Report documents huge Irish potential

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Renewable energy in Ireland could meet the needs of 2.5 million people, says Joe Jacob, Minister of State at the Department of Public Enterprise. This is some 65% of the population. The minister was announcing publication of a study that reveals that 2500 MW could be provided by renewables by 2020, the bulk coming from wind and biomass.

The study was undertaken by ESB International, a branch of the national utility, together with the UK's Energy Technology Support Unit (ETSU). It was part funded under the EU's Altener program and by the government. Titled "Total Renewable Energy Resource in Ireland," the study looks at each renewable but focuses on those that can deliver at less than I£0.10/kWh using discount rates of 8-15%. Wind offers greatest immediate potential. After taking account of economic, planning, environmental and network constraints, the report concludes that some 300 MW of wind could be developed by 2000. This rises to 812 MW by 2020, but by then wind may be overtaken by biomass which could contribute up to 1500 MW.

The report maps wind speeds throughout the country, calculating the resource at a height of 40 metres. According to Pat McCullen from ESB International, one of the surprises to emerge was the distribution of the wind resource -- particularly towards the east of the country and the midlands. The relatively weak grid in some areas of the country is a major constraint on wind, particularly in the more sparsely populated and upland areas of the west and north. Yet the biggest constraint is planning, claims McCullen. The study took note of difficulties faced by planning officers from all 26 of Ireland's counties in dealing with applications for renewable energy projects. McCullen says the planning process has been hindered by the lack of accurate information for local planning committees and even by the approach taken by some developers.

"None of this is in the interests of the sane development of renewable energy or in the interests of the country as a whole," he says. "We felt there should be an informed debate on renewable energy. What was needed was to quantify the different types of renewable resource, indicate their potential and allow people to decide what to take forward on an informed basis."

Although the report was completed in spring 1997, publication was delayed until last month so that it would not prejudice bids for contracts under the latest Alternative Energy Requirement. "The report reaffirms that Ireland is sitting on a vast reservoir of renewable energy," says Jacob. The study's publication is timely, with a government Green (draft policy) Paper due later this year.

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