Eirgrid proposals to include €2bn power line around Irish coast

State body tasked with redeveloping power network to meet 70% renewable energy target.

Closing Dublin to new data centres is among proposals that national electricity grid operator Eirgrid will table in a consultation on the system’s future development.

It will also consider laying a €2 billion power line around the coast and dictating where future wind farms will be built.

State-owned Eirgrid must redevelop the backbone of the Republic’s power network to transmit electricity from renewable power plants to where it is needed, ensuring that the State meets its green energy commitments.

The company is putting four key proposals to the energy industry and other interested parties in a consultation document that will help determine how Eirgrid prepares its system to meet the Government aim of generating 70 per cent of electricity needs from renewable power by 2030.

One proposal in the document – Shaping our Electricity Future, published on Monday – is that the State determines where all future wind farms will be built. Currently the developers choose the sites and Eirgrid is obliged to provide them with a connection to the grid.

This “generation-led” approach is the cheapest of the four proposals, costing Eirgrid an estimated €500 million. It is likely to favour plans for large wind farms in Irish Sea, as these are close to the greater Dublin area, where demand for electricity is highest.

On and offshore

Another option is to continue allowing developers to build wind farms where they wish, on and offshore. However, Eirgrid believes this will result in the Republic missing its 70 per cent target by 2030.

A more radical plan involves building a sub-sea power line around the island, costing an estimated €2 billion, which would move electricity from wherever it is generated to areas where it is needed.

This is the most expensive option on the table and one that Eirgrid regards as technically the most risky.

Another choice is to direct large energy users to build outside Dublin in areas where electricity demand is not as high. This is mainly directed at data centres, which consume large quantities of electricity. The number of such facilities now located close to the capital is beginning to put pressure on the grid.

Eirgrid estimates that, by 2027, the number of new data centres in the Republic will, between them, consume the same amount of electricity as Dublin did in 2017, adding huge demand to the system.

Eamon Ryan, the Minister for Energy, and Eirgrid are publishing the consultation document on Monday. The Minister warned that the Republic was lagging far behind its emissions targets.

“In the coming decades we will be electrifying large parts of our economy, including our heating and transport systems, so building a grid that can handle a high level of renewables will be critical to our success,” Mr Ryan said.

Unprecedented change

Mark Foley, Eirgrid’s chief executive, said the grid needed unprecedented change in the next 10 years.

“This transition to clean electricity will affect everyone in Ireland and will unquestionably be difficult. However, the benefits will be truly transformational at both a societal and an economic level,” he explained.

Over the next 14 weeks, Eirgrid will hold a series of workshops, meetings and other gatherings around the Republic.

Multinational energy companies plan to invest billions of euro in building wind farms in the Irish Sea in coming years. SSE Renewables, part of the group that owns Airtricity, recently said it could spend up to €6 billion on developments off the east coast.

Norway’s Statkraft, Germany’s Innogy and State-owned ESB all began planning offshore wind farms close to Dublin in recent years.

Source: Irish Times, by Barry O’Halloran, 8th March 2021