REthink Energy: Offshore Wind: The Future of Irish Energy?

IIEA2nd December 20205min
This explainer looks back at Alla Weinstein’s recent presentation, part of the ESB/IIEA Lecture Series: REthink Energy. Ms Weinstein examined the role that deep-water offshore wind will play in the energy mix of the low-carbon future.

Author: Luke O’Callaghan-White

5 Key Takeaways

  1. This is a time when floating offshore wind is becoming commercially viable and deployable, and is past the stage of technology prototyping. In the near-future, 2-3 gigawatts will be generated by floating offshore wind projects.
  2. It is important to note that 80% of the world’s best offshore wind resources are located in waters deeper than 60 metres – an accepted breakpoint between the use of fixed foundations and floating foundations – making floating infrastructure more cost-effective than the fixed alternative.
  3. There is huge potential for deep-water offshore wind development off the west coast of Ireland and this could play a major role in meeting decarbonisation targets. By harnessing its deep-water offshore wind resources, Ireland can become a net-exporter of clean electricity. Ms Weinstein cited research from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) that estimates this could generate at least 3,000 jobs.
  4. Ireland’s offshore economic area is ten times larger than the landmass of the island itself. However, an integrated Marine Spatial Plan is needed to find out how much of that space could be used for offshore wind.
  5. The need for public and stakeholder engagement should not be underestimated.

Summary of the Presentation

The fifth lecture in the 2020 ESB/IIEA Series: REthink Energy, examined the role of deep-water offshore wind energy as an important resource in the transition to a low-carbon future.

Jim Dollard, Executive Director, Generation and Trading at ESB delivered introductory remarks where he reflected on Ireland’s target of delivering 70% renewable electricity by 2030 and even more ambitions for 2050. He emphasised that in project development terms, 2030 really is ‘today’. Mr Dollard remarked that the ESB is investing heavily in offshore wind in both Great Britain and Ireland. He concluded by noting that while wind currently plays a significant role in the Irish energy mix, in the future, Ireland will increasingly depend on its deep-water offshore wind resources for electricity generation.

Alla Weinstein began her address by outlining the current state of development with respect to floating offshore wind technology. She noted that the period for technology innovation and prototyping, R&D, and demonstration projects has passed and that deep-water floating will soon become commercially viable and deployable. Ms Weinstein highlighted that the best wind resources are located in waters deeper than 60 metres – the accepted breakpoint between the use of fixed foundations and floating foundations. She noted that offshore oil and gas exploration moved from ‘fixed foundations’ to ‘floating’ for the same reason – more plentiful resources – and that the future of offshore wind is the same: floating.

There are three companies leading in the race to commercialisation of floating offshore wind deployment. Ms Weinstein offered a summary on the state of three significant pre-commercial projects led by: Equinor, Principle Power, and Ideol. She projected that, in the coming decade, 2-3 gigawatts will be generated by floating offshore wind projects. Ms Weinstein remarked that there are between 15 and 20 demonstration projects around the world and such projects have shown that the technology is market-ready. This point, Ms Weinstein said, was of particular relevance to Ireland. She urged Irish policy makers and planners to skip the demonstration process and move directly to commercial deployment and prioritise infrastructure development. Ms Weinstein also emphasised the need to prepare on-shore infrastructure, such as ports and other equipment necessary to build platforms for floating turbines.

Turning to Ireland, Ms Weinstein argued that harnessing the abundant wind resources off the Atlantic coast will be essential in the delivery of Irish decarbonisation targets. She acknowledged that Ireland’s offshore economic area is several times larger than the island itself, and that by using this offshore space effectively, Ireland could become a net exporter of clean electricity and that offshore wind could become Ireland’s main source of energy. Ms Weinstein stressed the need to develop a marine spatial plan, which would consider shipping lanes, marine life and other conflicting uses of space, to determine how much of the water is available for floating offshore wind projects.

Ms Weinstein recognised a plethora of advantages arising out of Irish investment in floating technologies. She referenced a recent SEAI report which estimates that Ireland will derive 30 GW of energy from offshore wind and that these projects would create a minimum of 3,000 jobs in the West and North-West of Ireland, and deliver a number of further economic benefits to the region. She addressed the excellent storage benefits that come with this technology. Energy can be stored on the ocean floor using compressed air which comes from the pressure in the water.

In conclusion, Ms Weinstein emphasised the importance of public and stakeholder engagement with the development of these projects. She noted that widespread acceptance of and support for the installation of floating wind farms is vitally important for the success and viability of floating wind projects. She also advised that the Irish government should move now to develop offshore wind and not to waste money and time on further demonstration models.

Key Slide

Figure I, originally from the Marine Institute, shows Ireland’s marine territory. Its maritime boundary is indicated by the jagged red line.

The shades of yellow and orange off the coast of Ireland indicate mean wind speed. The key in the slide shows that the darker the colour of orange, the faster the average wind. The slide shows that the wind resource is greatest off the West/North-West coast of Ireland making this region the most opportune for floating wind farm development.

 

Next REthink Energy Lecture

Minister Eamon Ryan TD, Minister for Climate Action, Communication Networks and Transport

Friday, 11 December at 1.00pm GMT

To register please, follow this link and enter your details via Zoom:

https://iiea.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_QeYFrRoUR92OdgLR_73XCA

This address is the sixth event in the 2020 ESB/IIEA lecture series entitled, REthink Energy. In his address, Minister Eamon Ryan will examine the impact that the European Green Deal will have on Irish energy policy in the context of the transition to net-zero emissions. The Minister will also provide an analysis of Ireland’s current energy framework, including the Irish government’s commitment to 7% average yearly reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade. The impact of the European Green Deal and the increased scale and depth of Ireland’s decarbonisation ambitions will require changes in many parts of Irish life, and Minister Ryan will chart Ireland’s course to a clean energy future.