Wind power in the Republic of Ireland

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Wind turbines on Leitrims Corrie Mountain.

As of 2016, Ireland has around 3,000 MegaWatts of wind power, and 1 MW of solar power.[1] In 2014, the year-long average capacity factor, or actual electricity generation rate from the entire nation's installed capacity was approximately 30% of the time, with higher dependability in the gustier Winter months and lower in the Summer.[2] In 2014 wind provided approximately 700 MW of electricity on average.[3] In 2015 wind turbines generated 23% of Ireland's average electricity demand, one of the highest electric grid penetration values in the world.[4] Ireland's 188 wind farms,[5] are almost exclusively onshore, with only the 25MW Arklow Bank Wind Park situated offshore as of 2015.

Previous milestones[edit]

External image
Today's prognosis and production

In 2015 the island had 2,911 MW wind capacity. In 2014, 17.7% of Irish electricity came from wind, second only[6] to the 30% of Denmark at that time.

As of March 2015 Ireland has an installed wind power nameplate capacity of 2,230 megawatts (MW).[7]

On 7 January 2015, the output from the country's turbines peaked reaching 2,514 megawatts (63% of load), a new record.[6]

By 20 August 2013, Ireland had an installed capacity of 2,232 megawatts.[8] The 2013 figure shows an increase of 232 megawatts compared to the figures reported on 24 March 2012. Depending on weather conditions the power was enough to supply 1.3 million homes in 2012.[9]

As of July 2012, up to 14.8% of Irish electricity has been generated from renewable sources, up from 5% in 1990. Wind is the main source of renewable energy production, increasing from less than 1pc of total renewable production in 1995 to over 40pc today.[10]

On 19 July 2010 the Irish Wind Energy Association reported an installed capacity of 1746 megawatts, enough to power 753,000 households. 2012 capacity is more than four times the total of 495.2 megawatts in 2005. In 2008 alone, the rate of growth was 54.6%, amongst the highest in the world.[11] Average 2013 output to 21/09/2013 is 486 Megawatts and Median 2013 Output is 393 Megawatts. Output can be as low as 3 Megawatts on a still day such as 12 July 2013 when a low of 3 Megawatts was reached at 9:30 am[12] which is 0.012% of the Rated Installed Capacity of over 2,200 Megawatts.

On 31 July 2009, the output from the country's turbines peaked at 999 megawatts. At that time, 39% of Ireland’s demand for electricity was met from wind.[13] On 24 October 2009, the output exceeded 1000 megawatts for the first time with a peak of 1064 MW. Once in April 2010, 50% of electricity demand was met from wind power.[14] However, the wind generation capacity factor for 2010 was approx. 23.5%, giving an annual average wind energy penetration of approx. 11% of total kWh consumed.[15][16]

Background, Financing[edit]

Wind turbines on Inishmaan

Eddie O’Connor, then CEO of the semi-state owned peat harvesting company, Bord na Móna, commissioned the country’s first "commercial wind farm" in a cutaway peat bog in County Mayo in 1992.[17]

In the Directive[18] 2001/77/EC, otherwise known as the RES-E Directive, the European Union stated a goal to have 22% of the total energy consumed by member states to be produced from renewable energy resources by 2010. As a result, Ireland, in a report titled "Policy Consideration for Renewable Electricity to 2010", made the commitment to have 4% of its total energy consumption come from renewable energy resources by 2002 and 13.2% by 2010. The Department of Communications Marine and Natural Resources (DCMNR) founded the Renewable Energy Group (REG) which established the short term analysis group (STAG) to investigate a means of accomplishing this goal. To meet the 2010 target of 13.2%, 1,432 MW of electricity will need to be generated from renewable resources with 1,100 MW being generated from wind resources both onshore and offshore.

Ireland uses an EU industry subsidy known as the Public Service Obligation to support development of wind power.[19] The PSO charge (AKA "sneaky tax") is in place so that money is given to companies for generating electricity from renewable sources and to help fund peat-burning stations, as neither are competitive enough without it. Irish homes are charged €63 a year in the PSO levy, resulting in €328 million going to the Wind and peat companies as of 2015.[20] In 2016, this was increased to €72.[21]

Offshore wind power[edit]

Main article: Offshore wind power

The Arklow Bank Wind Park, located 10 km off the coast of Arklow on the Arklow Bank in the Irish Sea, was Ireland's first offshore wind farm. The wind farm is owned and built by GE Energy and was co-developed by Airtricity and GE Energy. The site has 7 GE Energy 3.6 MW turbines that generate a total of 25 MW. The development of the site was originally divided into two phases with the first phase being the current installation of 7 turbines. The second phase was a partnership between Airtricity and Acciona Energy. Acciona Energy had an option to buy the project after the facility is completed. The wind farm was planned to expand to 520 MW of power. However, in 2007, Phase 2 was cancelled.[22]

Although the waters off the Atlantic coastline of Ireland have higher winds, sites along the eastern coastline such as Arklow were chosen because of the shallower waters, which are 20 m deep or less.

The National Offshore Wind Association of Ireland (NOW Ireland) announced in April 2010 that 60,000 potential jobs could be created in the Irish marine, construction, engineering and service industries through the development of offshore wind energy in Irish and European waters. NOW Ireland also announced in the same month that over €50bn was due to be invested in the Irish Sea and Celtic Sea in the next two decades.[23]

In Belfast, the harbour industry is being redeveloped as a hub for offshore windfarm construction, at a cost of about £50m. The work will create 150 jobs in construction, as well as requiring about 1m tonnes of stone from local quarries, which will create hundreds more jobs. "It is the first dedicated harbour upgrade for offshore wind".[24]

Current trends[edit]

Grid connection is currently awarded on a 'first come, first connect' basis through Gate 3 procedures. On examination of the Gate 3 queue, there are a number of large onshore and offshore wind projects that are down the list and will, therefore, be offered grid connection towards the end of the anticipated 18-month processing period commencing in December 2009.[25]

While planning permission normally expires after 5 years, the Planning and Development Act 2000 section 41 allows for a longer period. At present it is common to apply and obtain a 10-year permission for a wind energy development. Section 42 of the above Act originally permitted a 5-year extension of the "appropriate period" provided that substantial works were carried out. This caused major problems as the term "substantial works" was not clearly defined which resulted in a large variety in interpretation of what constituted substantial works among the various planning authorities. This issue was rectified by the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2010 section 28 which inserted an additional paragraph allowing a once off extension not exceeding 5 years if "there were considerations of a commercial, economic or technical nature beyond the control of the applicant which substantially militated against either the commencement of development or the carrying out of substantial works pursuant to the planning permission"

The fourth issue regarding the generation of wind power is the Renewable Energy Feed-in Tariff, or REFIT.[26] The purpose of REFIT is to encourage development of renewable energy resources. For wind power production, the current limit to the tariff is 1,450 MW. However, applications currently being processed for grid connections exceed the limit by almost 1,500 MW for a total for nearly 3,000 MW. Since the limit is 1,450 MW, many of the applications for grid connections may not eligible for the tariff.[27][not in citation given]

6 largest onshore wind farms[edit]

Wind Farm Completed Capacity (MW) Turbines Turbine Vendor Model Size (MW) County Coordinates Operator
Knockacummer 2014 87.5 35 Nordex N90 2500 2.5 Cork Brookfield
Mount Lucas 2014 84 28 Siemens SWT-3-0-101 3 Offaly
Meentycat[28] 2005 72 38 Siemens 2.3 Donegal SSE Renewables[29]
Derrybrien[30] 2006 60 70 Vestas V52 0.85 Galway ESBI[31]
Boggeragh 2009 57 19 Vestas V90 3 Cork
Lisheen[32] 2009 54 18 Vestas V90 3 Tipperary SWS[33]

Environmental Impact & Greenhouse gases[edit]

Studies by the Vattenfall electricity company found; electricity generation by Hydroelectric, nuclear stations and wind turbines in-isolation, to all have a far smaller embodied carbon footprint than other sources represented. These studies on the total life-cycle, greenhouse gas emissions, per unit of energy generated take into account the Nordic utilities cradle-to-grave construction emissions etc. These results are largely in-line with those made in 2014 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.[34]

In a typical study of a wind farms Life cycle assessment (LCA), in isolation, it usually results in similar findings as the following 2006 analysis of 3 installations in the US Midwest, were the carbon dioxide(co2) emissions of wind power ranged from 14 to 33 metric ton per GWh(14 - 33 gCO2/kWh) of energy produced, with most of the CO2 emissions coming from the production of concrete for wind-turbine foundations.[35]

However, when approached from the effects on the grid as a whole, that assess wind turbines' ability to reduce a country's total electric grid emission intensity, a study by the Irish national grid, a grid that is predominately (~70%) powered by fossil gas, (and if it was 100% gas, would result in emissions of 410 - 650 gCO2/kWh.[36][37]) found that although "Producing electricity from wind reduces the consumption of fossil fuels and therefore leads to [electric grid] emissions savings", with findings in reductions of the grid-wide CO2 emissions to 0.33-0.59 metric ton of CO2 per MWh (330 - 590 gCO2/kWh).[38]

These findings were of relatively "low [emission] savings", as presented in the Journal of Energy Policy, and were largely due to an over-reliance on the results from the analysis of wind farms LCAs in isolation.[39][40] As High electric grid penetration by Intermittent power sources e.g. wind power, sources which have low capacity factors due to the weather, either requires the construction of transmission to neighbouring areas, energy storage projects like the 292 MW Turlough Hill Power Station, that have their own additional emission intensity which must be accounted for,[41][42] or the more common practice of requiring a higher reliance on fossil fuels than the spinning reserve requirements necessary to back-up the more dependable/baseload power sources, such as hydropower and nuclear energy.[39]

This higher dependence on back-up/Load following power plants to ensure a steady power grid output has the knock-on-effect of more frequent inefficient(in CO2e g/kWh) throttling up and down of these other power sources in the grid to accommodate the intermittent power source's variable output. When one includes the intermittent sources total effect it has on other power sources in the grid system, that is, including these inefficient start up emissions of backup power sources to cater for wind energy, into wind energy's total system wide life cycle, this results in a higher real-world emission intensity related to wind energy than the in-isolation g/kWh value, a statistic that is determined by looking at the power source in isolation and thus ignores all down-stream detrimental/inefficiency effects it has on the grid.[39] In a 2012 paper that appeared in the Journal of Industrial Ecology it states.[43]

"The thermal efficiency of fossil-based power plants is reduced when operated at fluctuating and suboptimal loads to supplement wind power, which may degrade, to a certain extent, the GHG(Greenhouse gas) benefits resulting from the addition of wind to the grid. A study conducted by Pehnt and colleagues (2008) reports that a moderate level of [grid] wind penetration (12%) would result in efficiency penalties of 3% to 8%, depending on the type of conventional power plant considered. Gross and colleagues (2006) report similar results, with efficiency penalties ranging from nearly 0% to 7% for up to 20% [of grid] wind penetration. Pehnt and colleagues (2008) conclude that the results of adding offshore wind power in Germany on the background power systems maintaining a level supply to the grid and providing enough reserve capacity amount to adding between 20 and 80 g CO2-eq/kWh to the life cycle GHG emissions profile of wind power."'

According to the IPCC, wind turbines when assessed in isolation, have a median life cycle emission value of between 12 and 11 (gCO2eq/kWh). While the more dependable alpine Hydropower and nuclear stations have median total life cycle emission values of 24 and 12 g CO2-eq/kWh respectively.[36][37]

Regarding interconnections, Ireland is connected to adjacent UK National Grid at an electricity interconnection level (transmission capacity relative to production capacity) of 9%.[44] The two grids have a high wind correlation of 0.61, whereas the wind correlation between the Irish grid and the Danish grid is low at 0.09.[45]



In 2011, the 120-member Irish Academy of Engineering described wind as "an extremely expensive way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions when compared to other alternatives" like conservation, the Corrib gas project and LNG imports at Shannon, and that 40% wind contribution is "unrealistic".[46] By contrast, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland says wind power costs the same as gas power.[47]

Peat and CO2 impacts[edit]

Access roads on top of peatlands results in the drainage and then eventual oxidation of some of the peat. The turbines represent a minor impact,[48] provided that the entire wind farm area is not drained, potentially emitting more CO2 than the turbines would save.[49] Biochemist Mike Hall stated in 2009; "wind farms (built on peat bogs) may eventually emit more carbon than an equivalent coal-fired power station" if drained.[50]

In a 2014 report for the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, which has similar peatland, it notes that siting wind turbines on peatland could release considerable carbon dioxide from the peat, and also damage the peatland contributions to flood control and water quality: "The potential knock-on effects of using the peatland resource for wind turbines are considerable and it is arguable that the impacts on this facet of biodiversity will have the most noticeable and greatest financial implications for Northern Ireland."[51]

The Irish Peatland Conservation Council maintains a database on incidences were turbine construction and their associated works, such as road construction on deep peat, resulted in environmentally degrading "bog bursts"/"peat flows". Events that accelerate the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.[52] Following the Corrie Mountain burst of 2008, Ireland was fined by a European Court over its mishandling of wind farms on peatland.[52][53]

The body representing industrial Peat harvesting in Ireland, Bord na Móna, announced in 2015 the "biggest change of land use in modern Irish history": harvesting energy peat is being phased out by 2030, due to the long expected depletion of the profitable lowland peat[54] at which point the company would complete its transition to becoming a "sustainable biomass, wind and solar power" organization.[55]

Land slides[edit]

On the 16th of October 2003 at Derrybrien County Galway, at the site of what would become Ireland's largest wind farm in 2006, the 70 tower Derrybrien project resulted in the distruption of the underlying peatland and culminated in an almost 2.5 km long, 450,000 m3 peat slide, polluting a nearby lake and killing 50,000 fish.[56] If all carbon in the slide is being released, it represents 7–15 months of production from the wind farm in avoided carbon dioxide from fossil power.[49] In 2004, engineering companies were convicted of being responsible for the pollution,[57] while the wind farm company was acquitted.[58] The Irish government was convicted in 2008 of poor oversight.[59] By 2010, at least two other peat slides had occurred in Ireland, while none was known in Great Britain.[48]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ "Ireland's Clean Energy Hits Record Output". 7 Jan 2015. Retrieved 29 January 2015. 
  4. ^ Eoin Burke-Kennedy (27 December 2015). "Over 23% of electricity demand now supplied through wind". Irish Times. Retrieved 2 January 2016. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b "The Future Role of Wind in Ireland’s Energy Mix - Irish On-shore Wind In Numbers" page 12. Engineers Ireland Conference, 15th May 2015. Retrieved: 7 November 2015.
  7. ^ All-island Wind and Fuel Mix report for March 2015
  8. ^ "Ireland 42% wind powered tonight". reNews. 2013-08-20. Retrieved 16 September 2013. 
  9. ^ "Wind has capacity to power up to 1.3 million homes". The Irish Times. 24 March 2012. 
  10. ^ "Airtricity market gain continues with new 16-turbine €50m plant". Irish Independent. 
  11. ^ World Wind Energy Report 2008
  12. ^ Eirgrid Wind Generation Statistics
  13. ^ Green Inc Blog on the New York Times Website
  14. ^ "Eirgrid discusses wind power targets". RTÉ News. 15 September 2010. 
  15. ^ [1]
  16. ^ [2]
  17. ^ SPECIAL REPORT: A look at the wind energy debate Monday, April 07, 2014, By Claire O'Sullivan Irish Examiner
  18. ^ EU Directive 2001/77/EC -
  19. ^ Public Service Obligation Levy 2015/2016
  20. ^ 50pc hike in levy on electricity bills is a 'sneaky tax' Charlie Weston, Irish Independent, 10/06/2014
  21. ^ "Electricity bills to rise as regulator increases PSO charge". The Irish Times. 1 August 2016. Retrieved 10 August 2016. 
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^ Fiona Harvey (6 February 2012). "Offshore wind turbines set to benefit British industries". The Guardian. London. 
  25. ^ Developing the Green Economy in Ireland 2-12-2009 Page 41
  26. ^ REFIT, 2006
  27. ^ IWEA current issues
  28. ^ SSE Renewables page on Meentycat
  29. ^ SSE Renewables Homepage
  30. ^ Hibernian Windpower page on Derrybrien
  31. ^ ESBI Wind Energy Homepage
  32. ^ SWS page on Lisheen
  33. ^ SWS Homepage
  34. ^ Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation
  35. ^ White, S. W. (2007). "Net Energy Payback and CO2 Emissions from Three Midwestern Wind Farms: An Update". Natural Resources Research. 15 (4): 271–281. doi:10.1007/s11053-007-9024-y. 
  36. ^ a b "IPCC Working Group III – Mitigation of Climate Change, Annex II I: Technology - specific cost and performance parameters" (PDF). IPCC. 2014. p. 10. Retrieved 1 August 2014. 
  37. ^ a b "IPCC Working Group III – Mitigation of Climate Change, Annex II Metrics and Methodology. pg 37 to 40,41" (PDF). 
  38. ^ "Impact of Wind Generation in Ireland on the Operation of Conventional Plant and the Economic Implications" (PDF). ESB National Grid. February 2004. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2007-12-01. Retrieved 2008-01-15. 
  39. ^ a b c Quantifying CO2 savings from wind power, Joseph Wheatley. Energy Policy Volume 63, December 2013, Pages 89–96. doi:10.1016/j.enpol.2013.07.123
  40. ^ Quantifying CO2 savings from wind power, Joe Wheatley's personal site
  41. ^ "Study of Electricity Storage Technologies and Their Potential to Address Wind Energy Intermittency in Ireland. Co-authored with Dr. Brian Ó Gallachóir" (PDF). 
  42. ^ Compressed air energy storage with waste heat export: An Alberta case study
  43. ^ "Life Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Utility-Scale Wind Power Systematic Review and Harmonization Stacey L. Dolan and Garvin A. Heath Article first published online: 30 MAR 2012 DOI: 10.1111/j.1530-9290.2012.00464.x". 
  44. ^ COM/2015/082 final: "Achieving the 10% electricity interconnection target" Text PDF page 2-5. European Commission, 25 February 2015. Archive Mirror
  45. ^ Bach, Paul F. "Enlarged Wind Power Statistics 2010", page 4. Archive
  46. ^ Energy Policy and Economic Recovery 2010-2015, page 5. Irish Academy of Engineering, 2011. Archive
  47. ^ SPECIAL REPORT: A look at the wind energy debate Monday, April 07, 2014, By Claire O'Sullivan Irish Examiner Archive
  48. ^ a b Richard Lindsay. Peat bogs and carbon, page 164. University of East London, 14th June 2010
  49. ^ a b Richard Lindsay. Wind farms and blanket peat, page 70, 79-87, 111. University of East London, 2004
  50. ^
  51. ^ David Tosh, W. Ian Montgomery & Neil Reid A review of the impacts of onshore wind energy development on biodiversity, Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Research and Development Series 14/02, 2014, p.54
  52. ^ a b "Habitat Loss of Peatlands, Wind Farms on Peatlands". 
  53. ^
  55. ^ de Róiste, Daithí. "Bord na Móna announces biggest change of land use in modern Irish history". Bord na Móna. Bord na Móna. Retrieved 6 October 2015. 
  56. ^
  57. ^
  58. ^
  59. ^ EU court rules against Ireland on Derrybrien RTÉ News, updated 3 July 2008

External links[edit]