A new report by the Irish Academy of Engineering finds that the Irish Government must show leadership in grid expansion in order to ensure social acceptability and that the Government’s renewable energy targets are destined to fail without significant investment and expansion in the national electricity grid.
In August, the Government published the National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP), which seeks to achieve 70 percent renewable energy generation by 2030. While welcoming the plan, the newly published report by the Irish Academy of Engineering (IAE), ‘The Future of Electricity Transmission In Ireland’, highlights how Ireland will struggle to achieve the 70 percent target without a grid system that can manage the scale of renewable energy generation, which is necessary to achieve a fully decarbonised economy.
The Academy’s report raises ten questions, which it believes requires urgent consideration to ensure that NECP targets are achieved. Principal among these is the social acceptability of transmission expansion by local communities. Based on European experience, the Academy suggests that the Government must take direct ownership of this issue.
“The IAE has published this report to highlight how, without additional carrying capacity, the grid will be unable to transport power from new renewable energy projects to places where it’s needed” said Dr. Jim Browne, President of the Irish Academy of Engineering, commenting on the report. “By not overcoming this hurdle, Ireland will fail to reach its 2030 target, resulting in a hugely disappointing failure towards our obligations on climate action. There is a way to ensure that NECP targets are met and it includes the Government and Minister Eamon Ryan, who is responsible for the Climate Action agenda, taking direct ownership of the grid expansion issue. Countries such as Denmark and Germany have already done this and as a result, they have successfully addressed public objections to the expansion of their electricity networks”.
The IAE report points out that while Ireland is not unique in the difficulties it faces in financing and constructing new transmission infrastructure, policymakers here can look to the experiences of Denmark and Germany for solutions.
In 2007, the Danish Minister for Transport and Energy established an ad-hoc committee of stakeholders to examine public resistance to the development of overhead line development. The committee report estimated the costs associated with undergrounding new lower voltage circuits and the likely impact on electricity tariffs. In the IAE’s opinion this is the type of exercise that is currently missing in Ireland.
Similarly, the German Government is directly involved in monitoring each major grid expansion project, having recognised the critical role of transmission infrastructure to the success of its renewable energy policies.
In addition to the social acceptability issue, in its report the IAE has posed ten questions, which the engineering and technology think-tank believes must be considered immediately by Irish policy makers.
“In Germany and Denmark, the grid expansion problem has not been “disowned” and left to the grid operators to solve “ added Dr. Browne. “Instead they have pursued a hands-on political approach to solving grid objections. Here ESB Networks and EirGrid have extremely specific and heavily regulated roles, which they are expert at performing. However, international experience tells us that to speed up investment and overcome network bottlenecks, the Irish Government must intervene to address the social acceptability of new transmission infrastructure. The IAE report has proposed 10 questions for Irish politicians that must be addressed to overcome Ireland’s limited transmission infrastructure development. By not addressing these issues, new and ambitious renewable energy projects will be curtailed or abandoned altogether, meaning Ireland will not achieve the 70 percent target of 70 percent renewable electricity generation by 2030”.