ISLES report: Offshore renewables potential

ISLES-launchThe ISLES study on offshore wind and marine energy links reveals major export possibilities.

An integrated electricity network between Ireland and Great Britain would be both economically viable and competitive, according to the full report of the Irish-Scottish Links on Energy Study (ISLES). The report, launched by Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte, was commissioned by the Irish, Northern Irish and Scottish governments.

A maximum resource potential of 16.1GW of energy for the ISLES zone is estimated, comprising 12.1GW of offshore wind and 4.0GW of wave and tidal energy. The concept is divided into two regions, northern ISLES and southern ISLES, with the southern concept consisting of 3.4GW off the east coast of Ireland connected to Great Britain and up to 2GW of interconnection between Great Britain and the all-island Single Electricity Market.

With current expectations of electricity generation developments, the report found that “there is sufficient onshore network capacity in GB for connection of ISLES on the scale, and within the timeframe envisaged (circa 2020).”

Speaking at the launch, Minister Rabbitte said: “With a sea that is almost ten times the size of our landmass, Ireland has an abundance of ocean renewable energy resources, potentially a multiple of the energy requirements of our own system.”

The report found that there are no “significant adverse environmental constraints which cannot be adequately mitigated through modifications to routing, positioning and applying best practice” for the offshore element of ISLES. However, landfall points along coastal areas in all three jurisdictions have constraints due to environmentally protected areas and their amenity value.

Total costs associated with the southern ISLES network would amount to €3.9 billion.  When this is combined with the northern ISLES network (€2.9 billion), it would equate to a cost of €1.2 million per megawatt of installed capacity. However, the feed-in-tariff level required for southern ISLES to be bankable is estimated by the study to be approximately €97.20 per MWh. This could drop to €91.72 per MWh through synergising interconnection and generation.

ISLES capital expenditure costs, the study estimated, would be potentially 15-20 per cent higher than comparable stand-alone projects which might be developed under the UK’s Round 3 (offshore wind development process). This could be reduced, however, through reduced risk for developers from integrated network build, access to EU funding and the possibility for Irish and Northern Irish generators to produce renewable electricity “which otherwise has to identify an alternative route to market.”

Several regulatory areas will need to be addressed to make ISLES a reality, the study stated. Some form of anticipatory investment model for co-ordinated offshore build is needed that allows phased development and a commitment to future phases to support investment. A regulatory model that removes or re-defines the fundamental distinctions between interconnection and connection for offshore generation must be introduced, along with an approach (acceptable to the EU) that allows cross-border contributions to help meet renewables targets, including Ireland’s target of 40 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

RPS Project Director PJ Rudden, a member of the consortium that undertook the study, said that the report showed that an Irish-Scottish offshore renewable network “is not only feasible, it could be a reality by 2020.”

Ireland will now prepare planning consents licensing legislation that will be compatible with those in UK jurisdictions so that a network can be in place by that point.

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