An industry-led research project to develop a blueprint for offshore wind development in Ireland has found there is a route to market for up to 25 GW of offshore wind in Ireland, with 6.5 GW to 7.3 GW possible by 2030
The EirWind Blueprint for offshore wind in Ireland 2020-2050: A Research Synthesis report, published in July 2020, said the potential is possibly much greater, but whether the opportunity exists for 30 GW, 40 GW, or even 50 GW "depends on an ability to act now."
The report takes development scenarios for existing electricity transmission and future green hydrogen production into consideration.
The study suggests that pathways for floating wind and hydrogen need to be enabled, in parallel with support for the relevant projects, in the next 18 to 24 months. It said forthcoming auction rounds for offshore wind will provide a competitive landscape for bottom-fixed offshore wind and that a timeline should also be specified for technology-specific floating wind auctions taking into consideration the pre-commercial status of this technology.
“Furthermore,” said the report, “there is a need to initiate a market development plan for a hydrogen economy which extends globally. This will be a key enabler for offshore wind development at scale”.
Hydrogen has raced to the top of the green energy and green recovery agendas, which was not anticipated when the EirWind research programme was being planned just three years ago.
The European Union (EU) Hydrogen Strategy, published at the end of the EirWind project, states that from now to 2030 investments in electrolysers of the order of €24Bn (US$28Bn) to €42Bn (US$49Bn) would be required and this will support the hydrogen market development process by making hydrogen more competitive. In addition, investments of €65Bn are expected to develop hydrogen distribution and storage.
EirWind suggests hydrogen production costs of less than €5/kg are possible in an integrated production system which couples a 500-MW windfarm to a large-scale hydrogen production facility. The additional delivery costs result in a final cost to customers of €8-€9/kg of hydrogen which begins to look competitive with respect to petrol and diesel if a decarbonising subsidy is introduced.
For the first step on the offshore wind hydrogen pathway, it is recommended that a 100-MW pilot hydrogen facility linked to floating wind is supported. This pilot could also demonstrate how green hydrogen can be used for domestic industrial processes, such as oil refining and cement manufacturing, for fuel cell electric vehicles in targeted transport sectors, and as an alternative to natural gas for home heating to complement electrification. “The big prize is envisaged as bulk green hydrogen production from floating wind off the west coast of Ireland, for export. This would position Ireland as a net energy exporter while achieving long-term energy security,” the report says.
EirWind analysed three scenarios for production zones in the Irish Sea, the Celtic Sea and the Atlantic. The bottom-fixed offshore wind scenario in the Irish Sea, for a 500-MW windfarm coming onstream in 2025, is the most cost-effective with an estimated range of €51-66 MWh.
Floating offshore wind in the Celtic Sea shows considerable potential, with an estimated levelised cost of energy (LCoE) range of €63-90 MWh for circa 1 GW coming on stream in 2035.
For the Atlantic zone, the wind resource yields a high capacity factor (62%). The estimated LCoE range (€75-107 MWh for 1GW from 2035) is higher than the Irish and Celtic Sea scenarios, primarily due to the harsher conditions reducing the number of weather windows available to complete offshore operations.
The market opportunities described in the report start with the national target of 70% renewable electricity by 2030. “The Arklow project and the seven ‘relevant projects’ identified by the government this year, will be the game-changers,” said the report, “and will pave the way for future development. Effective delivery of the Renewable Energy Support Scheme (RESS) is central to this in the early 2020s. There is a considerable learning curve to be achieved in the decade ahead, to get things right for these projects which are at various stages of development.”
Of the challenges that exist to facilitating fast growth of offshore wind in Ireland – including needed studies on co-existence with fisheries, Marine Protected Areas, data, and social licence to operate – the report’s authors said, “These are not insurmountable, but they require government resources in order to be addressed in such a way that principles of sustainable development and community engagement are at the core. Therefore, the critical path to offshore wind development is contingent on decisions the government will make now, on investing in more personnel for key government departments and agencies.”
They suggest that a national route to market study should be prioritised, including a cost benefit analysis of national investment scenarios for large-scale interconnectors and hydrogen. Regional plans are further envisaged for the three production zones (Irish Sea, Celtic Sea and Atlantic). These should contain the timelines for roll-out of commercial activities and pilot and demonstration-scale projects. At the local level, investment in key ports is a critical enabler, coupled with the opportunity to attract foreign direct investment, for example into the Shannon region, as a manufacturing hub.
“Exchequer funding and private investment will play an important role in providing the financial support to fully exploit the opportunity that the emerging offshore wind sector in Ireland represents for the taxpayer, the labour force and consumers,” the report concluded.
“Given the strategic national interest of offshore wind, a task force is recommended to mobilise and co-ordinate priority actions in the months ahead. Route to market needs to be prioritised, to decide on how Ireland, with an offshore wind energy resource far greater than it can consume, will become an energy exporter.
“European funding can also be leveraged, as the Green Deal provides a stimulus to rebuild the economy post Covid-19. The pandemic, climate and biodiversity crises, which served as the backdrop to the EirWind project, have accelerated at unprecedented rates. Offshore wind is only one part of the sustainability solution, however, it can play a major role in the future security and wellbeing of Irish people, for generations to come.”
Riviera held a series of webinars on offshore wind in June. These are available to view in our webinar library