Ireland to support large-scale solar and renewables through competitive auctions

Ireland’s Department for Communications, Climate Action and Environment (DCCAE) has submitted to public consultation the design of the future Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS), which is expected to provide the country with a new comprehensive regulatory framework for solar and renewable energies.

The new consultation, which will be closed on November 3, is intended to set out the design principles of the future incentive scheme. The DCCAE, however, has already pointed out in the document exactly which will be the main mechanisms that will support the deployment of solar and renewable energy projects.

The support levels for large-scale renewables, the DCCAE said, will be set through a competitive bidding processes. This would comply with the recent recommendations of the EU and would maintain a stable and attractive environment for investments in the sector, while ensuring the long-term stability of the energy system in a cost-effective manner, the ministry said.

Auctions may be technology-neutral or technology-specific, although the competitive auction approach will ensure that only the most economically viable projects will be selected, the DCCAE added.

The Irish government is planning to grant a feed-in premium tariff, which is calculated as the difference between the strike price and the reference market price, to renewable energy projects selected through the auctions.

As for the micro-generation, the DCCAE said it has not been included in the principles of the new RESS, as Ireland’s renewable electricity targets and renewable diversity ambitions “are more cost-effectively achieved at large and medium scale.” However, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Denis Naughten, has committed to finding a specific mechanism of support for micro and small-scale generation outside the RESS program, without providing a time frame.

Several large-scale PV projects were announced in Ireland over the past few months in anticipation of the future scheme. In May, local grid operator EirGrid revealed to pv magazine that, as of the end of February 2017, it had received approximately 1,474 megawatts of solar applications from approximately 20 developers. All of these applications were for PV projects exceeding 40 MW. “It is worth noting,” said EirGrid, “that this represents a minority of solar generation applications, the majority of which are seeking connection to the distribution system operated by ESB Networks.”

Despite this growing interest for MW-sized PV projects, Ireland currently has an installed PV capacity of just 6 MW (which is almost entirely on rooftops), according to the report, Ireland’s Solar Value Chain Opportunity recently published by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland.