for grid operators to solve.

“ESB Networks and EirGrid have extremely specific and heavily regulated roles, which they are expert at performing,” he said. “However, international experience tells us that to speed up investment and overcome network bottlenecks, the Irish Government must intervene to address the social acceptability of new transmission infrastructure.”

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic