Irish state utility to build its own solar farms to 2021

Dozens of solar farms are to be built in Ireland by the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) according to a contract notice which revealed the utility is planning to build up to 30 ground mounted solar farms over the next five years.

The state owned company is planning to develop up to circa 100 MW - with the potential that this may extend to 500MW – of solar PV between now and the end of 2021.

These will be on the on ESB’s own sites or joint-venture and leased sites in locations across both the Republic of Ireland and in Northern Ireland and would typically range between 5MW and 20MW, although it has also stated there is potential for certain developments to be larger.

This would represent a significant increase on the current levels of solar development in Ireland and will help the country meet its national target of 40% of electricity to be derived from renewable sources by 2020.

ESB is seeking five “suitably qualified” suppliers to be appointed to the EPC framework, which has an initial framework term of three years. However, the contract notice explains that this could be extended to five.           

Interested firms have until 9 May to express their interest and potentially find out the value of the contract, which has yet to be revealed. A spokesperson for ESB said: "With the tender process currently underway, we are not in a position to comment on spend. Capital costs in the sector have fallen dramatically over the past five years and further reduction is expected over the next few years, as well as an increase in efficiency of equipment." 

Grid connections in the Republic of Ireland are issued by ESB Networks, a ring-fenced subsidiary within ESB Group acting as the distribution network operator. According to a spokesperson for ESB, applications for grid connections for the new solar farms will be made by ESB Asset Development “in the same way as any other developer”.

Currently, grid connection application are process on a sequential basis however the Commission for Energy Regulation, which is responsible for regulating the process, is currently consulting on changes to the application process.

Within the consultation, CER says “the sequential processing of applications, may no longer be appropriate for projects where there are a large number of projects clustering in specific areas of the network and that a form of group processing is now required.”

It goes on to suggest that the entire policy for connection could move to a group processing approach which would see batches of connections, or ‘Gates’, issued to small, renewable and low carbon generators. This would not be in a sequential order

The consultation closed on 29 January and responses are still being considered however a spokesperson from CER said the removal of sequential processing could be one of the outcomes.

ESB’s proposals for adding significant levels of solar to Ireland’s energy mix is the latest indication of the flurry of work that is likely to be carried out in the coming years. Hadstone Energy recently announced it had moved one step closer to building a 46MW solar farm in Country Antrim while renewables developer Dulas recently launched new Irish headquarters in Dublin.

Ireland’s solar market is expected to reach 1GW by 2020 however high levels of planning applications have suggested the market could become over-crowded.