UK and Ireland team up to tap renewable energy resources

Electricity demand from the UK could boost Ireland’s renewable energy industry following a government deal between the two countries.

Ministers from the UK, Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man yesterday announced an agreement to work more closely to exploit the islands’ wind and marine resources, as part of the British-Irish Council summit in London.

This is hoped to lead to greater interconnection between the countries’ electricity grids, which would enable surplus energy in Ireland to be sold to Britain and vice versa, and make intermittent sources such as wind more attractive to investors.

Charles Hendry, the UK’s energy minister, said: ‘There is a massive potential source of clean, green, secure energy that remains untapped in the Irish Sea and on shore in Ireland, as well as around the Channel Islands.

‘But because Ireland’s energy demand is only slightly larger than that of Yorkshire and Humberside, there has been little incentive to exploit the resource.’

The Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA) welcomed the All Islands Approach to energy, which laid out a co-operation strategy rather than specific policy measures, saying it could help Ireland to create a €20bn (£18bn) industry with huge export potential.

‘The IWEA believes there is a capacity to generate approximately 6,000MW from onshore and a further 4,000–5,000MW from offshore, meaning half of all Irish wind-generated energy could be exported to Britain,’ said IWEA chief executive Dr Michael Walsh.

‘This is a hugely significant opportunity for Ireland as the construction of wind farms to supply power to neighbouring countries could help the UK advance its aims in its use of clean, renewable energy.’

He added: ‘We estimate that 5,000MW of exported electricity would be worth €1.6bn annually.’

National Grid spokesperson Stuart Lark told The Engineer that the company was in favour of increasing the integration of Britain’s energy network with those of other European countries but had no specific plans for a new interconnector with Ireland.

Northern Ireland and Scotland are already linked by the Moyle Interconnector, while Irish transmission system operator EirGrid is building a second connector between Ireland and Wales, due for completion in 2012.

The Irish Electricity Supply Board (ESB) is also particularly interested in encouraging the use of electric vehicles that can be used for electricity storage overnight when surplus renewable energy is likely to be higher.

A new scheme is set to make Ireland the first country in Europe with a universally accessible charging network.