All eyes are on the renewable energy sector as 2020 approaches, to see whether the Irish Government can meet its renewable energy targets of 16 per cent of all energy generated from renewable sources. These targets include contributions from transport (RES-T), electricity (RES-E) and heat (RES-H).
Industry and Government experts expect that these targets will not be met, due to the lack of development in the transport and heat sectors. Consequently, the renewable electricity generation sector must contribute more to achieve the overall objective of reducing CO2 emissions.
The recently published report from the Environmental Protection Agency, Ireland’s Environment: An Assessment 2016, is scathing of Ireland’s track record and more needs to be done at a policy level to ensure Ireland transitions to a low carbon economy.
Solar energy will prove essential in diversifying our energy portfolio. In 2014, wind contributed 19 per cent to the electricity generation portfolio; however, wind alone will not enable the country to move towards a low-carbon future. Tidal and wave technologies are currently developing commercial operating platforms, but with limited success.
Photovoltaic (PV) technology has been in existence since its development by NASA in the space race in the 1950s. However, it is only now that utility-scale projects are commercially viable, due to the reduction in costs from $70/watt in the 1970s to $0.45/watt today.
Successful solar projects are currently being developed by our neighbours in Scotland and Northern Ireland and the time is now to seize the opportunity to deploy this extremely versatile and proven technology.
There have been over 500 applications submitted to ESB Networks for connection of solar farms in the Republic of Ireland, totalling over 4,000MW since May 2015. It is estimated that 1500MW is achievable by 2022, which equates to 5 per cent of Ireland’s electricity demand.
Land options (solar lease agreements) are being signed across the country from Cork to Leitrim and, with the continued submission of planning applications, all elements with the exception of one are in place to see a thriving new industry. The solar industry in Ireland is now calling on the Government to commit financial support to solar projects to ensure we avoid fines in the region of €300 million a year should our renewable energy targets not be met.