I thank the committee for the opportunity to present. Addressing climate change is the challenge of our time. It is an existential challenge that will determine our way of life, our well-being and the future of the habitat we enjoy today. Those who follow will judge us on how we act upon this, and rightly so.
I will focus on the transformational opportunity that offshore renewables, and particularly wind, present to us. Ireland has a comparative advantage with some of the best wind regimes in the world. With advances in technology in the past ten years, including floating offshore wind, Ireland is well placed for the production of renewable electricity at scale.
Our land to sea ratio is 10:1 so we have long been in marine renewable resources unlike some of our European partners who have no marine resources whatsoever. The resource we have on our doorstep is inexhaustible. The question is, how will we exploit this gift we have been endowed with. The answer is that with vision and strategic intent Ireland can turn this comparative advantage into a competitive advantage and become a leader in addressing climate change. Renewable technology advances have seen wind and solar generation becoming more competitive than nuclear and fossil fuel-based generation.
The new EU Commission has set an objective of Europe becoming the first carbon-neutral continent by 2050. Much policy and support in that regard is expected in the proposed new green deal. Electrification of heat and transport and the production of hydrogen and other gasses are set to see European demand for electricity production increase by more than double to 7,800 TWh by 2050. Without fossil fuels, this would necessitate a massive ramping up of renewable generation and deployment.
Offshore wind is forecast to become the biggest source of generation in Europe by 2050, overtaking onshore wind and solar. The reasoning behind the enhanced offshore wind drive includes higher wind speeds and load factors. One can generate twice as much energy from a wind turbine in a marine environment than onshore. There is community resistance to onshore, notwithstanding all of the efforts and endeavours that have been made for onshore wind. Scale effects that can be achieved offshore is staggering. There is also the possibility of deploying large offshore turbines leading directly to falling prices.
WindEurope undertook an indicative exercise, a report on which it published last week, that allocated the EU Commission’s offshore target of 450 GW across those countries with offshore wind resources. In this notional allocation, this country was given 22 GW with the following observations: Ireland needs to increase its leasing and consenting rate; it needs to work on its connectivity and supply chain; and it needs to start mobilising the technology by 2025. It is useful to contextualise this 22 GW in two ways. First, Ireland's current peak demand is 6 GW and the proposed Celtic interconnector is 0.7 GW. When one considers the scale it is clear that this would entail exporting resources to continental Europe. Second, the resource available within our waters can be measured in the thousands of gigawatts. In other words, Ireland could aspire to do as much as it wishes in the future. It is clear, however, that, notwithstanding its peripheral location, Ireland is, given its superior resources, viewed as a potential significant exporter of renewable wind energy. I recommend WindEurope's Our Energy, Our Future report to members. It makes for quite interesting reading.
Once one develops a material amount of energy in the European context, connectivity to European demand centres is required. Irish consumers could not be expected to underwrite such an investment in generation and transmission. Agreements with importer nations and entities would need to be struck. Offshore wind is less variable than onshore but there are major benefits to not having too high a concentration of offshore wind in any single region, such as the North Sea, so that we may keep the lights on 24-7. While Ireland could have the lowest cost of production, considerations around the cost of connecting and continuity of supply will inform the optimum spread of offshore wind around Europe. The takeaway in this regard is that it is a European problem, not a national one, and we should think of it in that context. A more integrated European regulatory approach than currently exists is required, as is a more interconnected pan-European grid. We also need a master plan to try to get a good outcome for Europe, as a continent, by 2050. Each country may make a case for how much it wishes to contribute in generation. WindEurope’s report states, "Countries with offshore wind resources have a geographical responsibility to lead Europe in this ... enabling higher levels of offshore deployment".
We are of the view that offshore wind will be called upon to increase its share of renewables in the future as other sectors struggle. Many European countries are constrained due to designations, lack of marine resources and so on. Ireland's 22 GW reflects an excess potential, but what is the right amount? We could transmit as much as can to Europe. Serving 5% of European energy demand by 2050 is not an unreasonable aspiration and would result in circa 70 GW of offshore wind. This scale of development would result in new indigenous industries to diversify job creation and the tax base, especially in regional areas, and it would regenerate our coastal communities. The scale of the development would also result in energy security with an avoided annual fuel bill of €5 billion to €6 billion and there would also be export revenue for the State's coffers. Ireland would be offering leadership in responding to climate change. Ireland would also exceed its targets and avoid penalties associated with not meeting those targets.
The exact quantum of 22 GW or 70 GW is less important than the concept and the vision of Ireland as a major exporter of renewables. In this context, indigenous supply chain industries and jobs may be created in a way that they would not be created for a domestic play. Beyond the vision, the next step is a roadmap to achieve and realise our potential. Ireland needs to commit to the development of our renewable assets in the context of the long-term vision. We need to give investors and developers a strong signal - as other countries have - that we are serious about developing our offshore resources. In the past, Ireland has sparked industries that we had less right to develop than offshore wind. By setting favourable terms and by supporting the inception of special development zones, such as the Shannon free zone and the International Financial Services Centre, Ireland has brought in foreign direct investment and supported local development. We can do the same with offshore wind development. The benefits of sharing the development of our offshore resource with those companies already involved in offshore generation in the North Sea are clear: more decarbonisation and more jobs in Ireland. All we need to do is provide certainty to the market. A special development zone is one option in this regard. Supporting indigenous innovation in order to encourage the development of industries that are sustainable is vital. We currently have a dormant offshore industry which sends its best people to work in the UK offshore wind industry. This can be developed and grown to provide local jobs at a number of ports in Ireland, supporting not just the Irish development but also the European supply chain.
Follow through is necessary for the structures and frameworks in order to support a growing and developing industry. A renewables centre of excellence should be set up with participation from industry and Government. It is important that there is joint involvement. It has worked very well in the UK. Innovation support for new technologies – again with industry and Government participation - would also be required.
I would mention test and deployment centres, of which we have some, for offshore renewable energy technologies that deliver innovative projects, not only following technology but developing it. It would be important for such a project to be pre-consented to the extent that it can be to accelerate that take-up of technology, to have a connection regime and to have a tariff regime for limited energy.
Furthermore, spatial planning for the optimal use of the marine environment is something to which we aspire. I commend the Government on its efforts in that respect and it needs to be finished out by 2021. It is important to have an engineering feasibility study for various levels of offshore renewable development. I would point to a specifically dedicated zone-cluster for marine renewable technology to encourage companies to start up in Ireland. Such an approach can give Ireland the chance to realise its potential, help Europe to become carbon neutral and Ireland to become a leader in addressing climate change.
I thank the members for their time and if there are any questions my colleague, Mr. Robert O'Connor and I will be happy to endeavour to answer them.