Offshore wind energy could create 2,500 jobs in Ireland in the next 10 years and attract more than €42Bn (US$52Bn) in lifetime investment, but windfarms in the country will likely be built from bases outside the country, losing billions of this potential investment, unless strategic investment decisions are made
These are among the findings of a report by the Carbon Trust for the Irish Wind Energy Association, Harnessing our Potential which examines the offshore wind supply chain and includes a detailed examination of the suitability of ports capable of supporting offshore windfarm construction in Irish waters.
The report shows the huge potential for the sector but concludes that Irish firms would be able to attract, at most, just over a fifth of this investment unless steps are taken to grow the local supply chain. A key reason is that developers will be forced to use ports such as Belfast, Mostyn or Barrow to construct the windfarms because no port in the Irish Republic meets all the requirements for offshore wind projects.
However, developing the 3.5 GW of new offshore windfarms necessary to achieve the Irish Government’s Climate Action Plan’s 2030 target could create new opportunities for smaller ports as operations and maintenance (O&M) bases.
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The report recommends strategic investment into one or more Irish ports on the country’s east coast and suggests that the government bring together industry, ports and local communities to develop offshore wind ‘hubs’ to attract international investors and link them to Irish suppliers.
It also recommends continued support for Enterprise Ireland’s work on an offshore wind cluster for Irish companies to enable them to develop the skills and experience they need to compete in the British and European offshore wind markets; and that universities and training bodies work together to eliminate a skills gap and ensure that Irish workers can compete for jobs created by achieving 2030 targets.
The report considered 21 ports and harbours, of which 16 met scoping thresholds for installation and operational stage. Seven ports had the capability to act as staging ports during construction with some requiring significant investment to become fully capable. All of the ports assessed had some level of capability of serving as O&M bases.
The commercial opportunity to act as staging ports for 3.5 GW of offshore wind equates to €70M; for O&M this represents €350M over the life time of the projects, but without willingness to capitalise on the opportunity, Irish projects will probably be served by UK ports.
“Strategic investment in a port on the east/south coast and in time west coast should be considered by government,” said the authors of the report.
Irish Wind Energy Association chief executive Dr David Connolly said, “Over the next 10 years, Ireland will connect a new generation of offshore windfarms, providing enormous amounts of clean energy to power homes, farms and businesses.
“But without investment, not a single port in the Irish Republic will be capable of servicing the requirement to install offshore windfarms and developers will be forced to look to ports such as Belfast or those on the British coast.
“This is the time for Ireland to seize the opportunity, to bring together industry, policymakers and coastal communities to identify a suitable port on Ireland’s east coast and to make it a base for Ireland’s newest industry.”
Including the 3.5 GW of capacity highlighted above, Ireland has an offshore wind energy pipeline of more than 12 GW at various stages of development, which is enough to supply all of its electricity needs.
The report found that, with the necessary levels of interconnection there is no reason why Ireland’s offshore wind industry cannot provide increasing amounts of power to its neighbours, turning Ireland into a consistent net energy exporter for the first time.
The report said an offshore wind specific renewable energy auction is planned for Q2 2021 after a Marine Planning and Development Bill is enacted later in 2020. Grid connection offer(s) are to be made to offshore wind applicants by Q2 2020.