Europe 2020: Renewable Energy Plans - Favourable location but grid restricts growth

IRELAND: Wind energy is expected to provide more than 35% of Ireland's electricity, according to government expectations for meeting its 2020 EU commitment.

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The country's EU target for renewables' share of overall energy is 16% - up from 6.6% in 2010. The 2020 target breaks down to 42.3% of electricity from renewables, 12% of heating and cooling, and 10% of transport.

Ireland's location in the windy north-west corner of Europe means it comes as no surprise that wind power will account for more than 85% of Ireland's renewable electricity, with 4.09GW onshore - tripling the current installed capacity - and 555MW offshore. Wind energy enabled the country to meet its 13.2% EU target for 2010 a year early and put it on track to exceed the more ambitious 15% domestic target later this year.

But constraining this growth in wind capacity is the grid. Because of the huge demand for grid connection from Ireland's wind developers, a more controlled approach to connecting renewables to the country's relatively weak island system was introduced in 2004. Now applications are dealt with in geographical batches in a series of "gates" rather than sequentially. This allows grid operators to take a more strategic view of reinforcing the network. The government claims that the capacity contracted to connect under the gate system will be enough to meet its 2020 target.

Ireland's main renewables support mechanism for achieving its target is the renewable energy feed-in tariff, a system of fixed-price 15-year power purchase agreements that renewable generators negotiate with suppliers.

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