Irish utility invests in green future

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A EUR 22 billion program of capital investment up to 2020 by Irish state-owned energy company ESB will see a major boost in renewable energy and network infrastructure for wind energy. Half the investment is geared towards renewables, with EUR 4 billion to be directly invested in projects and EUR 6.5 billion in facilitating green power supply, including smart metering and smart networks. The EUR 11 billion to be invested in the Irish grid will strengthen the distribution network and pave the way for up to 6000 MW of wind.

By 2020, the company expects to be generating 33% of its electricity from renewables, including over 1400 MW of wind, plus wave, tidal and biomass. The program will halve its carbon emissions within 12 years and see it become carbon net-zero by 2035, says ESB. The news signals a significant change in culture at ESB. It has long been regarded by the wind industry as an obstacle to wind deployment.

Energy minister Eamon Ryan calls the ESB board's approval of the green plans a "historic decision." Ryan -- one of three Green Party ministers in the Irish coalition government -- has demanded change throughout the electricity sector to deliver a more sustainable future. Since becoming minister, he has pushed along plans to divest ESB of some 1500 MW of generating plant to bring its share of generation under 40% of the all-island market. He is also establishing an independent ESB subsidiary to operate the distribution system. Determined that the domestic market will be able to play its part in cleaning up Europe's energy consumption, Ryan adds: "Every home in Ireland will have a smart meter in the next five years and smart networks will allow small scale generators to sell their electricity back to the national grid."

As ESB loses market share on its home turf, it plans to expand its international business, investing in more conventional and renewables plants in Britain and Europe. It plans to develop its 1400 MW of wind through developments undertaken by its ESB International (ESBI) division and though acquisitions, both in Ireland and elsewhere in Europe. The group already has a wind development arm, Hibernian Windpower, which is incorporated under ESBI. Hibernian has 100 MW of wind operating or under construction, and a development pipeline of 1000 MW.

ESB chairman, Lochlann Quinn, concedes the company is operating in a dramatically changing environment. "Three overarching concerns now exist -- the consequences of climate change, energy security and competitiveness of energy supply -- and ESB is strong, focussed and prepared to deal with them," he says.

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