Equinor and Irish utility ESB, who entered into a partnership to identify suitable sites for bottom-fixed and floating offshore windfarms in Irish waters in 2019, are progressing a potential pipeline of nearly 5 GW of projects
Speaking during a Norwegian Energy Partners webinar on the Irish offshore wind market, ESB manager offshore wind Gary Connolly and Equinor business development manager Anita Holgersen said the strategic co-operation agreement between the companies to develop fixed and floating projects in Ireland on a 50/50 basis has seen them complete an initial first phase of screening and commence environmental surveys of the sites identified for selected bottom-fixed windfarms to prepare for marine area consent (MAC) applications.
Mr Connolly explained that together the companies have five live foreshore licence applications and are active in the regulatory space, including seeking early support for floating wind projects.
The windfarms they are currently progressing, of which there are a total of five on the east, west and southern coast of Ireland include: Seastacks (800 MW); Loch Garman (500 MW); Helvick Head (700 MW); Celtic Offshore One (700 MW) and Celtic Offshore Two (700 MW); and Moneypoint One (400 MW) and Two (1,000 MW). The Celtic Offshore Wind project consists of two phases, Celtic One Offshore Wind, a fixed foundation project and Celtic Two Offshore Wind, a floating foundation project. At Celtic Two water depths are 80-90 m, making floating foundations essential.
Mr Connolly said there is no certainty that the five sites will definitely be developed but, together, Equinor and ESB are currently conducting Phase 2 site and risk assessment work, including measurements of wind speed and key environmental criteria.
The partners are also examining grid connection options and indicative cable routes onshore and offshore and assessing proximity to potential marshalling yards and operation and maintenance strategies. They are also undertaking marine environmental work and examining the influence on projects of other users of the sea such as the fishing industry and shipping.
In 2021, Equinor and ESB intend to continue work together to ensure projects meet requirements for the earliest possible MAC applications and the requirements of the offshore renewable energy support scheme. They will also continue to investigate grid connection options for each of the five projects, including hybrid grid connections if feasible.
Ms Holgerson told the webinar that grid connection is a potential issue in the nascent Irish offshore wind market. It is, she said, “a very big constraint.” Mr Connolly said existing grid infrastructure such as at thermal power sites might be made use of to connect Irish offshore windfarms built by the partners but said enhancements to the grid would be key to meeting Ireland’s targets for offshore wind.
Other challenges identified by ESB and Equinor in developing offshore wind in Ireland include the limited local market due to the small size of the Irish population, with approximately 5M in Ireland and 1.8M in Northern Ireland. These challenges are ameliorated by the potential for interconnection to the UK and mainland Europe, and the development of other technologies such as hydrogen and ammonia that the partners believe will be important to the local energy mix and for the export of energy generated offshore.
Advantages of the Irish market cited by the companies include the potential for building a solid offshore wind industry of 35-70 GW in the long term, a good wind resource with wind speeds of 9.7-10.3 m/s, scope for both fixed and floating wind and Ireland’s need as a part of EU to change the energy mix towards renewables.
In the longer term, Equinor and ESB expect Irish offshore windfarms to use floating technology, but Ms Holgerson said Equinor – which is best known for the spar type foundation used in projects such as Hywind Scotland and to be used in Hywind Tampen – is not only focusing on spars and was ‘technology agnostic.’
Mr Connolly said ESB, which is developing plans for a floating wind hub at Moneypoint, where there has long been a coal-fired power station, is interested in semi-submersible foundations and in particular in semi-subs constructed from concrete.
“We are particularly interested in exploring opportunities in relation to concrete floating foundations,” Mr Connolly said. “There is no history in Ireland of significant steel fabrication of structures of this type, but there is a long history and resources in developing concrete structures.”
Looking ahead, it is the ambition of the partners to explore opportunities for large-scale wind projects towards commercial operation by 2030, contributing to the wider goals of the Irish Government on energy transition. The Irish Government has indicated that the first of three RESS offshore auctions will take place in 2022 and that later auctions are likely to have specific provision for floating offshore wind.
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