Massive investment in wires for wind -- Irish grid strategy

Plans to double the size of Ireland's electricity transmission system at a cost of EUR 4 billion to accommodate increased renewable energy generation have been unveiled by state owned system operator EirGrid. Its new strategy, known as Grid 25, will allow the country to meet a forecast 60% rise in electricity demand and up to 40% of electricity from renewables by 2025.

The Irish government's current target for renewables is 33% of electricity supply by 2020, but an all-island grid study revealed that up to 42% -- most of it wind -- would be technically feasible in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic if the grid throughout the island of Ireland is developed in a smart manner. The Irish and Northern Ireland governments are considering new all-island targets.

Network capacity for further growth in generation is limited. Since the 1980s, the grid has changed little, while demand over the same period has grown by 150%, says EirGrid. Expected increases in power flows up to 2025 mean the capacity of the bulk transmission system will need to be doubled. This will require some 1150 kilometres of new circuits -- an increase of about 20% on the total length of the existing network -- and 2300 kilometres of the existing system will need to be upgraded.

The strategy takes into account planned renewable developments throughout Ireland, as well as planned offshore developments. Around 2800 MW of renewables capacity is already operating or contracted to connect to the wires, and a further 3000 MW is expected to be offered connection contracts up to 2010. Grid 25 also takes account of future interconnections with the UK and the expected increase in conventional generation.

No barriers

"Our role is to ensure that electricity infrastructure does not become a barrier to the social and economic development of any region or county," says EirGrid chief executive Dermot Byrne. "When the Grid 25 strategy is implemented, not only will Ireland be in a position to exploit our rich renewable resources, but when fully connected to the UK and European grid, Ireland can also secure its supply and become a net exporter of electricity from renewable sources."

The upgrade of Ireland's grid means that citizens, businesses and international investors can be assured of the reliability of the country's electricity supply, comments energy minister Eamon Ryan. "This is increasingly important in a world where we are competing for international investment. As we head into uncertain energy times, it becomes of greater strategic significance that we untap our own energy supplies. Our wind and wave resources will provide the jobs, as well as the electricity, of the future."

Earlier this year, the state-owned Electricity Supply Board announced a EUR 22 billion program of capital investment up to 2020. Half of this will be invested in its distribution network to pave the way for up to 6000 MW of wind. The other half of its investment would be geared towards renewables with EUR 4 billion to be directly invested in projects in Ireland and elsewhere in Europe.

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