Bobby Smith, president of the representative group Energy Storage Ireland, sits down at Energy Storage Summit 2024 to discuss the past, present and future of energy storage for the country.

In terms of the current state of affairs for Ireland, energy storage, despite being in its infancy, has had a strong introduction to the renewable energy sector.

The onset of Irish energy storage

Bobby Smith, speaking exclusively with Solar Power Portal at the Summit, said: “Energy storage is coming kind of relatively late to that [renewable energy] game. The first battery project was built in Ireland around 2019/2020, and we have had a very successful few years in terms of storage built out.”

Smith continued: “Since then, we’ve moved on in leaps and bounds; we now have just over 700 megawatts of battery storage connected today on the island.”

Although Smith is the first to admit this figure may not come across as the most impressive when applied to larger countries, like the UK, Germany or even the US, it is a significant amount for an island of its size.

However, since this outburst of initial activity, Smith notes that the market has quietened slightly, saying, “We have had the first phase of the battery storage build, but it’s becoming apparent now that the market is saturated”.

Surveying the Irish energy storage landscape, Smith believes that any developer that has ridden the first wave of battery energy storage projects (BESS) has now received their revenues and left the market with what he refers to as a “cannibalisation effect”.

Smith said: “We are in a sort of hiatus in Ireland. We’ve had really rapid growth over the last few years in battery storage, and then it plateaued a bit, with the odd project or two getting connected.”

The transition to long-duration

As is true for many global markets, the next step in developing energy storage as a key element of Ireland’s renewable energy industry is the use of long-duration energy storage (LDES). These are battery storage systems which can charge and discharge energy for longer periods of time, usually at least two hours.

Bobby Smith agrees that LDES is integral to the development of Irish energy storage, saying: “Ireland has really ambitious targets to drive down emissions and reach net zero by 2035; we are not going to do that without, in particular, long-duration storage and flexibility that can shift large volumes of energy around.”

He notes that “nobody in Ireland is looking at building a half-hour or one-hour battery now” and that everyone is instead looking at “multi-storage or even longer duration”.

This is evident from the ‘market-first’ BESS project currently under construction in County Offaly, Ireland.

The 4-hour BESS facility is the product of a Statkraft and Fluence partnership and has a 20MW capacity. It is located at Statkraft’s pre-existing 55.8MW Cushaling wind farm and is expected to have completed construction by the end of 2024.

The project plans to support Ireland’s grid operator, Eirgrid, by providing renewable load-shifting as well as ancillary services to help maintain grid stability.

It is important to note that energy research firm Aurora has identified Ireland as a leading market in LDES deployment for two years in a row, listing the country in its top five long-duration markets in 2022 and then in the top three a year later.

In 2022, the research group estimated that four-hour battery storage systems will make up 61% of total installed systems by 2050, compared with 22% by 2025.

In its most recent annual report, the firm predicted a sevenfold increase in large-scale battery energy storage system (BESS) capacity across Europe, with Ireland, the UK and Italy leading the way.

Policy restrictions

However, the path to this future filled with LDES to help supply energy for the entire country may not be as obstacle-free as initially hoped.

Similar to how Statkraft and Fluence have approached their LDES in Ireland, the potential of co-location with either wind or solar farms could be greatly beneficial to the country.

Smith outlines why this opportunity has not yet been fully seized: “What is still a barrier in Ireland is that we have rules, policy rules that sort of prevent pure colocation.

“At the moment, you have to have separate export capacities for both projects, which actually means a more expensive connection because you are oversizing the connection.”

Basically, what this means is that in order to co-locate a BESS or LDES to an existing renewable energy farm, a developer would have to acquire another grid connection for an extension which does not require it.

Smith continued: “To give an example, if you are applying for a connection of, say, 50MW, you would have to have a 25MW solar and a 25MW battery to make that, whereas, in reality, you already want to have 50MW of each because they’re not going to be used at the same time.”

There is movement on the issue, as policymakers currently discuss the relaxing of these rules. Smith says he hopes it will be dealt with this year, saying the “regulators have consulted with us” on the matter and that they are “conscious of the impact on the network”.

Nevertheless, Smith remains hopeful, saying: “I don’t think that’s insurmountable. And we will get the policy so you can actually share the connection more efficiently. Then you will see, I think, a big ramp-up in terms of wind and solar co-location.”