Wind energy sector gets blown off course by myths when it should be a global leader

by Rachel Cunningham
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By Rachel Cunningham

Wind energy expert Meadhbh Ní Chléirigh has voiced concerns over the myths and mismanaged isolated incidents that have coloured public perception on this indigenous resource.

“This is such a shame because it is an area where Ireland can be a global leader,” she emphasised.

“I think that isolated cases have unfortunately drawn a lot of negative comment onto the wind sector in Ireland. These individual cases where turbines were located much too close to homes, for example, give wind energy a poor reputation among the general population.

 “To fully live up to Ireland’s potential, we need to learn our lesson from these past mistakes and make sure that the regulations surrounding the environmental impact of wind farms are being accounted for on an accumulative rather than a case-by-case basis.

“Essentially, we need better regulation across the board so that one or two projects don’t spoil the growth of Ireland’s wind sector and detract from all the good it’s doing for our country and for the climate,” she pointed out.

Ms Ní Chléirigh, from Blackrock, became interested in wind energy in her transition yea, when her project on the topic won her a trip to Germany with the Goethe Institut. She set her sights on an engineering undergraduate degree in UCD, before looking to Scandinavia for her Master’s in Innovative Sustainable Energy Engineering.

Now working for Ørsted, the largest energy company in Denmark and the most sustainable utility in the world, she commented on the positive strides that Ireland has already taken in wind energy: “Ireland has done so well when it comes to integrating renewable energy and is a global leader in its use of wind power, ranking 3rd worldwide in 2018, after Denmark and Uruguay. The fact that our small island nation is a leader in the integration of wind power on to power systems is something that should be celebrated more, in my opinion.

“Although the Republic is connected with the UK by a cable, we are for the most part effectively an island power system and, because you can’t store electricity, we are very good at establishing a balance supply and demand exactly in real-time. Without this balance, the system would break down, leading to power outages etc. We have this really interesting and flexible system, whereby we can absorb large sums of wind power when it is there but can also get by without it when it is not sufficiently windy.”

Over the last decade, wind energy has transformed Ireland’s electricity and has been a key player in lowering Ireland’s emission output. According to Wind Energy Ireland, wind energy provided more than 36 per cent of the country’s electricity last year. Its annual report, published earlier this year, revealed that output increased from 32.5 per cent in 2019. This makes Ireland number one in the world for the share of electricity demand met by onshore wind.

Wind energy is both Ireland’s largest and cheapest renewable electricity resource and the second greatest source of electricity generation in Ireland after natural gas. Ireland has set the target of 70 per cent of the country’s energy being generated from renewable sources by 2030 and continued investment in wind power will be central to meeting this goal.

“We have such great potential in this area, especially now that floating wind power is becoming commercially viable off the west coast of Ireland, while in the Irish Sea there is potential for bottom-fixed wind power.

 “Up to this point, the Irish government has for the most part focused on onshore wind in recent years and its encouraging to see that the country’s aims are expanding beyond that, with targets for 5GW of bottom-fixed offshore wind by 2030 and around 30GW of floating wind in deep Atlantic waters. Hopefully what will emerge from this will be a larger export market to benefit the Irish economy, in addition to lowering our emissions”, Ms Ní Chléirigh explained.

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