Ireland is on the threshold of becoming an exporter of energy. Having traditionally imported fuel or burned locally-produced peat to provide energy, Ireland is now looking at bringing in €6bn a year in export revenues in less than a decade.
The source of this potential “windfall” is the increasing number of wind farms around the country. This growth is encouraged by the government, whose Minister for Energy Pat Rabbitte today announced the opening of a new support scheme for renewable energy at the Irish Wind Energy Association’s annual conference in Dublin.
It is not only the wind industry that sees the benefit of increased activity in the field. According to the country’s largest newspaper, the Irish Independent, “the proactive and strategic development of wind energy has a clear role to play in Ireland’s road to economic recovery and in stimulating employment growth….An opportunity is emerging; we must seize it.”
The UK would be the main market for Irish wind energy exports. Discussions are currently underway at government level towards developing a bilateral trade agreement with the UK which would allow Irish wind farms to export their wind energy surplus to the UK. This would make the most of Irish wind resources, amongst the best in Europe. It would also allow Britain to meet its energy needs, and both countries to reach their emission reduction targets.
However, as Irish wind energy entrepreneur Eddie O’Connor likes to point out, there can be “No transition without transmission”. Kenneth Matthews, chief executive of the Irish Wind Energy Association, echoes this, saying “Without the necessary infrastructure and regulatory framework in place, Ireland will squander this opportunity to capitalise on the maximum potential our windy island has to offer.” Both mean that the shift to renewable energy requires investment in the electricity grid infrastructure and market integration.
Indeed, this situation is replicated across Europe, where there is a pressing need for an extended and improved electricity grid. The campaign for Free Movement of Electricity promotes the modernisation and inter-connection of the European energy grid. It also calls for the completion of the single market for electricity, in the same way that people, capital and goods and services are free to move in Europe. This plan would allow countries like Ireland to export energy even further, and bring continent-wide benefits in costs, environment and energy security.