Tuesday, 1 June 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
75. To ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment the measures he is taking to ensure that Ireland has the electricity grid infrastructure that will support the development of offshore wind off the west coast; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29425/21]
Will the Minister tell me the measures he is taking to ensure Ireland has the electricity grid and infrastructure that will support the development of offshore wind off the west coast, and if he will make a statement on the matter?
Ireland’s increased climate and energy ambition is reflected by the Government target to achieve 5 GW of installed offshore wind generation by 2030. There is a further commitment in the programme for Government to develop a longer-term plan to utilise the potential 30 GW of offshore floating wind power in our Atlantic waters.
The 5 GW target will be primarily met through development of offshore renewable energy in Ireland’s eastern and southern coastal regions. This reflects the suitability of water depths in these regions for deployment of conventional fixed bottom offshore wind turbines and existing electricity grid infrastructure to connect these projects to the onshore grid.
Subsequent cost-effective deployment of renewables in deeper waters off the west and southern coast to take advantage of stronger and more consistent wind speeds should be increasingly feasible through future advances in floating turbine technology. This will benefit local communities in employment and commercial opportunities, and in the development of regional port infrastructure.
The Irish transmission system operator, EirGrid will have primary responsibility for ensuring that Ireland has the appropriate electricity grid infrastructure to support development of offshore wind. Future grid development will be informed by EirGrid’s ongoing public consultation, Shaping our Electricity Future, which will analyse approaches to developing the grid in order to meet our ambitious renewable energy targets.
In addition to this, a new framework for Ireland’s offshore electricity transmission system recently approved by Government, has designated EirGrid as the operator and owner of the offshore grid with responsibility for developing the necessary associated onshore grid infrastructure to connect offshore generation.
I thank the Minister for his response. This is a very significant opportunity for the west coast and indeed also for my home city of Limerick. The ESB-Equinor project that was announced earlier in the year will be the first of many similar projects costing €5 billion and representing 1.4 GW yet it is only scratching the surface of the potential that is there. Indeed that potential could be up to 50 times the size of the ESB-Equinor project if one factors in the size of Irish territorial waters. To harness that potential we need grid development of the same scale or else we will simply not be able to take this on and will only be tinkering around the edges. If we want to become a major exporter of power and indeed of green hydrogen, which we may produce from excess renewable electricity, then we really need to invest in the grid infrastructure on the west coast.
I agree with the Deputy and even since the programme for Government was written, things are changing here which may actually see some of the targets being exceeded, if we get our policy approach right, and we may get some of the timelines reached earlier. As an example of that, I cite the announcement by ESB and Equinor, two companies with real scale, experience and a history of delivery, and that by 2028 we would start seeing the deployment of this offshore floating capability on the west coast. Indeed, as the Deputy has said, there is the potential development of large hydrogen stores, which may not relate to the grid aspect of this question but is one of the elements that is connected to the grid, which is how we store, share and export this power.
The scale of potential for us if we get this right is beyond compare. As I said in response to Deputy O'Rourke, it is increasingly obvious that those areas that have the grid, where the power comes ashore or where the grid is strong and accessible, are where industry will go. For the new Shannon task force the Government is establishing, this is the economic opportunity to lift the entire region.
I agree that the Shannon Estuary certainly has a unique role to play with grid connections and, as we know, Shannon Foynes Port has a railway connection as well, which could be part of the development of the industry locally in Limerick and the mid-west. As well as the Minister doing what he can at a national level, we in Limerick need to ensure we recognise the scale of this opportunity for our city and the mid-west. It will be very significant in terms of jobs potential and we need to prepare to grasp the opportunity through the development of skills as well as infrastructure.
It is interesting that the Deputy mentioned Limerick. I was reading The Irish Timesa couple of weeks ago, and while I cannot recall which supplement it was, it was on this subject. I turned the page and there was a full-page advert, I presume from Limerick County Council, stating that Limerick was going to go green and this was the future for the county. I must admit I was nodding. I think it is the future for the city and the county.
If we think about it strategically and long term, we have world-class manufacturing capability in the people of Limerick. They are brilliant. I recall years ago visiting the Johnson & Johnson Vistakon plant in Limerick, which continued manufacturing there when that should have been moved to China decades before, because the people were just bloody good at working together to change the production line and keep advancing. Moreover, we potentially have world-class comparative and competitive advantage because the north west and west of Ireland is one of the windiest places on the planet, and offshore wind seems to be one of the scaled renewable technologies that will be delivered. We have large-scale access to water, which is one of the other constraints that there will be in a climate-changing world. Many countries will have difficulty sourcing water, but we have the River Shannon. If we put that together - power, water, grid, people - we should see this as the economic future of the region.