Ireland seems an unlikely candidate to become Europe’s next major solar powerhouse. Although Ireland is famous for many things, good weather is not one of them.
While more solar power is naturally generated in sunnier climates, the key element to generating energy from PV (photovoltaic) cells is the strength and brightness of the light.
Both of course peak in Ireland in summer, but what is less often appreciated is that even on cloudy winter days there is enough light to generate significant amounts of energy.
Have misconceptions about our climate and solar energy contributed to the slow roll-out of rooftop solar PV in Ireland?
The government’s goal is to have 250,000 rooftop systems completed by 2030. That’s around 1,800 per month. The current level is closer to 150 per month. Clearly, much work remains to be done in microgeneration.
But the same is true for commercial solar projects. In 2020, Ireland had the second lowest installation of solar power in the European Union, after Latvia, with just 92.8 MW of installed capacity. The UK has installed over 13,500MW of solar capacity, covering 5% of year-round electricity needs.
Before the war in Ukraine, the EU’s 2021 climate action plan committed Ireland to a target of 2.5 GW of solar power by 2030.
Even in the pre-war scenario, that was conservative. The Irish Solar Energy Association (ISEA) has called for greater ambition and a target of having 6GW of solar power by the end of the decade.
This would correspond to 20% of our total energy needs.
In the industry, this is considered quite feasible. For one thing, solar is relatively quick and easy to deploy.
However, solar development in Ireland is not easy. About 40 percent of solar projects were successful at RESS 1 auctions in 2020 but are not progressing now.
While inexperience and supply chain issues have played a role, the higher costs here are one of the main reasons for this high turnover rate.
Commercial tariffs are on average higher than European competitors. The costs associated with transporting the generated electricity and operating and securing the transmission system can also be significant.
As other countries upgrade solar systems, there is a struggle for materials and skilled labor, driving prices up. If solar energy is to play its part, steps must be taken to reduce costs and ensure that as many solar projects as possible are completed.
ISEA estimates that Ireland already pays €73 for every MWh of solar energy generated, while Spain pays €32. The climate plays a role, but so do the high grid fees.
Irish solar operators pay up to €26 more than their competitors for every unit of electricity fed into the grid. This is not good for consumers, nor for promoting the development of solar energy in Ireland. If we don’t want the weather to change, we need a more favorable climate for solar power.
JP Wallace is Senior Business Development Manager at EDF Renewables Ireland. The company is developing several solar, onshore and offshore wind projects in Ireland.
https://www.independent.ie/business/irish/why-smart-policy-not-more-sunshine-will-boost-solar-power-rollout-in-ireland-41768595.html Why smart policies, not more sunshine, will drive solar adoption in Ireland