Many companies have identified Ireland as the next prospect for developing solar as the UK market slows. As well as having a well-established renewables industry from wind generation the government has now suggested that solar will play a key role in helping Ireland meet its 2020 renewables targets.

This interest has translated into a solar project pipeline of over 3GW and growing. Companies looking at Ireland now are preparing early as they complete the last of their UK projects before March 2017, they will then be turning their full attention to the island of Ireland, firstly in Northern Ireland as the finally NIROC projects are completed under the grace period there and then to Ireland, hopefully in time for whatever support is announced and for construction to begin.

Firstly, why install solar in Ireland and why is the government only now looking at supporting it?

Ireland has around 2.4GW of wind installed and has supported onshore wind since the early 1990s, however, as in other countries wind has proved unpopular with the public and it has become difficult to build any new wind projects. This leaves a dilemma for the government as Ireland is only halfway towards meeting 2020 targets of 40% electricity generation from renewables.

Energy demand in Ireland is also changing, as overall demand should be falling due to energy efficiency measures there is an influx of companies looking to build datacentres in Ireland, taking advantage of favourable tax conditions. Apple is one of the high profile companies to have a datacentre approved and this project alone could account for 300MW of demand. This also comes at a time when older power plants are being decommissioned due to emissions targets. The latest report from Eirgrid shows that 1.1GW of generation is expected to come offline in the next 10 years even though demand is expected to increase by at least 700MW. Solar could provide new generation to meet the shortfall as well as being attractive to the new companies entering the market as they look to meet corporate sustainability goals and source their electricity from renewables.

What does the energy system in Ireland look like now?

Around 50% of Ireland’s electricity currently comes from gas, followed by coal at around 20%. Renewables make up 20%, made up of mostly wind with some hydro and biomass. Eirgrid operates the transmission grid and the distribution grid is operated by ESB. Solar is nearly always connected at a distribution level and the solar grid applications are therefore being processed by ESB.

There are around 6 consultations ongoing that impact the development of solar in Ireland. All impact each other but the two most influential will be the “Review of Connection and Grid Access Policy” and the White Paper on energy policy which will set out the new support scheme for renewable electricity generation which is expected to include solar.

Solar Media Market Research has just released the first edition of the Republic of Ireland Opportunity Pipeline Report, which tracks the current pipeline and status of Solar PV projects in Ireland. For more information please click here or email [email protected].

This story originally appeared in Issue 2 of Inside Clean Energy magazine. To view the story in full, and to read the rest of the magazine, fill out the form below to download the entire issue for free.