Ireland could soon become a global centre for offshore wind, thanks to a vast maritime territory, supportive government policies and the highest average wind speeds in Europe — 10.2 metres per second off its western shores.
Although Irish leaders have focused almost exclusively on onshore wind in recent years, the current government is now making up for lost time — with targets for 5GW of bottom-fixed offshore wind by 2030 and a stated ambition of more than 30GW of floating wind in its deep Atlantic waters.
This sets the scene for an offshore wind sector that could make the country a net energy exporter within the next two decades.
As part of the government’s plans, a new marine-energy consenting scheme is on track to be enacted early next year, with two Renewable Energy Support Scheme (RESS) auctions dedicated to offshore wind planned between now and 2025. Dublin also passed new legislation this week committing Ireland to becoming carbon-neutral by 2050.
Nurturing floating wind
In order to “get in the game” for floating wind and to meet national climate targets, Ireland urgently needs pre-commercial floating demonstration projects fully operational by the latter part of the decade — and there is a very strong case for starting in the Celtic Sea, off the country’s southern coast.
According to the industry-led Eirwind research project, the levelised cost of energy (LCOE) for 1GW of floating wind in the Celtic Sea by 2035 would be in the range of €63-90 ($74-106) per MWh. This compares favourably to the estimated west coast LCOE of €75-107/MWh, which is higher due to the harsher conditions in the Atlantic that reduce the number of weather windows available to perform offshore operations.
In order for the technology to progress, two critical enablers need to be considered — a competitive auction specifically for floating wind in the Celtic Sea under the auspices of the RESS scheme, and the establishment of a route to market for excess energy.
30GW of floating wind will result in considerably more energy produced than can be consumed by the small Irish market — so an export market must grow too. And this may need to be more than simple interconnection to the UK or France.
The EirWind Blueprint for Offshore Wind in Ireland report indicates that 6.5-7.3GW of offshore wind is possible in Ireland by 2030, when taking into consideration development scenarios for both electricity transmission and future green hydrogen production .
With the EU, the UK and other nations proposing large-scale hydrogen use in the coming decades, and countries such as Germany seeking to import huge quantities of renewable H2, opportunities for the export of green molecules are enormous.
The Eirwind report recommends a pilot electrolysis facility powered by floating wind as a kick-starter to demonstrate how green hydrogen, or derivative alternative fuels such as ammonia, can be produced and used domestically — whether this be for oil refining, cement manufacturing, fuel-cell vehicles or as a replacement for natural-gas heating.
More needs to be done too, on understanding the need for additional interconnectors and/or an offshore grid. But it is not a case of either molecules or electrons — a combination of both will be required, as a rising tide lifts all boats. The imperative is for an integrated, evidence-based national plan for these respective building blocks. This is an urgent call.
These opportunities are recognised by Irish developer Simply Blue Energy, which has ambitious plans for a 1GW floating wind farm, Emerald, in the Celtic Sea off the Cork coast, to be built in two stages — an initial 300MW phase with 700MW to follow at a later date. It is hoped that a project of this scale would provide opportunities for a local supply chain to scale and grow with the development.
The Emerald site’s proximity to the Port of Cork, a naturally deep-water harbour, with facilities well-adapted for servicing the offshore sector, is another strategic advantage.
On top of this, multimillion-euro investments in the offshore wind sector were announced last week by the local supply chain. Shipping company Irish Mainport Holdings entered the market with a €50m survey ship, the Mainport Geo, and Green Rebel Marine, a new business established to service the future needs of offshore wind farms, confirmed it is to create 80 new jobs.
These are strong indicators of confidence in Cork as an emerging offshore wind hub with considerable potential. A new national port strategy, due to be progressed over the next 12 months, will also serve to focus attention on the need for government investment into Cork and other ports.
Government agency Enterprise Ireland is also supporting local business development though its Offshore Wind Cluster initiative to promote communication and collaboration between industry members, including with UK sector stakeholders. In this context, the Celtic Sea Basin should be a priority for cross-border, joined-up thinking for floating wind development.
Studies commissioned by Simply Blue Energy show more than 50GW of potential in the waters shared by Ireland, Wales and England. And the company is already progressing its 96MW Erebus floating wind project — a joint venture with French oil giant Total — off southwest Wales.
In conclusion, the critical path for Irish floating wind projects is the commencement of dedicated RESS auctions for the technology from 2026, with a clear pipeline thereafter, and a national route-to-market plan for the excess electricity that can be generated by floating turbines. Government must start with adequate resourcing of key personnel in relevant departments and agencies.
EirWind research strongly suggests that this is an investment worth making. The study indicates that in 2030, 6.5-7.3GW of domestic offshore wind development would support between 12,000 and 13,500 direct and indirect jobs in the domestic supply chain, with a total boost to the economy of around € 2bn during the 2020s. The added value of these benefits flowing to peripheral coastal regions on the south and west coast of Ireland is hugely significant.
Whether the opportunity exists for 30GW, 40GW, or even 50GW of exports from Irish floating wind from 2030 onwards depends on the deployment of floating wind farms in the 2020s. It is time for the country’s political leadership to have the vision and ambition to make these opportunities a reality.
Val Cummins is operations and Ireland projects director at marine-energy developer Simply Blue Energy, and was also the co-lead author of the Eirwind Blueprint for Offshore Wind in Ireland report