The tide is changing for ground-mounted PV in Ireland

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Despite notable recent large scale project announcements, Ireland had installed only 29 MW of solar power generation capacity by the end of last year, according to International Renewable Energy Agency statistics.

A lack of incentives – including heel dragging on renewable energy procurement exercises that were enabled by regulations introduced last year – appears to be the main obstacle to solar deployment to date.

However the tide may be turning, as Bord na Móna and state-owned power utility the Electricity Supply Board two weeks ago opened a tender to select an engineering, procurement and construction services contractor for a large scale solar project in Ireland. And only two days ago, Irish Water revealed it is planning to install PV generators at up to 20 of its energy-intensive water treatment plants.

Solar for water treatment

The water utility has built ground-mounted pilot projects at the Nenagh Wastewater Treatment Plant in Tipperary, in the south of Ireland, and at the Newcastle West Wastewater Treatment Plant in Limerick, in the Mid-West region. With an estimated annual electricity output of 32 MW, the Nenagh facility includes 118 solar modules and was backed by Tipperary County Council. Newcastle West was built with the help of Limerick city and county authorities and uses 112 panels which will generate an estimated 26.5 MWh per year.

“Following the success of this pilot program we are undertaking a feasibility study to see how solar energy can be rolled out to water and wastewater treatment plants across the country, with a further 15-20 sites proposed,” the company said in a press release.

Both projects, which were grid-connected at the end of June, were realized by Saliis Limited, based over the border in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Share of renewables rising

A report published yesterday by London-based market intelligence firm Globaldata predicted Ireland will have 9.6 GW of non-hydro renewable energy generation capacity by 2030. “During the forecast period, offshore wind capacity is set to increase from 25 MW to 1.9 GW at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 48.8%, and solar PV will rise from 25 MW to 1.3 GW at a CAGR of 43%,” the analysts wrote. That growth is expected to push the share of clean energy in the country’s electricity mix to 62% by 2025, and 65% by 2030.

However, Globaldata said the Irish government will have to increase investment in the grid and consider storage as an option to stabilize the network. “With a minimal increase in power consumption expected, Ireland’s gas-based power capacity – which provides the country’s baseload power demand – combined with those new renewable resources with integrated energy storage systems, are well placed to meet the country’s power demands over the next decade,” said Globaldata analyst Arkapal Sil.

Globaldata’s prediction of 1.3 GW of Irish PV capacity in 2030 significantly undershoots the expectations of the Irish Solar Energy Association, which has said the nation could have around 3.7 GW by that stage.

Ireland supports rooftop solar through a scheme for PV microgeneration. The Electricity Supply Board placed an 11-year, €500 million green bond in June and announced solar – as well as on and offshore wind generation projects – could receive backing from the proceeds.