Even as European sector giants pile into Ireland, ESB – which traces its history back to the earliest days of the Irish state – has no intention of being left on the sidelines, says Paul Lennon, the national utility’s head of offshore wind and alternative fuels.

“We’re determined to be the offshore wind leader in Ireland by 2030,” Lennon tells Recharge, as he spells out the group's plans to help the country meet its 5GW national target for 2030 and beyond.

ESB is already well-placed to be one of the first developers into Irish waters thanks to its co-development with Parkwind of the Oriel Windfarm, one of the nation's phase-one projects that aim to be operating well before 2030.

But the symbol of the utility’s – and Ireland’s – offshore wind ambitions is Moneypoint, the 900MW coal-fired plant that is currently the nation’s largest power station but is slated for retirement mid-decade before the site takes on a new lease of life under ESB’s €2bn ($2.3bn) Green Atlantic@Moneypoint plan.

With a vison that includes a 1.5GW floating wind farm, a floating turbine manufacturing and assembly hub and green hydrogen production and storage, Green Atlantic@Moneypoint is one of the most ambitious energy transition plans not just in Ireland but in Europe.

It has also symbolised the challenges facing the Irish sector. A partnership with Equinor to develop the Green Atlantic@Moneypoint wind farm ended late in 2021, with ESB blaming the Norwegian energy giant’s departure partly on regulatory uncertainty.

“It’s the cut and thrust of development,” says Lennon, adding that ESB is currently with the help of advisers talking to new potential partners for Moneypoint and the rest of its Irish offshore wind portfolio, apart from its existing co-interests with Parkwind.

“ESB is not big enough to take on these projects alone, given the risk potential and the capital requirements.

“We’ve had an incredible number of inbound inquiries. The response has been exceptional,” he says.

Lennon is also still confident that the first 400MW stage of the Moneypoint project has a realistic chance to be in the water before 2030 but believes Ireland’s floating sector needs incentivising sooner rather than later if it is to fulfil its potential and build a local supply chain.

If we wait until the 2030s, the floating wind supply chain will have developed somewhere else.

“Scotwind [Scotland’s giant floating-dominated leasing round] did a tremendous job in saying to the supply chain almost overnight ‘we’re open for business’.

“If we wait until the 2030s to start incentivising or developing floating offshore wind the supply chain will have developed somewhere else.”

Lennon points out that while floating’s cost of power is still higher than fixed-bottom’s, the gap is closing and in Ireland the technology would benefit from deployment off the nation’s west coast with its outstanding wind resources.

“While it is more expensive, it is perhaps not the gap you might expect. You wait until that convergence, you miss the supply chain advantage you could accrue [by moving earlier].”

In order to leave some room for early floating, and give some margin for error for all Ireland’s projects as they race to meet the 5GW 2030 target, Lennon suggest the government could sensibly lay plans to accommodate 7GW by then, giving extra confidence that – even with some attrition along the way – the lower figure could still be reached.

ESB also wants to see creative use of Ireland’s network to help ease the first waves of offshore wind onto the grid, with projects tapping into the connections currently used by thermal generators.

“We think there’s a great opportunity for the existing network to be used more efficiently [with] hybrid grid connections,” Lennon says.

“You are eliminating the requirement for any significant [new] onshore infrastructure and the planning that goes with that.”

This interview forms part of a week-long series of special reports on global offshore wind from Recharge