June 15th is Global Wind Day. The marking of a day to support wind energy is especially timely in 2010 as the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) announced in late May that Ireland is now one of the leading countries in the world in the use of wind energy for electricity generation with almost 15% of electricity generated by renewable sources and wind providing 2/3 of this supply. Renewables provide enough electricity to power 750,000 houses, half of all households in Ireland. At the same time, electricity and gas prices for householders in Ireland fell in the second half of 2009. These are two good pieces of news, when much else in the news reflects continuing economic difficulties. Not only does wind provide home-grown energy but also it does so with a minimum level of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, a critical result since 96% of all energy consumed in Ireland in 2006 was from carbon-laden fossil fuels.
Dealing with energy issues invariably involves a lot of numbers and half the battle in understanding the issue is to sort through or not get buried by the numbers. It is always important to understand the time period covered by whatever numbers you’re looking at since the numbers change with each new wind farm or turbine installed. We will try to keep the numbers to a minimum.
Wind figures prominently in the strategic plan for electricity supply over the next several decades. One measure of the possibilities of wind power can be found in the SEAI Strategic Plan for 2010-2015, where it imagined that in 15 years “Renewable sources represent over half of electricity supply, within an active smart grid…”, and in 25 years it imagined that Ireland is exporting electricity to Europe. The vision is encouraging. It is premised, however, on a need to limit CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere to a maximum of 450 parts per million (ppm) whereas some, like Bill McKibben and James Hansen, argue that unless we keep the CO2 levels to 350 ppm, we are all in for deep trouble. So even if all that is envisioned happens, it may not be nearly enough to stave off significant impacts from climate change.
The European Union (EU) has adopted a binding target of 20% of energy from renewable sources by 2020, that is, 20% of energy consumption will be supplied by renewable sources, such as wind or wave or biofuels. The EU also adopted a binding 10% minimum target for energy from renewable resources in the share of transportation fuels. Ireland’s share of the energy target requires the country to produce 16% of energy from renewables by 2020. The Directive requires member states to meet the target, or face sanctions, and to provide by 30 June 2010 the “appropriate measures” reflecting how the target will be met. Wind will be expected to provide the bulk of these renewable energy sources.
With the participation of the Green Party, the government has now committed to a target of 40% of electricity to come from renewable energy sources (abbreviated as RES-E) by 2020.
What is the current level of wind power?
As of January 2010, Ireland installed wind power of 1260 megawatts (MW). This is three times the 495 MW installed as of 2005 and in 2008 alone there was a growth rate of 54%, among the highest in the world. A measure of the potential of wind power is that on July 31, 1999, the output from the wind farms then installed peaked at producing 999 MW, and at times that day the wind was enough to power up to 39% of Ireland’s demand for electricity. While Ireland showed a growth of 54% in 2008, by 2009 the growth had flattened with the same MW power installed in 2009 as in 2008. To put the Irish system in context with other EU states, at the end of 2009, Ireland had installed 1,260 MW of wind power out of a total of 74,767 MW across the EU. In comparison, the United Kingdom had installed 4,051 MW at the end of 2009, Italy 4,850 MW, and Germany 25,777. Greece was close to RoI with 1,087 MW. Ireland is by far the smallest and least populated of these EU countries.
Where do we stand on meeting these targets?
IWEA estimates that to meet Ireland’s target for 40% renewable energy sources for electricity by 2020, the RoI will have to generate 6,500 MW of power from wind. With 1,260 MW already installed, we need about 5,240 MW more power from wind, an equivalent of over 1.000 wind turbines in 10 years according to the IWEA. That is a significant challenge.
One obstacle to reaching the target through wind is the need for grid connections, especially in areas where the wind is most powerful. Also presenting challenges are the lack of trained personnel, in part because other countries are developing the wind sector quickly and competition for experienced workers is strong. The banking crisis has made investment money harder to get as with many commercial ventures. Finally, there can be tension between the needs of the wind energy industry and the communities affected by wind farms and electric grid infrastructure. Some new transmission lines are meeting opposition from communities opposed to the large overhead transmission towers, on heath and aesthetic grounds, some remain opposed to wind turbines, and many will oppose short cuts in public participation and planning laws to accommodate wind power projects.
In the European Union (EU), with 74,767 MW installed as of 2009, there were 192,000 employed in the wind sector, with 75% of these jobs in Germany, Denmark and Spain, the countries that lead in manufacturing wind turbines and components. IWEA estimates that expansion of the wind farms can generate 10,760 new jobs in Ireland in a variety of positions, including: installation (although most manufacturers use their own staff), repairs, operation and maintenance, consultancy and engineering, research and development in universities, financial, and insurance.
An idea of the employment possibilities was provided at a recent meeting on Wind Energy held in Donegal, home to 24 wind farms that generate 239 MW of energy, the highest of any county on the island of Ireland. There were a number of representatives from the fishing industry centered in Killybegs. Some were fishermen, some boat manufacturers and others supported by the fishing businesses. That support is drying up along with the fishing industry and people are looking for ways to retrain themselves in new commercial sectors. With wind energy business on the increase, it was a good opportunity for them to learn more about this emerging business and meet others who might be of help in the future. One participant, for example, was from a family that owned a boat building business in Killybegs and he was there to see how they might be able to manufacture and maintain boats needed for offshore wind farms. Such opportunities are a useful example of a Green New Deal. See “Green New Deal” in the iePEDIA section of irish environment.
As Ireland expands its wind farms, more service personnel will be needed and this skill set can be sold overseas as other countries develop wind energy. The United States lags well behind the EU on wind energy and that is a potential market. A presentation by Christian Wefer of Westgmbh (Wind Energie Serice Tecnik) at the Donegal meeting provided some sense of the scope of this maintenance work.
Wind power just seems to make sense for Ireland. It’s all around the country, it’s often quite strong, and it’s very clean with minor greenhouse gas emissions. It also provides an opportunity for Ireland to develop the energy system and worker skills, as well as developer, legal and business expertise that can be marketed abroad. The logic of wind power in Ireland is compelling.
EU Directive 2009/28/EC on the promotion of the use of energy from renewable sources (23 April 2009).
European Wind Energy Association, Factsheets (2010) at www.ewea.org/index.php?id=1611
European Wind Energy Association, A breath of fresh air: Annual Report 2009 (April 2010), at www.ewea.org/index.php?id=178
Harry McGee, “Opposition points finger at Greens as climate change meetings dwindle,” The Irish Times, May 27, 2010.
Meeting on “Wind Energy and Associated Sub-sectors,”Lough Eske, Donegal, May 26, 2010, sponsored by Enterprise Ireland.
Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, “SEAI reports reveal growth in renewable energy and fall in electricity and gas prices,” Media Release, 26 May 2010.
Irish Wind Energy Association, with Deloitte, Jobs and Investment in Irish Wind Energy: Powering Ireland’s Economy (14 May 2010) at www.iwea.com/index.cfm/page/industryreports