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Joint Committee on Environment and Climate Action díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 1 Mar 2022

Energy - Ambition and Challenges: Discussion

Unfortunately, Deputy Whitmore is unable to attend today. She sends her apologies.

We are here to discuss accelerating offshore wind energy development, including: floating and fixed offshore wind energy; the east coast potential, which is very clear to us; and the potential of the west coast. We will also discuss supply chains, logistics and the development of the green hydrogen economy. There is much talk about that at the moment.

I welcome: Dr. Stefan Kaufmann, innovation commissioner for green hydrogen at the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research; Mr. Frank Daly and Ms Kate Dempsey of the German-Irish Hydrogen Council; Dr. James Carton, assistant professor in energy sustainability and hydrogen at the Dublin City University school of mechanical and manufacturing engineering and Science Foundation Ireland MaREI Research Centre-funded investigator; Mr. Noel Cunniffe, CEO, Mr. Justin Moran, director of external affairs, and Mr. Niall Goodwin, head of policy, from Wind Energy Ireland; Mr. Peter Lefroy, chairperson of the offshore committee of RWE Renewables; and Mr. Jim Dollard, executive director, ESB generation and trading; Mr. Paul Lennon, asset development manager, ESB generation and trading; and Ms Áine O’Grady, strategy and portfolio planning, ESB generation and trading. I thank the witnesses for coming to engage with us today and to answer whatever questions we might have on this very important topic.

Before we begin, I will read the note on privilege. I remind the witnesses of the long-standing parliamentary practice that they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity outside the Houses by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of the person or entity.

If their statements are potentially defamatory in respect of an identifiable person or entity, I will direct them to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative they comply with any such direction I give. For witnesses attending from outside the Leinster House campus, there are some limitations to parliamentary privilege and, as such, they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a witness physically present on the Leinster House campus.

Members of the committee are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I remind Members that they are allowed to participate in this meeting only if they are physically located on the Leinster House complex. In that regard I ask all Members joining us online to confirm, prior to making their contribution to the meeting, that they are on the grounds of the Leinster House campus.

I turn now to Dr. Kaufmann, who joins us from South Africa. Dr. Kaufmann, would you like to give us your opening statement?

Dr. Stefan Kaufmann

I thank the committee for its friendly invitation. Many greetings from Cape Town. Here it is 30°C and, as Members may see, there is a black-and-white photograph behind me, so the committee has an impression of the weather here but without the sun. I thank the committee for the opportunity to make this statement to it. It is a pleasure to connect with my associates in Ireland again on the very important topic of hydrogen.

As part of my role as innovation commissioner for green hydrogen at the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, I meet with prospective partner countries to discuss potential co-operation in the field of green hydrogen. This is because my country, as the committee will know, remains an energy importer and will be dependent on the import of renewable energies in the future.

In October 2021 my team and I visited Ireland. The German-Irish Chamber of Industry and Commerce organised an intensive meeting schedule over the course of two days in order that we could better understand Ireland's potential for hydrogen production and export to Germany. On that occasion we had the opportunity to meet with the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and his team; leading academics on the topic of hydrogen, including Dr. James Carton, who I believe is with the committee today; utility companies Bord na Móna and the ESB; and a number of other companies with interest in the field such as Dublin Bus, BOC-Linde, Wind Energy Ireland, the Sustainable Energy Authority Of Ireland, SEAI, the Industrial Development Authority, IDA, and Ireland's energy regulator. Seeing first-hand the experience Ireland has gained from the use of hydrogen as an alternative fuel was of great interest to us. While visiting BOC-Linde's offices, we got to see the refuelling of one of Dublin Bus's three hydrogen fuel cell electric double-decker buses now running in the greater Dublin area.

What was clear during our visit is that Ireland has the potential to be a significant player in the world of hydrogen. We learned about the wind resources off the Atlantic coast in particular, potentially reaching up to 70 GW of wind power. We also met with hydrogen project developers such as Valentia Island Energy and EIH2, which presented their proposed plans for hydrogen production off the south coast.

German-Irish co-operation on energy dates back almost 100 years. While in Limerick for a meeting with the ESB, we visited the Ardnacrusha hydroelectric power plant, on the River Shannon, Ireland's first power plant. A great example of German-Irish co-operation in this field, it was built in partnership with German engineers, and the Siemens turbines installed there are still in operation today. It is my belief that hydrogen could herald a new era of German-Irish partnership in the energy sector. We were delighted that, following our visit to Ireland, the German-Irish Hydrogen Council was formed because it gives us a focal point to continue discussions with Ireland about hydrogen. We discussed with the council areas of research that would be of mutual interest to Germany and Ireland and welcomed the response we got.

As an island nation, one of Ireland's greatest challenges is delivering the excess hydrogen it will produce to markets in mainland Europe. My department is preparing a proposal to conceptualise a pilot project in partnership with Ireland to show the feasibility of delivering Irish green hydrogen from Ireland's producers to German ports or the European mainland. We feel that this proposal could become the initial step in forming a deeper and ongoing relationship with Ireland in the field of green hydrogen.

I once again thank the committee for the opportunity to participate today. I wish the committee a very successful and productive meeting. Please excuse me, Chairman, if I leave a little early. I wish the committee all success and hope for a really good partnership between Germany and Ireland in green hydrogen and other topics.

Thank you, Dr. Kaufmann. It is very encouraging to us to hear the level of enthusiasm you have expressed for co-operation between our two countries. I know you may not be able to stay with us for much longer, so we thank you for taking time out of your stay in South Africa to join us.

I turn now to Mr. Daly. Mr. Daly, will you make your opening statement, please, on behalf of the German-Irish Hydrogen Council?

Mr. Frank Daly

In July 2020 the German Government published its hydrogen strategy. This is a very detailed document that provides a step-by-step action plan for the implementation of green hydrogen in the country. A few numbers jump out from the pages of the document - for example, 90 TWh to 110 TWh. That is Germany's projected demand for hydrogen in 2030 to feed industries such as chemical and steel production. Of that amount, 14 TWh, or approximately 15% of demand, is the amount of green hydrogen Germany estimates it will be able to produce domestically by 2030. This means that, in order to decarbonise these hard-to-decarbonise industrial sectors, Germany needs to import the vast majority of its green hydrogen. That is why Germany is reaching out to European colleagues and countries beyond to partner with it in the field of green hydrogen. Germany sees its industrial demand as a catalyst for speeding up the market roll-out of green hydrogen.

Ireland's energy profile is complementary to Germany's. We do not have the large heavy industry that Germany has but we do have vast renewable energy potential, particularly off our coasts. We firmly believe Ireland has the potential to position itself as an exporter of hydrogen to Germany if those resources are fully utilised.

It is for that reason the German-Irish Chamber of Industry and Commerce established the German-Irish Hydrogen Council this year. Our membership includes Irish and German companies, including the ESB, that are involved in offshore wind, electrolysis and hydrogen storage. Our goal is to foster better co-operation between the two countries through engagement at departmental and ministerial level in both jurisdictions, and we strive to lay the groundwork to get business done between Irish and German companies involved in the field of green hydrogen.

Thank you, Mr. Daly. Ms Dempsey, you are to give us an opening statement also.

Ms Kate Dempsey

Only last week, conflict raised the cost of oil to more than $105 a barrel. The energy crisis is worsening not just environmentally but economically and socially. The ever-present challenges of the climate emergency and the transition towards decarbonisation have resulted in the industry responding with innovation to support net zero. The Irish Government's clear and commendable policy response to these challenges has been to encourage the development of renewable energy to the extent that Ireland can become a net exporter of energy.

In that context, the work being led by the Department to put in place a "plan-led" approach to offshore renewable development through a revised offshore renewable energy development plan, OREDP, is welcome. Post 2030, this will provide clear signals to developers. Between now and 2030, we need to ensure we do as much as possible to support some of the country's most promising and viable offshore projects by providing equitable and prompt access to the licensing process.

Looking to the future, it is crucial that Ireland continues to learn from other jurisdictions, focusing on developing supply chain confidence for offshore energy development, increasing the capacity of the national transmission system, encouraging and incentivising off-grid solutions, promoting the delivery of floating offshore in advance of 2030 and incentivising the production of green hydrogen to serve domestic and international energy needs. It is only through the culmination of all types of offshore energy generation that Ireland can truly capture the potential of our offshore natural energy resources.

This is not a time to wait or to be complacent. It is the time to act. It is the time to realise the aim of this committee and to ensure stakeholders are supported in urgently progressing all viable renewable energy projects, promoting confidence of investment to keep Ireland at the international forefront of clean energy.

We would ask the committee to consider the opportunity that our renewable energy resources presents for potential trade with Germany and with other European partners. The German-Irish Hydrogen Council wishes to co-operate with the members of the committee in order to deliver high-level engagement between the Governments of Germany and Ireland in the field of green hydrogen.

I thank Ms Dempsey for that. I now move to Dr. Carton for his opening statement.

Dr. James Carton

I would like to thank the committee for the opportunity to address members on accelerating and achieving the full potential of Ireland’s offshore wind resource and green hydrogen, with the view to contributing to Ireland’s, Europe’s and the global energy demand.

Energy consumption and use is a major contributor to carbon emissions. We must transition with haste to more sustainable energy, food and waste systems. My contribution will focus on decarbonisation and on the necessary role of the energy carrier of green hydrogen in Ireland.

The first key message is that our energy system and its decarbonisation must be viewed as the complex integrated system that it is. As a country, we have introduced incremental change that has not been effective and that will not achieve our necessary cumulative carbon reductions towards 2030 or 2050.

The second key message is that we know how to decarbonise and we know what do. We must manage energy consumption. We must electrify as much as is possible, through heat-pumps, battery electric vehicles, BEVs, etc. We must increase energy efficiency and deploy renewable energy fast and at a large scale. However, electricity can only bring us so far. Variable wind is not useful on its own all of the time. Only so many cables of a limited capacity will be acceptable or placed underground, overhead or subsea.

What will happen to heavy duty vehicles, intercity trains, intercontinental airplanes, ships, agricultural fertilizer, cement, aluminium, etc? At the same time that we deploy renewables, we must deploy and scale up the energy carriers that are necessary to decarbonise. We also need to power our electricity grid when there is no wind. Therefore, we need energy storage many orders of magnitude greater than what batteries alone can provide.

I ask the committee to think about hydrogen: green hydrogen from renewable energy. In a recent report from International Renewable Energy Agency, IRENA, hydrogen could meet 12% of world energy use by 2050. Others suggest a figure of 24%. My colleague mentioned a figure of 15% in Germany alone by 2030. To enable this transformational energy storage change, what should we do?

First, we need a hydrogen strategy that would enable policy development and guide investment now. We need to stimulate suitable demand for hydrogen. Production is not necessarily a bottleneck, but it just needs to be stimulated. We need to focus on hydrogen valleys, through a cluster of producers, distributors and users. This reduces risk, reduces cost and enables scale. We need to implement supporting mechanisms for green hydrogen infrastructure. We need to implement the biofuels obligation that supports green hydrogen. We need to deploy guarantees of origin as necessary, models of which are found across Europe. We need to deploy large-scale hydrogen storage in Ireland for consistent energy supply, which is directly connected to the geopolitical energy security challenges that we face today. We need to create and support export opportunities for green hydrogen, as we heard from our German colleague earlier. We need to further study of the role of green hydrogen to decarbonise heat. We need to investigate further work from the SEAI. We need to launch a national hydrogen research centre to enable high-value jobs and skills. This would involve a similar approach to what we have done in this country with tech companies, medical device companies and the pharmaceuticals industry.

The final message is that decarbonisation can support rural and coastal development and jobs. It can enhance our energy security, keep our homes warm and keep our cities clean. To accelerate and achieve the full potential of Ireland’s offshore wind resources, we need green hydrogen sooner rather than later.

I thank the committee for this opportunity to speak and I am happy to take questions.

I thank Dr. Carton for his statement. I will now go to Mr. Cunliffe for his opening statement.

Mr. Noel Cunniffe

On behalf of Wind Energy Ireland, I would like to thank the committee for the invitation to join it today. Wind Energy Ireland is the country’s largest representative body for renewable energy, with more than 160 members throughout the wind energy supply chain. Wind energy has transformed Ireland’s electricity system, cutting millions of tonnes of CO2 emissions every year, 4.5 million tonnes in 2020 alone, more than all other renewables combined. This is steadily reducing our dependency on imported fossil fuels.

I would like to begin by stating clearly that our Climate Action Plan targets are at serious risk. We must cut our carbon emissions by 30 million tonnes per annum by 2030. We cannot achieve this without 5,000 MW of offshore wind energy connected to the system. The problem is not a lack of projects. As the committee can see from the presentation shared with its members, we have more than 20,000 MW of capacity under development off the east, south and west coasts. We have the projects. We have the investment. We have the teams who can deliver. It is time to focus on delivery.

Last September, at our annual offshore wind energy conference, we published our report, Twelve Months to Deliver Offshore Wind. It showed that none of the targets and deadlines contained in the prior building offshore wind report have been, or will be, met. We must acknowledge that over the previous two years, we have had to deal with an unprecedented healthcare crisis. It is true that despite this there has been progress. I would like to give credit to the Government, and policymakers from all sides, who worked on the legislation for the passing of the Maritime Area Planning Act before Christmas.

The model for our offshore electricity grid has now been identified. Consultations are also now under way or have been recently completed on the first offshore auction for phase one projects, for the maritime area consent process and to identify phase two offshore projects, which will deliver at the end of the decade. However, this does not change the fact that we are losing time. We can and will develop offshore wind farms. Yet, whether we will develop enough to meet our 5,000 MW target by 2030, and to cut carbon emissions in the power sector to under 2 million tonnes, depends on what our political leaders, both those in government and in opposition, do next.

The Twelve Months to Deliver Offshore Wind report identified several key actions. In the interests of time, however, I will briefly focus on four of these, which are: planning, grid, green hydrogen and the supply-chain. I would like to cover how we can improve the planning system. Each individual offshore wind farm will be among the largest infrastructure projects delivered in Ireland in a generation. They are large, complex and highly technical pieces of infrastructure. The planning applications for permission to build them must be thoroughly and robustly scrutinised. For this to happen, we need far more resources in An Bord Pleanála, as well as in other bodies such as the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS. There must be increased funding for the environmental stakeholders who are working to protect our marine biodiversity. If a project takes 18 to 24 months to get planning consent, and another 18 to 24 months to survive a judicial review, the chances of that project being connected by 2030 are extremely slim.

As well as resourcing the planning system, we need the establishment of the environmental and planning court, along with the funds to make it effective, which is set out in the programme for Government to ensure a swift, effective judicial review system that adheres to our obligations under the Aarhus Convention.

We are confident in our members and in the work they are doing to ensure their projects are delivered sustainably, with the support of local communities and with respect to our marine biodiversity. We welcome the proper scrutiny of their planning applications, but we cannot see projects needlessly delayed.

The Irish electricity grid is simply not strong enough to accommodate 5,000 MW of offshore wind energy. EirGrid’s grid development strategy, shaping our electricity future, must have strong political and public support right across Irish society. Support for its delivery is a true litmus test that will identify those who are committed to tackling climate change and those who are only prepared to talk about it. Yet, even if everything in this strategy was delivered, it would not be enough to meet Ireland’s carbon budget targets. We will need to go beyond it. We currently have a team of grid development experts from Ireland and internationally who are working on a piece of research showing how we can meet our electricity sector carbon budget target for 2021 to 2030.

We hope this will be useful to EirGrid in updating its grid strategy later this year. I would appreciate an opportunity to discuss this report with committee members when it is finalised. While this work is under way, I would appreciate the support of the committee for the establishment of an offshore grid steering committee to co-ordinate the technical and engineering challenges of connecting offshore wind energy.

As we already heard this morning, other speakers will focus on the topic of green hydrogen so I will simply make two points. First, as committee members will know, we recently published Hydrogen and Wind Energy: The Role of Green Hydrogen in Ireland’s Energy Transition, which shows how it can play a vital role in Ireland’s transition to a net-zero society, boost our economy and make our energy supply more secure. We need a green hydrogen strategy as soon as possible. However, I would like to be clear that producing green hydrogen in Ireland is only realistic if we can cut the price of renewable electricity. The single biggest factor in the price of a unit of green hydrogen is the cost of the electricity used to produce it.

In 2020, in the first onshore renewable electricity auction, Ireland had the highest price of any EU country. We will not succeed until we co-ordinate industry, Government and other stakeholders to find ways to drive down the cost of electricity for today’s families and businesses and for tomorrow’s thriving green hydrogen economy.

Finally, we want to see a successful renewable energy industry in Ireland with offshore wind energy at the heart of it alongside green hydrogen and our onshore renewables. If Irish ports and businesses are not able to take advantage of this opportunity, however, there is no doubt others will step in and the money invested will flow out of Ireland. The chance to develop a skills base and an industry that can compete internationally in a rapidly growing global renewable energy market will be lost. This is the time for Ireland to seize the opportunity to bring together industry, policymakers and communities to ensure the benefits are maximised from multibillion euro investments in zero-carbon generation that can create thousands of skilled jobs at home and regenerate coastal communities right around the island.

We would like the support of the committee in our efforts to see the Government bring together key Departments and Government agencies, like the Industrial Development Authority, IDA, and Enterprise Ireland, to work alongside our members to ensure that Irish workers and Irish businesses benefit from Irish wind farms.

We want to make it clear that we believe that achieving Ireland’s goal of 5,000 MW of offshore wind energy by 2030 is possible. We can do this but we can only do it if there is accelerated delivery right across the critical sectors about which I have spoken this morning. This is the challenge we need to overcome and we have no time to waste. As was stated at yesterday's release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, report:

The scientific evidence is unequivocal: climate change is a threat to human well-being and the health of the planet. Any further delay in concerted global action will miss a brief and rapidly closing window to secure a liveable future.

I thank Mr. Cunniffe for his statement. We will move now to Mr. Dollard of the ESB.

Mr. Gerard Dollard

I wish members a good morning and thank the Chairman for this opportunity to address the committee. In line with my regulatory licence as executive director of ESB generation and trading, I do not speak for either ESB Networks or as a retail supplier of electricity to either domestic or commercial consumers. I speak as a generator of electricity that is ultimately sold on the integrated single electricity market, ISEM.

ESB believes that Ireland has a tremendous opportunity now for offshore wind and green hydrogen. We believe there are four key items that, if acted upon quickly, can position Ireland to deliver 5 GW of offshore wind by 2030, thereby reducing carbon emissions and increasing energy security, while also creating an industry to deliver long-term enduring economic and social benefits to the State.

The first item is that we must enable floating offshore wind projects now. The 2020 programme for Government identifies a potential of at least 30 GW of floating offshore wind by 2050. ESB and other industry players are currently developing floating offshore projects off the Irish coast. These projects can be delivered before 2030. While fixed bed wind farms on the east coast will make up the bulk of capacity delivered in Ireland by 2030, ESB believes floating offshore wind farms will be required in delivering the national target of 5 GW by 2030. Specifically, we believe Ireland needs a ring-fenced auction for 1 GW of floating offshore wind now to enable it to reach the 5 GW target for renewables by 2030.

The second item is to utilise the existing grid network as efficiently as possible. We believe an essential step to delivering wind of scale is to utilise the existing grid infrastructure as efficiently as possible. One of the most effective ways of doing this is through hybrid grid connection projects. In simple terms, a hybrid grid connection allows two or more forms of generation, say, an offshore wind farm of 500 MW and a conventional power station of 500 MW to share the same grid connection. The key advantages associated with hybrid connections are the cost to the consumer - it drives down costs because it increases competition - and speed of delivery. These are existing pieces of infrastructure that do not require new infrastructure to be built and avoid the challenges in building new transmission infrastructure in Ireland. ESB will be strongly advocating for the use of hybrid grid connection projects now as part of the current consultation process on offshore wind.

The third item is to build early supply chain confidence. ESB welcomes the maritime area planning, MAP, legislation and the decision to have the first offshore wind renewable electricity support scheme, RESS, auction in 2022. These are clear signals to the supply chain industry that Ireland is focused on the delivery of offshore wind in the short term but this momentum needs to be maintained and accelerated if Ireland is to create a supply chain industry in Ireland. Strong consideration should be given to the State procuring greater than 5 GW from the first two offshore RESS auctions to allow for almost inevitable project attrition. We need to commission more than 5 GW to ensure that we actually achieve 5 GW. In addition, a key issue here is building market confidence that a flow of offshore wind projects is envisaged. We believe that Ireland needs a ring-fenced auction for 1 GW of floating offshore wind now. For these reason, we recommend that at least 7 GW in total be procured through the first two offshore RESS auctions, of which at least 1 GW should be floating offshore wind. This approach and timeframe would position Ireland strongly to develop local supply chain job capabilities as opposed to those jobs being created elsewhere.

The fourth item is to set up Ireland for hydrogen production and storage. As part of ESB’s strategy, we will achieve net zero by 2040. Green hydrogen production will be a critical part of this strategy, requiring large-scale offshore wind capacity and ultimately, a major investment in floating offshore wind. It will also require the development of a hydrogen economy. ESB is initiating a number of hydrogen lighthouse projects to develop its hydrogen capability. In particular, Green Atlantic at Moneypoint will be a major step in growing the hydrogen economy but broader industry and State support will be required to develop an industry of scale in Ireland.

In conclusion, to create a secure, resilient, affordable, decarbonised energy system, we will need considerable build-out of floating wind technology, hydrogen production and large-scale energy storage. ESB intends to play its role in this vision across a range of wind farm projects. As part of the Green Atlantic at Moneypoint project, we intend to transform Moneypoint into a renewables hub encompassing a 1.4 GW floating offshore wind farm, hydrogen production and storage facilities, a hub for offshore wind construction and other renewable technologies. The potential economic impact of the project and others like it are significant.

Crucial to Ireland realising its offshore potential will be developing supply chain confidence, utilising the existing grid as efficiently as possible through the inclusion of hybrids, procuring at least 7 GW from two offshore RESS auctions, promoting the delivery of floating offshore wind by 2030 and incentivising the production of green hydrogen to serve domestic and international energy needs. These steps, if implemented in the short term, can be transformational for Ireland.

I thank Mr. Dollard. That concludes all the opening statements. I will ask members to indicate to ask questions. Can I get agreement from members that we will limit questions to just two minutes? We have limited time in the room.

I get that there is limited time but there were many statements and much information. Two minutes will be really difficult. Would an extra minute be allowed?

We have less than two and a half hours left. I am in the hands of members. If they are agreeable, we will give five minutes each and that will allow a little bit of back and forth between witnesses and members.

Dr. James Carton

It is not the Committee of Public Accounts so the Chairman is grand.

Hopefully, it will be less of an interrogation and more of an enlightening session. I thank Deputy O'Sullivan. If witnesses joining us in the room and online wish to come in on a particular question, even if it is not directed to them, they may indicate to me by raising their hand in the room or using the raise hand function on Microsoft Teams. Did Deputy Dooley wish to go first? I apologise; I should say Senator Dooley.

I thank the Chairman for the promotion; I will take that.

I thank all the witnesses here for their presentations. I have been advocating for this session for a while.

While we talk a lot about what we have to do and decarbonisation, up to now much of that discussion - this is not in any way a negative towards the academics online with us - has been academic in nature and it comes from a desire to do what is right. As politicians, when we think there is a solution to what is a manifest problem, we often tend to leave it at that, to think we do not need to get back into the decarbonisation debate. We need to recognise a few fundamentals.

Onshore wind energy capture is a major problem for many of us in rural constituencies. In my view, we have reached saturation in most areas. The easy winds are already built out. There may be one or two more, but I struggle to understand where they are. This tells me we need to move much more quickly if we are to achieve our environmental goals. We have to be more ambitious and look to offshore. I am very interested in the floating offshore. I am thankful to Mr. Dollard for having identified that that now needs to form part of the auction process. I will be specific initially on the issues with regard to the ESB. Will Mr. Dollard comment on what he is hearing within the powers that be and what the resistance might be to making floating offshore part of an auction process? We need to understand that.

Mr. Dollard might also elaborate on where the resistance lies to the hybrid grid connection. It seems to be a no-brainer. Mr. Cunniffe might also comment on that. I recognise that the ESB, from a generation point of view, is one specific entity. Mr. Cunniffe and Mr. Moran represent other possibilities. What is their view of the notion of a hybrid grid connection?

My next question is to Ms Dempsey and Mr. Daly on the very important work the council is doing. It is not just talking in the abstract because it has identified a real live opportunity. I am reminded about the hydrogen debate and a joke that was told by a colleague on that occasion, which was, "It looks good, but we're not sure what to do with it." For some time now, hydrogen has been talked about as a real energy opportunity. It is of less value when it comes to the practical usage of it. Wind Energy Ireland has identified, from a strategic point of view, a demand that could be met. There will be other opportunities for the usage of hydrogen but people are not quite there yet.

That brings us all the way back to understanding who within the political sphere should be taking charge of designing and devising that strategy. I refer in that regard to the IDA and Enterprise Ireland. At a recent meeting I had with Enterprise Ireland, I challenged the officials about the development of a strategy in the short term for offshore wind, hydrogen and the potential not just from the perspective of electricity generation but also the nascent technologies that can be developed around in order that jobs will be available when we move on from the construction phase. I would welcome a comment from any of the witnesses on what Department should be the parent Department and who should be driving that.

Following on from what we have heard today, the committee should prepare a detailed report with a set of clear recommendations which will go to, in the first instance, the line Department and then Government. We can discuss that further in private session.

This is the first of a series of sessions on the very big opportunity that exists and the challenges in achieving it, which is perhaps a more important discussion. The first question was to Mr. Dollard.

Mr. Jim Dollard

As I understand it, the Senator's question was in regard to any potential resistance to the floating offshore wind auctions. Before I get to that, it is important to make the key point that Ireland has been incredibly successful in developing a renewables industry over the past 15 years. The penetration of wind in this country is world leading. That is because of the ambition taken ten to 15 years ago. In terms of the auction process for floating, I would not say there is resistance. The Government has set out a target of 5 GW. That is an ambitious target from a standing start. That is to be welcomed. What we are highlighting now is that the technology is moving very quickly in terms of floating. The cost of floating technology versus fixed will fall rapidly over the next decade. It will be the end of this decade or early in the next decade before we reach parity but it will fall rapidly. Along with others in the industry, we are highlighting that the progress needs to be reflected and updated in our ambition. The Department has commenced a consultation process. It is seeking inputs in terms of offshore wind in the next two auctions. We will be strongly proposing that floating offshore wind should be now segregated in that proposal. It is about an iteration. The ambition is there. It is now about how we iterate and continue to accelerate our ambition as we go forward. We think it is very important that there is a separate auction for that 1 GW of floating. That consultation process will be very important.

In terms of resistance to hybrids, again the State has shown significant ambition around hybrids. Hybrid technology is in place in Ireland for many years. The climate action plan calls for hybrids. It is a matter of policy for the State to embrace hybrids. What we are saying uniquely now is that the utilisation of hybrids for offshore wind is a much bigger issue. The ability to access transmission infrastructure in the timeline we are looking for will be extremely difficult. That is not a criticism. It is just a fact it will be extremely difficult. We have infrastructure in place. We need to open up that infrastructure and to make it competitive in terms of the utilisation of it in the coming auctions. We will be proposing in the upcoming consultation that hybrids would be accelerated in their utilisation and that the infrastructure and the regulatory structures that are required would be developed. Dr. O'Grady might want to add to that in terms of what those regulatory structures might look like.

Dr. Áine O'Grady

I agree with Senator Dooley that it is a no-brainer and that it is supported in the climate action plan. There are a few regulatory and market hurdles that need to be overcome there on which work is under way, but it needs to be accelerated to enable the 2030 targets. The hurdles include the 120% cap on the insulation in the connection, allowing multiple legal entities behind a connection and the dynamic use of that connection so that two generations can come in and use that happily between the two of them to utilise that connection fully and get the full value out of the grid connection.

Do the witnesses find that, at times, the regulatory burden is an impediment to the innovation we should be harnessing?

Mr. Jim Dollard

If one looks back on recent history, what Ireland has achieved in terms of the regulatory framework and legislative framework over the past 15 years is incredible. That we are at 6 GW and regularly achieving 4.6 GW of wind energy in this country is something Ireland can be proud of. The policymakers and the regulatory infrastructure allowed that to happen and to happen very efficiently. We are talking about a transformation in infrastructure over the next ten years. This will be a huge ask. What we are prompting is that the regulatory work needs to happen. We need that clarity. It needs to happen. The investment in that time needs to happen. We are encouraging an accelerated focus on the type of proposals mentioned by Dr. O'Grady to enable what could be a rapid growth in this industry. It is about creating the conversation and accelerating it now to enable 2030.

I thank Mr. Dollard and Senator Dooley. Time permitting, we will do a second round. Would any of the other witnesses like to comment on this particular set of questions?

Mr. Noel Cunniffe

There was a follow-on question on the general feedback on the hybrids. There is an ongoing consultation dealing with hybrid grid connections for offshore wind energy, which is due to close next week. Generally speaking, as outlined by Dr. O'Grady, there are a lot of regulatory and market barriers to hybrids, be it wind and solar, wind and battery or solar and battery, which need to be overcome. There is another issue that I am likely to refer to a lot this morning, that is, the need for more resources in our regulator, grid operators and planning system to enable this. For example, currently, a typical offshore wind farm that is progressing towards entering into an auction will have in the region of 40 to 50 full-time staff. Across the entire range of critical Government bodies and State agencies, such as the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, CRU, An Bord Pleanála, EirGrid and ESB Networks, the number of staff dedicated full time to offshore is in the region of 50 people.

We are dealing with jurisdictions with much more established markets. Just yesterday I was speaking with a developer in the Netherlands with a staff of 200 people in their centrally co-ordinated grid and planning authority.

Is that in the state architecture?

Mr. Noel Cunniffe

Absolutely. On the question of hybrid specifically, we absolutely need to overcome the regulatory barriers. The key element that hybrid seeks to deliver is more grid capacity. I mentioned that the EirGrid Shaping Our Electricity Future document looks to increase the amount of capacity we have in our electricity grid. There are 48 projects called out in that and we do not yet have delivery dates. We need resources to get those delivered from EirGrid and ESB Networks as soon as possible.

Mr. Justin Moran

Senator Dooley mentioned the role of onshore wind energy. It is important to be conscious that the existing onshore wind energy fleet provided approximately 53% of Ireland's electricity in February, and that is the highest share of demand we have ever provided in a single month. To give insight into how that affects costs, on the windiest days in February, the cost of electricity in Ireland is approximately €130 or €135, whereas on the least windy days, the wholesale price of electricity was approximately €229 or €230. We speak about costs for the electricity consumer, which is obviously suffering increased costs now, and delivering power at a cost that enables us to deliver green hydrogen competitively, and onshore wind has a really critical role to play in that. The target is for 4,000 MW in the climate action plan, some of which is already under construction and some is already going through planning.

Senator Dooley's point is really important in highlighting the need to give confidence to communities who hear that onshore wind farms are coming into their areas and that they will be dealt with fairly, robustly and transparently in the planning system. This goes back to Mr. Cunniffe's point about the need to ensure a properly funded and effective planning system. If there is one message we really want to drive home today, it is that we are not going to deliver the onshore or offshore projects or the green hydrogen projects unless we have a planning system that enables us to do so.

I thank the witnesses for the very worthwhile presentations. I was an economist by trade originally, and the infant industry argument is probably as old as economics itself. The question for Ministers and so on is how much State support is needed and for how long, as well as how to best structure that State support so the ultimate benefit for Ireland can be brought home. There have been many useful suggestions but I want to sort them out in my head.

If we do as the witnesses say and go ahead with a 1 GW auction for floating wind projects, how much more will consumers and the State have to pay in the interim compared with other competing sources? If we ring-fence an auction and guarantee offshore wind an outcome, I presume that sector would be paid much more by the consumer than the others. I want to get a feel for the penalty that users will have to pay to get some of the offshore energy into the grid quickly compared with the alternatives.

The other matter that strikes me is that we have an ambition to hit 80% on the Irish grid. If we go above the 5 GW target, it seems we are really pitching for the export market. What additional infrastructure needs to be put in to create that? How advanced is electrolysis for converting wind that we not be using here into hydrogen and creating an infrastructure to export it to Germany or elsewhere? Do we need to start planning interconnectors? What additional State infrastructure is required? What I am trying to get back to is asking what sort of upfront capital is expected from the State. I fully recognise we need to sort out our planning difficulties but what is the scale of the upfront exposure that the State must shoulder and we must defend to taxpayers in order to make this a reality?

I am very conscious the Attorney General is looking at our planning laws and considering how to make them fit for purpose in the face of these massive infrastructural investments for climate and other adaptation. What advice would the witnesses give to an Attorney General seeking to draft a new approach to planning? On one side, planning leads to speedier implementation of infrastructure while, on the other, people might ask what rights are being lost. We must be careful on that front. What is the view of the witnesses in that regard? In the round this has been very useful but we probably need a little more on the economic side so we can defend this major bet by Ireland on our offshore capability.

The Deputy was not directing those questions to a particular witness. Does anybody wish to come in?

Mr. Jim Dollard

The Deputy spoke about the 1 GW auction and what this means in terms of a separate competition for floating offshore wind infrastructure. In creating that competition, we would be doing two things. We would deliver essential infrastructure and effectively be building a pathway to the future and investing in that future. If we are going to capture the benefits of supply chain in floating offshore wind, that investment must be made now. We can look at what is happening across the water in Scotland, where it has consented more than 10 GW - it is possibly 13 GW - of floating offshore wind. That country will be competing with us for that supply chain. Those projects can be delivered by 2030 and maybe early in the following decade. There is a significant opportunity, if Ireland invests in it. We have resources off the west and south coast to build a big supply chain that will give economic benefits to the State beyond the energy industry.

On the Deputy's specific point, we call for an auction. If it is 1 GW, it will have competition because a number of projects will compete. We see probably two projects coming out of a competition and that competition is needed to protect the consumer. The auction should be shaped in that regard.

I spoke earlier about the price of floating offshore wind and, like that of all renewable technologies, it is falling rapidly and will converge towards the end of the decade or thereabouts in its comparison with the price of fixed installations. By the time those projects are delivered for the 1 GW auction, we could be talking about a gap of approximately 30% in costs. That will depend on how quickly technology might converge in the meantime. It is between 30% and 50% but falling as we go through the decade. We should remember that if we consent these projects in the next year or two, they will be built in 2027, 2028 and 2029.

I will bring in Mr. Cunniffe in a moment but I want to pick up the point about the supply chain and our competing with Scotland. What springs to mind is that Scotland has a very established oil and gas industry and it is perhaps somewhat ironic that it is the tradition it has in the sector that helps the country in the development of the offshore wind and hydrogen. It seems to be a very significant challenge to try to compete with or get ahead of them because we simply do not have anything of that scale over here. Is it realistic that we can develop those supply chains such that Ireland could compete with Scotland?

Mr. Jim Dollard

It is a really interesting question. If we delay, we certainly will not compete. That is the reality. Scotland has advantages over Ireland in that it has already started and it has the industrial heritage, if you like, that the Chairman mentioned. We have a vast resource off the west and south coast and that is a major competitive position for us. The dynamic of what is required to delivered floating offshore infrastructure will favour proximity, so the closer one is to the wind farms, the better. Proximity will be an advantage. There is definitely an opportunity in that respect. I will ask my colleague to speak a bit more about that.

Mr. Paul Lennon

One of the strategic advantages Ireland has, particularly on the west coast, is the water depth in and around ports. Moneypoint is one of the deepest port structures in Europe outside Rotterdam.

With the propagation of the foundation structures and the floating infrastructure out to the west coast, the key point is to have them located as close as possible to the wind farms. This is where the west coast has the strategic advantage over Scotland.

I echo Mr. Dollard's point that no country has an absolute lead in floating offshore wind energy. The key ask is to ensure that Ireland does not lag behind the early pace setters in floating offshore wind energy generation. Scotland is ahead of us in delivering up to 15 GW by 2030 with seabed options. With the 1 GW being ring-fenced, there is an absolutely an opportunity for Ireland to catch up, and to do so quickly.

Mr. Noel Cunniffe

I will try to cover a couple of questions the Deputy mentioned. On price, the committee will be aware that with the design of the renewable electricity support scheme, it acts like a two-way contract for difference. Whenever the energy price is higher than the price of the auction, the projects actually pay back to the consumer. This year, we are already seeing a dramatic reduction in the public service obligation, PSO, levy as a result of this. The latter is expected to continue in future years, primarily due to the high price of gas right now which is in the region of €150 per megawatt hour in a day-ahead market. This compares with renewables, which are delivering in our first auction in the mid €70s. In the recent offshore auction in the UK, we saw we saw prices coming in at around €50 per megawatt hour. on the points made by Mr. Dollard and Mr. Lennon regarding the drop off of floating energy production, this will be seen and will again deliver good value to the consumer towards the end of this decade, and certainly into the early 2030s, as the PSO levy tends to pay back more and more to the consumer.

By 2030, 80% of Ireland's electricity will come from renewable energy sources. Earlier, I referred to the fact that Ireland had the highest auction price in all of Europe in 2020. This is something we fundamentally want to change. We have asked several times for a Government task force to be set up to really focus on the cost of renewables and how we can really minimise that as much as possible to get that payback to the consumer. This will be hugely important for the development of green hydrogen. We need cheap renewables to make green hydrogen work.

Deputy Bruton referred to our 5 GW target and what happens if we exceed it. With 5 GW of offshore wind, we would meet around 30% to 40% of our overall electricity demand by 2030. The key issue will be to try to find a home for it whenever all of that is blowing at once. Grid capacity is hugely important, as is the development of interconnectors. Projects such as the Celtic interconnector, the Greenlink interconnector and the North-South interconnector are under way at the moment. It is very important that they deliver. It is also very important that we kick off the green hydrogen economy, which is another home for that wind energy whenever it is available.

Reference is also made to how we reform the planning system. I will hand over to my colleague Mr. Moran to cover that matter.

Mr. Justin Moran

The Deputy referred to the rights of people with regard to the planning system. I want to be very clear that people have the right to comment, to object, and to take judicial reviews of projects. I do not believe that anybody should challenge that right, either from an Irish domestic legal perspective or from an EU law perspective. That is certainly not what we are looking for. It is more about resourcing the system in order that it works rapidly and effectively. I will give a concrete example of this. If I want to develop an offshore wind farm, one of the first things I must get is a foreshore licence to carry out environmental surveys. This takes about 18 to 24 months just to get a survey licence to carry out surveys for environmental data and research so that I can use these to put together a planning permission application. The equivalent process in Britain is about 18 to 24 weeks. If I get the foreshore licence, we have already seen situations where those licences have been challenged in judicial reviews. Because of this, there is still a question mark over the validity of the licences that have been issued. From our perspective, as people who are trying to attract others into the Irish wind energy market, when we are trying to say to them that the planning system would be able to respond to the development of 5,000 MW, or perhaps more, of offshore wind energy by 2030, we have people coming back to us and asking if the foreshore licence situation is as challenging and difficult as that, will An Bord Pleanála have the resources necessary to deal with these planning applications? An Bord Pleanála is talking about setting up a specialist unit to look at marine planning. It would have an assistant director of planning and five inspectors. We expect more than five phase 1 projects to launch for planning in a single year. Are those five inspectors sufficient to deal with that level of demand? Before those phase 1 projects are decided, the phase 2 projects will start to launch their planning applications. Are those five inspectors sufficient to deal with all of that? Unless we have that in place to give confidence, not just to developers but also to communities, to the fisheries and to the people who have an interest in wind farm development, then I believe that we will struggle in that regard.

On the supply chain issue, which was raised by Senator Dooley and Deputy Bruton, there was a very good report from the Government - I believe it was in November last year - on skills for a zero carbon economy. One of the report's recommendations was to bring together a high-level implementation group to deliver those recommendations. This cannot be moved forward quickly enough. It is a good report with a lot of solid ideas about technical and engineering jobs, but also jobs for apprentices and people working in coastal communities. That is a real strength we can build on. There was a suggestion to as to which Department could take the lead on this. Maybe it could be discussed with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. It would be interesting to see what the Department's response would be on it.

On supply chain, the focus of our conversation is, rightly, on what we do to develop a domestic supply chain in Ireland. This is very important. It must not be forgotten, however, that there is also an international supply chain. If I want to build a wind farm in 2025, right now I cannot. I would not be able to find the turbines, the installation vessels or the substation installation vessel. They were all booked out. Many of them are booked out to 2026. We need to give confidence to the international supply chain that Irish offshore wind farms are coming. We need to tell them when these are coming so they can go to the turbine manufacturers, the substations and the engineers to say "This is when I need to book you in", and go to the ports to say "This is when I need to book you in for construction services." Giving this confidence to the international supply chain is very important.

I thank Mr. Moran. Perhaps the Deputy would like to come in again shortly, but I have a quick question. Will Mr. Moran elaborate on that last point about the signals that might be required to the international system so they do have confidence in Ireland? What are those signals?

Mr. Justin Moran

Some of them, to be fair, are coming through. Getting auction dates clarified and knowing there will be an auction at the end of this year is very important. They will also want to see what kinds of positions will be put in place for the planning system to enable that to happen, and they will need to see the grid development moving forward. It is about giving them a sense that momentum in Ireland is going from policy to delivery, so they can see implementation and changes. It is also important to see what kinds of support and focus will be on ports, both the operations and maintenance ports. Mr. Lennon spoke about this earlier. Some of our members identified that if they are developing a wind farm, then this is the port they would be using. This is a very positive indicator also. If we are looking to see ports in the Republic of Ireland being used for construction of offshore wind farms we would need to see this moved forward very quickly. Right now on the island of Ireland there is one really excellent harbour facility in Belfast that can build offshore wind farms. Ireland is looking to develop 5,000 MW of offshore wind farms between now and 2030. As good a port as Belfast is, it cannot simultaneously build 5,000 MW of offshore wind farms. There are ports on the west coast of Britain but a lot of us would like to see the focus on investment in Ireland rather than in those ports. It must be borne in mind also that British wind farms will be looking to use either their own ports on their own west coast, or possibly even for further capacity in the Belfast port. It is very important for Ireland to see what we can do to move forward with our port infrastructure.

The panel may have different views on this last question. What is the optimal mix of private sector and State sector investment in the core infrastructures here? There has been some discussion about some countries building out the platform and then would get a cheaper price because they are supplying into a State platform versus letting the market to do the whole lot. Is there a particular view on this among the panellists?

Mr. Noel Cunniffe

The model that is used for offshore grid development across Europe varies considerably, depending country to country. Some are very state led with planning and grid, others are almost entirely developer led, which is what the UK system is. A decision was made last year by the Government that there would be a developer-led approach for the first phase of projects and then an optional developer-led or State-led approach for the second phase projects.

Phase 3, which is post-2030, will be a full State and plan-led approach.

Just to refer back to Mr. Moran's earlier point on supply chain development, it is absolutely critical that we do not have stop-start development of projects because that will really undermine investment in the sector. We need to see a continuous flow of projects from our phase 1 projects, which will go into auction this year, to the phase 2 projects. The latter are currently out for consultation but we have yet to see what the phase 3 structure will look like. We are only about four years away from that phase 3 development process kicking off in terms of planning and an auction system so this doubles back to resources. We need to see resources in the Departments that will be defining what this State-led approach will be like. There is a huge pipeline of projects trying to become phase 2 projects and many of these projects will necessarily become phase 3 projects once that State-led approach is determined in the 2030s, but we really need to see work begin on that as soon as possible.

Deputy O'Sullivan is next.

I thank all of our witnesses for attending today. This discussion is incredibly timely. The need to accelerate the development of renewables has been brought into sharp focus by the IPCC report and obviously more recently by the geopolitical situation and the cost of energy. Co-operation between Germany and Ireland comes into sharp focus as well, with Germany's reliance on gas from Russia which has been reported on a lot recently. Obviously, there are huge opportunities there and more generally in terms of Ireland's enormous potential, which we have talked about for a long time. All of this should probably be happening faster and the whole process should have commenced a lot earlier but having said that, the rate of acceleration of things like the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill and the Maritime Area Planning Bill shows that a lot has been achieved in the last 12 months. I do not think there is any doubt about the Government's commitment to the project but unfortunately it cannot be done with the click of a finger. We certainly need to try to accelerate, where possible, in a sensitive way. I do not think we should get too distracted by what Scotland is doing or how far ahead it is. We have enormous potential here, particularly off the west and south west coast. We need to get that right and not be distracted by what Scotland is doing. Let the Scots do what they will, although I am sure we can learn from them, which is also important.

My first question is for Ms Dempsey, Mr. Daly and Dr. Carton and follows on from Deputy Bruton's question relating to the practicalities of exporting hydrogen to Germany. Deputy Bruton asked if this would require an interconnector. What are the mechanics of this and how will it work in terms of generating energy, turning it into hydrogen and exporting it to the German market? How far advanced do we need to be in order to make that happen and how far off are we right now? Deputy Bruton probably put the question better than me.

My next question is for Dr. Carton and relates to what we need to be doing. It should be acknowledged that Deputy O'Rourke introduced a Green Hydrogen Strategy Bill which really brought this issue into focus. We need to develop a hydrogen strategy and I am sure we will do so. Dr. Carton mentioned a few things that we need to be doing in order to develop hydrogen. I ask him to give us some international examples of strategies that are more advanced and to outline what we can learn from them.

Mr. Cunniffe mentioned that we need to develop a situation where Irish renewables are not as expensive as they are now. I ask him to explain why they are so expensive and to outline what we need to do to reduce or minimise the cost of Irish renewables. He also mentioned that we need to strengthen and increase the resources within the NPWS, for very good reason. As much as everybody here would love to see an acceleration of the development of fixed offshore and floating offshore energy generation, it cannot be done without taking into account the impact on marine wildlife and habitats. I have looked into this and understand that there has been some work done on some of the Scottish wind farms in terms of the impact on wildlife, including ecological surveys. NGOs and the public in general probably need to hear that this work is being done, that we are not going into this completely blind and that we are studying those potential impacts.

Mr. Cunniffe referred to the 1 GW auction that is being proposed by Mr. Dollard. Is that something that Wind Energy Ireland and its members are in favour of? Is an additional 1 GW of floating offshore wind something the organisation would be pushing for? Finally, on the hybrid grid connection, do current guidelines and legislation allow for that? If not, how do they need to be changed to allow for that?

Mr. Frank Daly

I thank the Deputy for his questions. Actually, I meant to jump in on Deputy Bruton's question about the maturity of electrolysis technology. It is very immature. There are some manufacturers of electrolysers around Europe, in Germany in particular. Siemens and ThyssenKrupp are two that I can think of but I am sure Dr. Carton has many other examples. In terms of maturity, the efficiencies are in excess of 70% so they are well bedded in, in terms of the technology.

Regarding getting hydrogen from here to Germany, the latter is opening up discussions with countries all over the world. When the hydrogen strategy was released in 2020, countries around the world stumbled over each other to try to position themselves to supply hydrogen into Germany, including places as far afield as Chile and Australia. We believe that if Chile and Australia can deliver it at the right price, surely we can better that. They way they are doing it is by shipping it as ammonia. It is a very simple way of shipping and is being done already. Green hydrogen is converted to green ammonia but I am sure Dr. Carton has some other ideas as well. There are cases where hydrogen has been liquified. A shipment between Australia and Japan of liquified hydrogen was made quite recently. The easiest way of handling hydrogen is in the form of ammonia. It is not a challenge to shipping to companies and is something they are well used to. They deliver LNG and oil around the world so this is just a different product. Converting a tanker from LNG to ammonia is minimal in terms of refurbishment or retrofit.

The other issue to bear in mind is the announcement at the weekend in Germany about energy security, alongside the announcement of €100 billion for defence. Germany is going to fast-track two LNG plants which will be hydrogen-friendly and hydrogen-ready. If Germany is looking for deliveries of hydrogen into its system, we can deliver them straight to its LNG plants. In essence, getting it from here to there is not much of a challenge. It can be done. I am sure Dr. Carton will be able to add more on that question.

I will bring Dr. Carton in but before I do, the obvious question regarding ammonia is around the losses involved. Ultimately, this comes down to the economics of providing green hydrogen in a cost-effective way and I would ask Dr. Cunniffe to include that issue in his response.

Dr. James Carton

I will start with the question on the strategies that are out there, who is doing it and what we can learn from them because that fits in quite nicely with the Chairman's question. Most European countries have developed a hydrogen strategy.

We thank Deputy O'Rourke for adding the development of a hydrogen strategy for Ireland to a motion. In my opening statement, I went through some of what was needed. As to which countries are doing this and whether we can copy and paste from them, the ones to look at are Germany and the Netherlands. Other countries have regional industries that affect their hydrogen strategies. Some countries are heavily industrialised and some may develop hydrogen power from solar power. Fortunately or unfortunately, Ireland will have its own hydrogen strategy and it will be quite different from many other countries' strategies. We will focus on building out large-scale renewables to supply it, which one presumes will make it a green hydrogen strategy. We have the capability of developing that.

To answer Deputy Bruton, hydrogen should go into our internal market first and foremost. We need to think of exporting as something that we can do and build up to and we can develop our strategy to enable that, but we need to decarbonise our economy and our industry first. That is, unless there is a good economic reason to export hydrogen instead of keeping it.

Senator Dooley asked who would pull the strategy together. That will probably fall on the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, engaging with the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, CRU, and academic and industrial stakeholders on the island.

This covers some of the points on the strategy. I can cover some other questions.

Regarding the hydrogen export market, Deputy Bruton asked about the scale of the technology involved. Hydrogen electrolysis has been deployed at multi-ten megawatt scale. Now, projects are being built at 100 MW scale and there is the capability to scale electrolysers upwards to gigawatt levels. The proposed offshore renewable site's 1 GW could be fully produced via hydrogen. However, the first thing to remember about thermodynamics and energy efficiency is that we should bring our energy into Ireland via electricity where we can. The key issue with hydrogen is to use it where we can or where it is necessary. The first offshore sites would be facilitated via electricity and, as they are built out, we would develop them to produce energy carriers.

As Mr. Daly mentioned, if hydrogen is being moved tens of kilometres to 100 km, doing it by truck is fine. If it is being moved 100 km or more, it should be done via pipes. If it is being moved 3,000 km or more, energy carriers such as ammonia are suitable. Liquid hydrogen depends on the process. There are processes that are cheap and useful. Japan is examining liquified hydrogen but ammonia is an interesting one for today. Most of our agricultural fertiliser comes from Ukraine or Russia. We do not have any security in that respect. Ammonia is a key component in producing agricultural fertiliser. If we are considering ammonia as a potential export, we will be engaging with the island's energy security as well. The solutions need to be considered together. It is not just a binary solution.

Mr. Noel Cunniffe

The Deputy's first question was on why renewables were more expensive in Ireland compared with other jurisdictions. There are a number of reasons but they can generally be summarised by saying that we carry a substantial amount of risk into auctions compared with many other countries, which provide more certainty in their planning timelines, grid connection costs and availability of grid for exporting power. In June 2020, we published a report, entitled "Saving Money", that proposed ten ideas for cutting the cost of developing renewables by 50%. We would be happy to share that report with committee members after the meeting.

Last November, Spain had an onshore wind auction that cleared at approximately €30 per megawatt hour compared with our auction of €74 per megawatt hour. I will give some of the reasons for this, many of which are also applicable to offshore wind. We have seen an increase in commercial rates for renewable generation in Ireland in the region of 250% to 300% while fossil fuel generators have largely remained untouched. Currently, the commercial rates for a 50 MW onshore wind farm are approximately two and a half times more expensive than a 50 MW fossil fuel generator.

In terms of timelines, our projects are in the planning system for a much longer duration than is seen in other countries. We pulled together some figures yesterday to give the committee an indication. Since 2020, it has taken An Bord Pleanála 51 weeks on average to determine a decision on an onshore wind farm. Strategic infrastructure development, SID, projects have come in at 69 weeks on average since 2020 whereas the obligatory time under statute is 18 weeks. No project has met that. This does not just apply to onshore wind but also grid infrastructure, in which regard the average time was 44 weeks compared with an 18-week obligatory time. Solar is seeing projects in the region of one year. We are carrying the risk of planning throughout the planning development life cycle for much longer in Ireland than in other jurisdictions.

I might ask a supplementary question on the length of time that applications spend going through the planning process. Some projects, in particular onshore wind, become political hot potatoes, in that there is sometimes an element of NIMBYism. Politicians then find it difficult to get behind an energy source that will help to decarbonise our energy system. Is that a significant barrier to expediting planning permissions for onshore projects?

Mr. Noel Cunniffe

The delays are seen right across the energy infrastructure – not just onshore wind, but also solar and the electricity grid. We all need to get behind delivering EirGrid's strategy for grid infrastructure. It is essential for our country that we see it delivered. I am sure the issue the Deputy raised has some impact, but we are still missing our statutory timelines by a factor of two or three.

We estimate that the lack of availability of grid infrastructure in Ireland is adding approximately 27% to the price of our renewables compared with jurisdictions that have seen a significant investment in grid infrastructure over the past ten to 20 years.

The decision not to index link our renewable auctions has led to a 15% increase in our prices. Industry effectively has to guess the inflation rate over the next 15 to 20 years of a project's life cycle instead of it being index linked, which is the norm in many other jurisdictions.

We were asked for our opinion on the 1 GW auction for floating offshore wind. A consultation on phase 2 projects is under way and this is one of the main questions that is being debated among our members. The consultation is closing next week. Our position now is that floating wind energy can play a part in delivering our 5 GW target for 2030. We see it being a major opportunity for Ireland as we move into the 2030s.

There were questions on marine planning and the environmental impacts. I might hand over to Mr. Moran.

May I interject on the question on floating wind power? Is it fair to say that the thinking is changing now? If Deputy O'Sullivan or I were to ask about it a year ago, would the witnesses have given a different answer? It was said that floating wind power was to be post 2030, but Mr. Cunniffe is now saying that it can contribute to the 5 GW target.

Mr. Noel Cunniffe

After examining the timelines, our position for the past 18 months to two years has been that it can contribute to the 5 GW target. We definitely believe that the majority of the 5 GW target will be achieved via fixed-bottom offshore wind farms, but floating wind energy has a part to play. It is equally, if not more, exposed to all of the challenges of getting the right legislation and planning system in place so that it can deliver for 2030. Our points about the resourcing of systems are even more pertinent to floating offshore wind energy than they are to fixed-bottom wind energy.

Is it the case that the technology, the economics and the projections connected with floating wind energy have improved in recent months? When we were discussing this matter two years ago, there was nothing like the level of excitement or ambition that we are hearing now.

Is there a message that needs to be made clear to the Government and State agencies about how the technology and the economics are converging and advancing, so we need to get on this more quickly than we would otherwise have thought?

Mr. Noel Cunniffe

Yes. In the past two years, many other jurisdictions have taken up that flag. There are auctions happening in France for floating wind farms, there is a 1 GW pot for floating in the UK out of its 40 GW target for 2030, and other jurisdictions such as Spain and Portugal are taking a similar approach. The cost conversion will reduce naturally as the market picks up and the supply chain progresses and matures, and that is definitely a factor that needs to be taken into account.

Mr. Justin Moran

On the environmental impact, I might first comment briefly on offshore to highlight research we are working on that committee members might be interested in hearing more about, and we might send on some material about this after the meeting. The research, which we are carrying out with Trinity College Dublin and the ESB, is called the Nature+ programme. The idea is to identify ways to develop onshore wind farms in a way that not only minimises the impact on biodiversity but where it can enhance biodiversity in the location where the wind farm is developed. As part of that broad work, we have developed a pollinator plan for onshore wind farms, which we are keen to push forward with our members.

Specifically in regard to offshore, any project looking to develop an offshore wind farm will need to put together an environmental impact assessment report, which will require years of surveys to have been carried out in advance. We often think it would have been great to have been developing offshore wind farms in Ireland in the 2000s or the early 2010s, but one of the advantages of developing them in the 2020s is that we have 20 to 30 years of experience internationally of carrying out environmental surveys and environmental work on offshore wind farms in markets throughout the world, and we can bring that expertise to Ireland. The surveys would include, for example, fish and marine life surveys, marine mammal surveys and years of bird surveys to try to identify the bird movements that will be taking place. The projects will also engage seriously with key stakeholders in that area, including organisations such as the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, BirdWatch Ireland and the fishing community whose members are out there daily informing themselves about the marine life and taking all that information together in order that, when we get to a point where we can put together a planning application that can be shown to be robust, we will have as much environmental information as possible. We will have identified where there would be an impact, where we can or cannot avoid that and where we will mitigate it, and we will deliver these projects in the most sustainable way possible, conscious of the need to protect our marine biodiversity.

I thank Mr. Moran. There was a question for Mr. Daly on hybrid connections.

Mr. Frank Daly

The legislation allows it and the climate action plan envisages it. We have hybrids in place. The ESB has small hybrids, not at the scale of offshore wind but they are in place. We need the acceleration of existing policies and regulations to implement that in practice. Dr. O’Grady might outline them.

Dr. Áine O'Grady

Hybrids are very much in reach and it is just about prioritising the end result to get over those regulatory hurdles. As I mentioned earlier, these relate to the cap in respect of the installation of the connection, the multiple legal entities behind a connection and the ability to use that connection dynamically and get the best use out of it. These are issues that need to be addressed in the next 12 months. We need to accelerate progress in this area to enable them in order that we can use hybrid connections to facilitate the delivery of the 2030 targets.

How many potential sites are there? I can think of Moneypoint and Tarbert. Are there more?

Mr. Frank Daly

The figure is probably close to ten or 15 around the coast. As for onshore wind, there are hundreds of sites from varying technologies, but in the case of offshore wind, there are at least ten or 15 large-scale sites, with gigawatts of capacity.

It is good to know that.

Ms Kate Dempsey

On whether it is viable to deploy offshore floating at scale in Ireland right now and whether it is something we should prioritise, this links to the comment about people's perception of offshore renewables and, perhaps, the objection that politics is facing in respect of their development. A total of 80% of our enormous offshore wind resource lies outside the footprint of fixed foundations, at a depth profile of about 60 m. If we are to truly harness our offshore capabilities in Ireland, it has to be through the turbine technology of floating. To be clear, it is not just about floating to grid; there is also floating to hydrogen. They are separate concepts. Currently, our licensing regime does not give clear guidance to those projects that are establishing themselves to address floating to hydrogen, to the effect that we are unsure about it.

The reason I say this is I own one of them with business partners of mine. We are developing projects we believe are more environmentally acceptable and responsible and, unfortunately, our current framework does not give us clear guidance on whether ours will become a phase 2 project. We do not know whether it comes under the category of innovation. Perhaps we are innovative. An example of that is that on our wind farms, we have planned for biodiversity restoration and decommissioning to include an increase of biodiversity beyond what it would have been before we had ever developed in those areas. Many of the projects that belong to some of the participants at this meeting will reflect the fact offshore wind is taking into hand the national planning framework and ensuring we are addressing integration with fisheries and aquaculture insofar as is possible.

I am an aquaculture operator and I own a farm on the east coast, which actively works with offshore renewable energy because it is a robust farm with offshore technology at its core. We are looking to integrate as much as we can. When we talk about the opportunity in respect of offshore floating, I do not think it is a conversation for the future but rather for now, particularly if we would like the public to come onside with renewable energy in the offshore space. That should be taken into consideration.

The question about objections related mainly to onshore wind, which is far more problematic. I do not envisage there will be the same number of objections to floating offshore, although there could be.

I thank our guests. The questions I had intended to ask have broadly been covered but there are some more I wish to ask. On the figures that have been given both at this meeting and in other forums regarding the cost of options and the comparative analysis Mr. Cunniffe mentioned, the examples of the cost being more than double that in Spain were quite troubling to hear. What are the drivers of those disparities, in terms of the delivery both of a reasonable option and of grid infrastructure?

It is clear from what our guests have said that investment requirements for the sector are very significant. One of the greater constraints they identified relates to the supply chain. Is there a manner in which the Irish market can develop its own supply chain? Would there be demand for it? Is the technology cheap enough to replicate such that it could be done at a competitive rate? Can we deliver indigenous development of the necessary components for the sector and then export it?

I am pleased to hear that floating is now being considered as part of the near-term targets, although whether it can be achieved, I do not know. Clearly, we have significant gaps in the make-up of our infrastructure in terms of the policies in and around this sector, particularly in respect of offshore. The maritime area regulatory authority, MARA, is in development, but there are other constraints. For instance, I understand that in other jurisdictions, there are point-to-point connections between renewable energy sources and energy users, such as large-scale industry. Would that be possible or must it go into the grid? I understand this relates to the Electricity Regulation Act 1999. Is that something we should review, not least in the context of discussions we have had about large-scale energy consumers such as data centres and large-scale industry, factories and so on?

Is there an opportunity for us to consider permitting the development of renewable energy sources to supply those facilities so that the grid is not affected and, therefore, does residents are not imperilled with blackouts and brownouts?

Points have been made about the absence of a hydrogen strategy. There is one coming but it cannot come soon enough. What is floating to hydrogen? I am not familiar with the concept. Ms Dempsey might expand on that remark.

Those questions cover the ground I wish to cover for now. A few of our guests could come back in on those questions.

Mr. Noel Cunniffe

I have probably covered off the majority of the points on the cost of our auctions compared with other jurisdictions. I will say that renewables are significantly cheaper than our fossil fuel alternatives now and we should not lost sight of that. I am trying to highlight the fact that they can be even cheaper again. Electricity prices are dominated by international events right now. If 80% of our electricity is generated domestically from renewable sources, we have much greater control over our future electricity price. That should be the price on which we are focused. I will share with the committee the saving money report to which I referred earlier, which includes ten points outlining how we can half the cost of developing renewables.

I will cover the question about point-to-point connections. The Deputy was referring to a concept called "private wires", which is in the climate action plan as a piece of legislation and regulation to be enabled in the first half of this year, as I understand it. There is work ongoing in the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities, CRU, EirGrid and the ESB Networks to try to enable that policy. It is absolutely something we can take advantage of for both onshore and offshore renewables. It will, in particular, be key to unlocking a lot of our green hydrogen potential in the future when there is no space available on our electricity grid, at least in the short term, for those projects to be realised.

The Deputy asked about investment. I might hand over to Mr. Moran to cover the issue in more detail. I will say there has already been significant investment in many Irish businesses and in ports around the country to try to support the offshore sector in its efforts to get off the ground. In recent months, we have seen announcements in Arklow, Wicklow and Rossaveal Port. There has been strong investment in port facilities to try to capture some of the value chain that offshore wind energy offers. Two years ago, we published a report called Harnessing Our Potential, which looked at the entire value chain for offshore wind in Ireland. It showed that right now we can capture approximately 15% to 20% of the value chain but that can be almost doubled if we invest in the right skill sets and port facilities during this decade. Perhaps Mr. Moran has something to add.

Mr. Justin Moran

I do not have a huge amount to add to that. There are three key questions that are flagged in Harnessing Our Potential. The first asks what are we good at in Ireland and what we can do now. The second asks what things we could do if we had adequate investment and resources to develop our skills. I touched earlier on the report that was published by the Government last year on future skills. To be frank, we must also ask what are the things we are unlikely to do in this Ireland. For example, it is unlikely we will manufacture turbine blades in Ireland. There is eagerness on the part of those involved in our ports infrastructure to be involved in this area. There is a possibility that we can increase the amount of investment that comes into this country and is retained by small and medium enterprises. We can assist in getting those enterprises up and running. They could be based in clusters around those ports, which will mean jobs for coastal communities. We want those companies to get to a point in the future to be able to compete internationally. If a company is coming here to develop an offshore wind farm, I would love to see Irish people learning and training, getting the skills and then taking those skills and building businesses that can compete in other markets. We are absolutely capable of doing that.

We cannot do everything. We must be realistic and admit there are parts of the supply chain for which we do not have the manufacturing base or skill set. However, there are places we can go into. As well as the pieces of work that Mr. Cunniffe has outlined, Enterprise Ireland is taking a good initiative at the moment. It is putting together an offshore wind energy network, including the kind of supply chain companies that could compete internationally and domestically. I think there are plans for an event some time over the summer which will try to bring together the developers and contractors, on the one hand, and the Irish companies that could be a part of our just transition and the development of offshore wind energy in Ireland, on the other hand.

Ms Kate Dempsey

I will make a quick comment on Ireland's capacity to form part of that supply chain. We have already established we have a base in Arklow, which is encouraging offshore renewables. We have already started a company, Ondine, and employed 40 people across various skill sectors, all relating to survey works for offshore renewable energy. We have brought in the various assets to support that. As a company in the survey world, which forms a substantial part of that supply chain, the capabilities Ireland can use to play its part in it and to drive value for Ireland, one of the key challenges we face is that for phase 1 and phase 2 projects, access to their maximum has suspended survey activity. As a result, when one wants to build a comprehensive supply chain, all of these things that may have been put on the long finger or delayed for any reason really impact on the ground the types of companies that are trying to establish themselves. I encourage the Government to be cognisant of the wider remit of people who are trying to access this industry in order to build businesses now.

Mr. Paul Lennon

The supply chain for fixed offshore wind is in Europe and Asia. There will be supply chain opportunities in terms of ports, as the representatives Wind Energy Ireland set out. There will be opportunities for electricians and that type of infrastructure on the ground. We see a clear opportunity for floating offshore wind supply chain and building the foundation structures locally to the wind farms. ESB is, for example, currently working on a planning application for a renewables hub on the Moneypoint site, as Mr. Dollard mentioned. Part of that hub will be a fabrication facility for the floating structures. Whether they are steel or concrete, we have proposed they will be built on the Moneypoint site and floated out to service not just ESB wind farms but third party wind farms as well.

We anticipate that will add an enormous gross value to the local economy in the mid-west region. It will also have benefits nationally. Our Green Atlantic at Moneypoint project has the ability to supply approximately a direct gross added value of €1.1 billion in the mid-west region, with the bulk of that on the back of the fabrication of the foundation structures. We have just kicked off the planning application process with An Bord Pleanála. We hope to make that planning application in the next 18 months or so. That is the clear, tangible benefit of floating offshore wind. We must get those signals that will allow for continued development of the supply chain to enable projects to be delivered by 2030 as part of the key that unlocks the west coast.

Mr. Jim Dollard

If I may say, there is significant potential, as Mr. Lennon has outlined. It is not just ESB that are involved. We are working closely with Shannon Foynes Port Company. There are other locations up and down that coast, and leading around to the south coast, where there is potential. While we have one particular project, it is fair to say that many others will also be trying to develop that supply chain.

I am interested in the earlier question around hybrid connections. The ESB might have a strategic advantage. Is there a question around who has access to those connections?

Mr. Frank Daly

ESB has a number of hybrid connections but many others have them as well. Some of our biggest competitors in the country have built infrastructure all around the coast because that was how to strategically access fuels, historically. We are not alone. On the whole island, I reckon there are ten or 12 hybrid sites which could provide 4 GW or 5 GW, which would create significant competition. There is competition for access to the sites themselves. There is also the issue of those sites being able to accelerate the development of the whole industry. Because that infrastructure is in place, there is a real issue as to how quickly we can roll out an industry if we are not using hybrids.

The development of this type of infrastructure around the coast is extremely difficult. Hybrids will deepen the competition in the auctions that will come in phases 2 and 3 and in phase 1 if they are involved.

Dr. James Carton

I will respond to Deputy Farrell's question on what a wind hydrogen project is. This is where a wind farm is connected directly to an electrolyser on a floating platform at sea. There is an example of this being developed at present in the Netherlands. I believe another project is being developed in Scotland and there are others in Japan and South Korea. There are all at relatively large scale. The Moneypoint site might not be a good area to develop it because it can connect to very big cables coming into Ireland. Hydrogen could be developed on-site in other places off the coast of Donegal, Mayo, Galway and south Kerry that do not have cable infrastructure and may never have it. The hydrogen could then be moved around. Whether for export or internal is up to the economics.

I thank Dr. Carton. It is a logical flow as to what was meant when he said floating to hydrogen. It is good to get an explanation. If there is supporting documentation or views he would like to share with the committee in writing it would be very helpful for our ongoing discussions. If he has anything, sending it to the secretariat would be very much appreciated.

I have a follow-up question on the grid infrastructure of the ESB, which is before the committee. Keeping grid development up to speed and up to scratch with the types of innovation that will occur in the coming decade in particular will be challenging to say the least. Various strategies have been released by the ESB. In terms of the costly infrastructure that has to be built into renewable energy sites, whether they be onshore or offshore and whether they be solar or wind, is something of slight concern to me. I ask the witnesses to spend a minute or two alleviating some of the concerns relating to the ability of the ESB to meet the demands on the grid site.

Mr. Jim Dollard

There is a key point I need to clarify. Under my regulatory licence I am a generator. I cannot comment on networks or the supply business unfortunately. I apologise.

That is fair enough. Perhaps my question was clumsy. I should have been more precise. I take the point.

I will direct it to Mr Cunniffe who might be able to answer as he is not as conflicted.

Mr. Noel Cunniffe

I am not as constrained. To give an indication, in EirGrid's grid development strategy, Shaping our Electricity Future, we are speaking about an investment in grid infrastructure purely for the transmission system in the region of €1 billion to €2 billion to try to bring forward our ambition for 2030. There will also need to be investment in the distribution system from ESB Networks. This compares to an investment of tens of billions of euro from private investors to develop the needed onshore and offshore wind resources, solar wind farms, battery energy storage and hydrogen projects. In the grand scheme of things, investment in the grid infrastructure, and it is an investment, is an investment in our future, which is clean power.

I thank Mr. Cunniffe for that response. I thank the Chair for his assistance.

I thank the witnesses. It is a very interesting discussion. I will pick up on some of the issues that have been raised. One is the issue with resourcing of planning. I welcome how it was framed. It is very useful to think about what it would look like if we make sure there are sufficient resources for planning. In his opening statement, Mr. Moran mentioned not only greater resourcing for An Bord Pleanála but greater resourcing for the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Environmental impact assessments are crucial and we are obliged to do them under EU law. It strikes me there could be far more resources for this than the five inspectorates that are there. More public resources in respect of environmental impact assessments could be useful. Mr. Moran mentioned detailed surveys. Something that came up when we looked at marine biodiversity was that surveys in themselves have an environmental impact. Rather than having multiple companies doing multiple surveys it could be useful if we had more use of shared or public surveys. They could be sources of important data for planning applications by different actors. Do the witnesses have thoughts on this?

We are in limbo with the marine protected areas not yet designated even as we need to move ahead with marine planning. Will the witnesses comment on sensitivity mapping? It could be a very important tool in the marine area so we have all of the information going into the planning process. Judicial reviews are only taken when something was missing from the original process or when it was not done properly. This is an opportunity to have this addressed.

In terms of green hydrogen, Dr. Carton mentioned Ireland is behind in having a hydrogen strategy. Do we have an opportunity to be ahead by having a very clearly green hydrogen strategy? Something we have often seen is that green hydrogen tends to be added in as the poor relation within hydrogen. The German Government now has a specific commissioner for green hydrogen. Is there potential for us to push for our strategy to lead on this? Dr. Carton mentioned the idea of a certification system on green hydrogen specifically. Will he elaborate on this idea? It is quite interesting. It will be crucial that green hydrogen gets named and invested in this regard.

I have seen the original consultation strategy. I was a little bit surprised by the idea of the State-led component of the energy strategy coming in after 2030 and the idea of it being developer-led for now. This seems to be a huge gamble. Dr. Carton mentioned the importance of ensuring our national energy security and local energy supply. He mentioned hydrogen valleys and ensuring hydrogen use and distribution are as close as possible to each other and that we prioritise this. It strikes me that in the context of energy insecurity we may need to put a lot more of a bet on State support for renewable energy and hydrogen.

The problem with solely having it developer-led and if the State does not partner in energy is that developers and industry will partner. We may have scenarios where a high industrial customer sets the market in terms of where renewable energy and wind energy comes in. Towns and communities might be on the periphery of a relationship between an energy provider and a major industrial customer. I am concerned that the State, our energy security needs and our sustainable energy needs should drive the process more. Do the witnesses have comments on this and on the hydrogen valleys idea and how we ensure local communities are properly empowered in the dynamic?

The Senator has used her five minutes. I must be fair to other members and I will let the Senator in again if we have time.

I have a simple question on behalf of Deputy Whitmore.

I will let the Senator back in after the witnesses have answered.

Mr. Justin Moran

I will bring in Mr. Goodwin, our head of policy, to answer this. I agree with a lot of what the Senator has said on the importance of resourcing the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

It is also important we resource the other environmental stakeholders. For example, if we have a large number of projects applying for foreshore licences - and just to be clear a licence is needed to carry out surveys because the Senator is absolutely right that the surveys themselves have an impact - and trying to engage with an organisation such as BirdWatch Ireland, the issue is trying to deal with all those applications and comment on them, inform them and contribute to them. Senator Higgins and I share a background in that we both worked in the NGO sector and, therefore, are both quite familiar with how under-resourced it is. Ensuring environmental NGOs can be resourced to play the full and detailed part in the planning system they should be able to is an important issue as well.

I ask my colleague, Mr. Goodwin, to talk a little about the importance of the phase 1 projects and the State-led approach the Senator touched on.

Mr. Niall Goodwin

I thank the Chairman and I thank the Senator for the questions. I will briefly expand on what Mr. Moran said. By the time we get to that enduring model post-2030, there will be that State-led element, both on the grid side and on the planning side. That is important for the reasons the Senator outlined. It will allow for those efficiencies to be found. In the period up to now the choice we have is that it is a matter of speed and a matter of doing this quickly. Ultimately, we want to try to get to the 5,000 MW target as quickly as we can. If we want to give ourselves the best chance of getting there by 2030, the developer-led approach is probably the way that enables us to get there.

I might mention some of the work happening on the phase 1 projects. We have spoken a lot this morning about the target, and rightly so. Getting to that 30 GW, or beyond, that is called for in the programme for Government requires due attention, as does the potential of floating wind to deliver this decade and then even more so into the next. It is probably important to note this will not happen if we do not successfully get, or keep, the phase 1 projects on track and ensure we deliver. That is happening at the moment in the work EirGrid is doing by trying to devise the ways these six projects, and the one that come through the auction successfully, will connect to the grid and deliver power. The first ORESS auction must be designed appropriately so they can bid in at a price that is competitive and is good value for the consumer and deliver electricity at a level that is good value for the consumer. We also need timely delivery of the maritime area consents later this year to ensure projects are able to undertake that survey work and then take that first step into the planning system. It is really crucial, if we are going to see our longer-term ambition delivered and are going to see the phase 2 projects and floating wind projects by the end of the decade, that the first step be taken to get the phase 1 projects on track and ensure the needed steps are put in place to get there.

Ultimately, and I am aware we are saying this a lot this morning, it comes back to resourcing. We need increases in resourcing in An Bord Pleanála to ensure planning applications can be dealt with. As the Senator pointed out, it is really important NPWS has adequate resources to deal with this new industry. It is a new industry for the country and we need to have the relevant expertise there. At the moment there are some great people working in EirGrid to try to get some of the grid connection policy progressed but they are stretched for resources. As Mr. Cunniffe and Mr. Moran mentioned at the start, in the Department we have only a limited number of officials working full time on offshore energy. Resourcing is the key that is going to get us to that 5 GW target by 2030. I will leave it there. I emphasise the importance of those phase 1 projects as a first step to give that market certainty so everything else can follow afterwards.

I thank Mr. Goodwin. There were questions on the green hydrogen strategy and certification as well. I call Dr. Carton.

Dr. James Carton

For the hydrogen strategy we need to think generally around our carbon budgets. Ireland, at some point in the future, will have to start sucking carbon out of the atmosphere because we are most likely going to go over our carbon budgets. That is one thing to mention. If we are going down a hydrogen route, we can really easily, given all the comments in this room, go with a green hydrogen strategy. Frequently, as we go into 2030 and beyond, we will produce way more energy than batteries can store and that we can move in our cables, so we can produce lots of hydrogen. It can be green. That is a thing to think about. Whoever is pulling together the hydrogen strategy needs to think about that

. The certification process is really important. The fact I can prove I have an electrolyser in the middle of an ocean beside a wind farm means it is obvious it is green hydrogen. It is not so obvious though once the hydrogen goes into a pipe, ship, vehicle or industry. The certification process of hydrogen full stop, namely, whatever colour it is, needs to exist. This is developed through the EU and through a number of projects through Europe and it exists so effectively we will apply similar processes. What this does, more than us being able to sell it as a green product that is guaranteed Irish and green to export, maybe, is it engages with public and with people. This is not a greenwashing exercise. There is certification here. We are producing it. Our strategy says it is going to be green and that needs to be embedded in whatever strategy is produced.

The other point was hydrogen valleys. If we are producing hydrogen over the next number of years, from an early deployment point of view we are probably going to be on the scale of tens to maybe hundreds of megawatts. We see Ireland could produce probably 500 MW of hydrogen by 2030 if we really wanted to. That would be used to decarbonise heavy industry and some heavy transport, for example. We think that is possible and achievable by 2030 if the push is there from the renewable deployment to match that. The key with those early deployment projects is production, use and decarbonisation probably fairly close to each other so the need for complex energy carriers like ammonia, certainly in the early years, is eliminated and the cost of moving hydrogen around or even storing it for long durations is also eliminated. Again, it gives us experience. It gives our workforce experience, knowledge and skills. It gives the education people routes to upskill people through SOLAS, universities or technical courses. It gives us time to learn and be prepared to scale up past 2030 for hydrogen. I hope that answers the Senator's question.

Okay. Does Senator Higgins want to briefly ask a question on behalf of Deputy Whitmore?

Yes. Her question was specifically for the ESB representatives. She is watching but cannot speak as she is not on the premises. She requests an update on ESB Networks' progress on the upgrading and reinforcement work on the onshore grid network and especially how those works align with EirGrid's timeline and with the phase 1 offshore and offshore renewable support scheme.

I advise the Senator it is ESB generation and trading who are represented today so I do not think Mr. Dollard can address that question.

It was specifically for the ESB on how it interacts with EirGrid.

Mr. Jim Dollard

I apologise to the Senator. I am not in a position. Under my licence, I am not allowed comment on ESB Networks or its interaction with EirGrid. I represent the generation entity within the ESB under licence.

Mr. Jim Dollard

If I can pick up on one issue that was raised, Ireland has rightly set its heart on net zero. That is going to require very large-scale renewables deployment. Renewables are intermittent. Most or all forms of renewable energy are intermittent so large-scale storage is going to be required. If we are to deliver the ambition large-scale storage is going to be required. We believe green hydrogen is the form for that. To the point that was raised, we fully support a green hydrogen strategy. We would not support anything other than a green hydrogen strategy. There is huge benefit to Ireland in terms of security of supply. What that means for what we need to do is we need more offshore wind capacity beyond our daily use. We are going to be creating and generating renewables on the island that are effectively designed to provide storage capability.

Green hydrogen is probably the leading proposition in the market. We believe it is the way forward. Moneypoint has been a cornerstone of the energy system for the last 40 years. It uses coal, which must and will exit the system by 2025. We believe that site will provide effectively the same capacity in storage using hydrogen, which is a green fuel. The transition is important. The capacity and renewables required will be well beyond the daily peak on this island to create that storage capability.

Ring-fencing is a good idea in that regard.

I have a question on green hydrogen. I welcome the witnesses' comments. I think there is a risk with green hydrogen that we couple it with gas. The witnesses made a good point, that coal is a huge challenge here. I can see the temptation to inject green hydrogen into our national gas network. Maybe the witnesses are thinking about doing that with a conventional gas power plant. The risk of that is that one might lock in gas and have a slower decarbonisation pathway than we could otherwise achieve.

Mr. Jim Dollard

We believe that green hydrogen is a solution. Gas will be really important for this country in the next 20 years or so, but ultimately it needs to be replaced if we are to get to net zero. Net zero means zero. We cannot have such a scarce and valuable resource being burned and creating emissions. We believe that green hydrogen is the way forward. As my colleague said, electrolysers are a significant part of this and we use fuel cells. There is the possibility of using hydrogen hubs to burn green hydrogen in combined cycle gas turbines on-site, which we will explore in the coming years in Britain and hopefully on this island too.

It will be a mix of gas and hydrogen use.

Mr. Jim Dollard

Yes, initially. Ultimately, we would move away from natural gas.

Dr. James Carton

I will make a point on the gas grid. Hydrogen needs to be created and used for a reason. We understand it quite well at a small scale. Once it is scaled up, a lot of storage is needed. It will probably be geological storage. Ultimately, it has to be moved around. It will not be moved around by trucks but in pipes, whether the gas grid is segmented into hydrogen sections or new pipes are installed to move hydrogen from offshore to an onshore industry facility or such. It will depend on how we scale our renewables and how we then see hydrogen scaling. We will see what infrastructure will be necessary, hopefully at the lowest cost and lowest possible carbon intensity when it is being moved around. When we talk about energy, we talk about electricity, all transport and all heating together. This is about much more than the ambition of decarbonising electricity. It is also about decarbonising our energy system.

I thank the witnesses. I will try to be brief with my questions. I have a question for the ESB and IWEA. The constraint that seems to permeate every level in this system is capacity. The witnesses mentioned some figures. Has there been an assessment at a State or departmental level of workforce planning? What additional resources would be needed? Do the witnesses know what type of forum might be needed to drive the transformational change required? Is it a matter for the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, agencies or the Department of the Taoiseach? What do those forums look like? Who is at the table?

The supply chain has been mentioned. Mr. Moran mentioned the report stating we should do what we can do well. Where are the immediate opportunities in Ireland for jobs in renewables and offshore wind?

I have another question for IWEA. Senator Dooley mentioned onshore wind being controversial and offshore wind being less controversial, and that we had potentially reached the maximum amount of onshore wind generation. That is not my understanding of the climate action plan. Will the witnesses give us a sense of the future of onshore wind? Will they speak about what is done well with planning and the lessons from that, as well as the stated timeline for wind energy guidelines?

My next questions are for the ESB and IWEA. Are they saying we will potentially miss our targets if we do not get this right? If we get it right, based on everything the witnesses outlined, what is the upper level of ambition? Are the Government's targets about right? Is there potential to go beyond them?

I have a question about hydrogen for Dr. Carton, Ms Dempsey and Mr. Daly. We have talked about a green hydrogen strategy. Will they outline the benefit of a strategy? In fairness, the Government is doing a lot in this area. What is the benefit of a strategy on paper? What might it contain? What potential is there for the decarbonisation of the heavy goods sector?

Mr. Noel Cunniffe

The Deputy's first question was about whether there has been an assessment of State resources. There has not been such an assessment, to our knowledge, but we would strongly recommend that one be carried out. I have a comment on the previous question, which is relevant, about the resources of Eirgrid and ESB Networks. Ireland currently has less than 5 GW of renewable capacity in its electricity grid. Over the next eight years, we will try to build and connect 12 GW of renewable capacity. All the while, we are also trying to enable the electrification of transport, through 500,000 electric vehicles, and to have 600,000 heat pumps in homes. This drain on resources will be significant compared with what is currently in place if we are to deliver that. We need more people in ESB Networks and Eirgrid to deliver that. Their budgets are covered through the price review process with energy regulators. They have been given a budget, which runs to 2025, to deliver on this. The staffing levels of the regulator have not yet been decided. Correct staffing levels are needed if the regulator is to duly assess the changes and policies we need to deliver our targets. As I mentioned, that is also an issue for An Bord Pleanála.

There are great examples of offshore wind from the British and Polish systems. They have introduced a sector deal, where industries sit at the table with the right departments and enterprise agencies to try to deliver this. There are regular stakeholder meetings where everybody is briefed on the plan. We have called for that for some time now. I mentioned in my opening statement that we would also like to see the same type of committee formed specifically for the offshore grid. The critical path now is to understand the technical challenges of connecting these projects to the system. Getting that up and running as soon as possible would be welcome.

Regarding the future of onshore wind energy, we need to keep delivering it. There is no question about that. Right now, with the best will in the world, we will not have offshore wind connected to our grid and exporting until 2027 or 2028. Between now and then, we need onshore renewable energy to continue to develop and progress, including onshore wind and solar energy. We have a pipeline of onshore wind in development with approximately 10 GW of capacity.

We need that pipeline coming along because there will be attrition at the planning system, which we have talked about this morning, and there needs to be attrition at the renewable auction level as well. Some projects will be successful but some will not be. There is a very strong future for onshore wind, and that will be very important, in particular in hitting our carbon budget targets over the next six years or so.

One of Deputy O'Rourke's questions was whether we will miss our target if we do not get this right. We will, definitely. Right now we probably have, at best, a 50-50 chance of hitting our target of 5,000 MW of offshore wind by 2030. For all the reasons we have discussed, we need more resourcing in the right areas to be able to deliver on that.

Finally, in response to the question of what is the upper limit, our vision is that, as a country, we should have a goal of having a zero-carbon electricity sector by 2035. Just yesterday Germany announced that goal. We have seen the UK and other countries announce it too. Last year we produced a report called Endgame, which was shared with the members of the committee, showing that this is technically and economically feasible in the early 2030s.

Mr. Justin Moran

I wish to make a couple of brief points about the supply chain. The immediate and almost guaranteed piece of work we will get is that when these offshore wind farms are built, they will have an operations maintenance base in a nearby port. We have seen Codling Wind Park identify that as Wicklow. We have seen Arklow Bank identify it as Arklow. The example in Britain would involve approximately 60, 80 or 100 jobs, depending on the size of the wind farm there. Those would be long-term, stable jobs. Right now I think a lot of the jobs would be in the area of survey work. Ms Dempsey touched on an example of that a little earlier. There are companies such as Ms Dempsey's and Green Rebel Marine, in Cork, which is carrying out aerial and marine surveys and would like to do more. We have companies working with a special focus on community engagement and engagement with the fishing community, where there are many people whose day-to-day job is literally to go down to piers and harbours and talk to people in the fishing sector.

I will make one last point. Mr. Cunniffe is absolutely right. I do not think that workplace assessment or that kind of workforce assessment of resources has been carried out. There was an air wind report a couple of years ago by MaREI. That was kind of a blueprint for offshore wind. It did not just look at staffing resources but at a lot of other things as well. Unfortunately, I am struggling to drag the exact number to my mind, but I think it went to the point of identifying specific State agencies and giving at least some indicative figures. To be clear, that was not the State piece of work Deputy O'Rourke and Mr. Cunniffe were talking about, but it could be a useful starting point.

I asked about the positive experiences of the planning process, engagement with local communities and the need for wind energy guidelines.

Mr. Justin Moran

We would like to see the wind energy guidelines come out as quickly as possible. I think there is a recognition within the industry and communities that we need guidelines that are fit for purpose and enable us to develop the onshore wind energy projects we need to deliver over the coming years. As for identifying sources of best practice, I could start singling out particular wind farms and companies. One I will point to is the Mountlucas wind farm, a Bord na Móna project in Offaly. I cannot speak for Bord na Móna, but if the committee wanted to visit an onshore wind farm that shows not just a really good project but really good examples of biodiversity and how it has been supported in the community, that would be a good project to consider. The ESB has some fantastic projects under way. I think Grousemount, in Kerry, was due to become operational last year or is being connected. Galway Wind Park, which is an SSE project, is award-winning for its level of community engagement. With many of these projects, we see that they are not just building wind farms; they are building local amenities around them, including walking and hiking trails and interpretive centres. Those are really good examples.

The last point I will make is that it is rare to the point of unfathomable that an onshore wind farm would go through a project process now and not change in response to community engagement. The turbines might move. The size of the turbines might change. The substations might be moved. Every effort is made to try to accommodate people and to meet them halfway in order that a balance is achieved, and that balance is critical. We need to develop onshore wind energy but we also need to ensure that the rights and the interests of the local community are protected. One of the advantages of the new renewable electricity support scheme is that it puts in place a very large community benefit fund, which I think will be under the control of the community, and it will decide what the fund is spent on. That is really important. We need to get the community engagement right before we start talking about the benefit. Once we get the engagement right, I think people will see real, appreciable benefits in their community. That is important.

Does Mr. Dollard wish to comment?

Could you be as quick as you can, Mr. Dollard? We have limited time at this point. We have just over half an hour.

Mr. Jim Dollard

I will be brief. We support onshore wind. We think there will be a requirement for onshore wind growth over the coming years of the order of 3 GW. As the committee will know, we are working with Coillte on the joint venture, FutureEnergy Ireland, which will develop about 1 GW of wind. We believe that will be required and is very important. Can we miss our targets? If we do not get the issues we called out right, I think we can. It is a very large target, so unless we make a huge concerted effort and tackle the issues, it could be missed. Is the target correct? Yes, it is, but there will be a target beyond that and we need to think about the current target in that context. There will be attrition between now and then but we must have the confidence in ourselves about 2040 and 2050. There will be other targets.

Does Mr. Lennon wish to say something about the supply chain?

Mr. Paul Lennon

A number of points about the supply chain have been touched on, including where we see the opportunities at the moment on the environmental, planning and engineering side, including longer term ports and operation and maintenance. As I mentioned, the real game-changer for a supply chain and Ireland being able to tap into a resource base is floating offshore wind and the foundation structures. The question about the upper limit of the ambition is a very good one. By way of comparison, in January of this year Scotland awarded about 26 GW of fixed and floating offshore wind in seabed option agreements. That puts into perspective how we see Scotland. I absolutely agree that, in the short term, in Ireland, as Mr. Dollard mentioned, it is a matter of getting to 5 GW. We should go beyond that, however, because the world will not end in 2030 and we have a huge opportunity that we can realise off the west coast and the south coast.

It is to be hoped the world will not end in 2030.

I asked a couple of questions about hydrogen.

Dr. James Carton

The Deputy's question was what the aim of a hydrogen strategy is. The aim is that it comes out sooner rather than later, gives clarity to industry and investors and kicks off the idea of planning projects. The offshore wind industry is having potential supply chain issues. The demand for hydrogen electrolysers has increased across Europe and the rest of the world so much that lead times have gone from nine months up to 18 and 24 months for large-scale electrolysers. The whole idea of a strategy is to have clarity and that it directs investment, policy and the resources from that and from the industry. It creates the market to grow and evolve.

In response to the question about heavy-duty vehicles, there are 40,000 HDVs that add about 16% of our transport emissions and they will have difficulty going to something else that is not zero-emission. A lot of them will go to hydrogen, some of them will go to compressed natural gas and some of them will go to battery. I can share with the committee a report we have done - it is going to publication - in which we surveyed the haulage industry to see what it wanted. Not knowing anything about hydrogen, it wanted hydrogen because it involved fast refill and was similar to what it was used to logistically. It is really interesting to see the solutions, and hydrogen could have an early market in that sector. Again, it depends on the market, etc.

Ms Kate Dempsey

An apt example is a hydrogen partner company of our aquaculture farm. It is currently building a vessel that uses hydrogen to operate the aquaculture farm. We are also building a vessel but, because we do not have the access to hydrogen, unfortunately we cannot consider that at this time. We would have preferred to do so. Those examples are across Ireland.

To pick up the point Mr. Moran made that we see how much more wind companies are now engaging far more communities, and he has given many good examples of that, does he now see a correlation in the number of local objections going before wind farms as a result of that increased level of community engagement?

Mr. Justin Moran

Does the Senator want me to wait for his full five minutes?

No. I will ask just one question each-----

Mr. Justin Moran

I will keep my answer brief then. When we engage in a most progressive way with communities, I think communities see not just that they are being listened to but that the project changes in response to the points and queries they make. That is really important. It is not enough to go into a community hall, listen, take notes and go home.

We need to come back and say my product is different because I have tried to meet them halfway. That has led to a change in attitude towards wind energy. If we look at the polling attitudes on support for wind energy, it is very high right across the board, including in rural Ireland, and in response to questions on when local infrastructure goes near to them. That is partly because we have great community engagement. We still need to do better. It is also partly that more and more people understand the role of onshore and offshore wind energy, decarbonising our system and tackling climate change.

Two weeks ago, the EU proposed a new target of 40% for renewable energy. It was very clear about wanting to accelerate the planning process generally for projects like wind farms. We spoke today about the need to have serious finance put into this country to try to get us to where we need to be, to have the infrastructure in place for production and to hit the targets. The EU has launched a €5 billion pot called the trans-European network, TEN-E. The criteria for offshore wind have been updated. The EU has started the legislative process now and it is appealing to member states to apply for funding from this pot of money to try to supercharge its wind energy efforts. Given that the EU legislative process has just started, should Ireland be using the time to try to apply for funding? Could the pot of money be useful to Ireland so that we are not relying on Government resources to try to put the significant level of financial resources into this that we need?

Mr. Noel Cunniffe

I might throw that question to Mr. Goodwin. He is our head of policy, and he leads a lot of our EU work.

Mr. Niall Goodwin

Senator McGahon's point is a very good one. I do not disagree. It is a big opportunity for Ireland. The agreement on TEN-E was reached in December, just before the end of the year. It was a very ambitious agreement that was reached between the co-legislators and there is a clear ambition at EU level to capitalise on the resources we have offshore, especially in north-western Europe. Ireland is called out as an area of massive potential. That feeds in as well to the ongoing discussion as part of the Fit for 55 package on the revision of the renewable energy directive which also looks at increasing co-operation at sea basin level to make sure that we can capitalise on the renewables we have offshore as a follow up to the offshore renewable energy, ORE, strategy that we saw in late 2020. Ireland is called out as a key part of the process across all those types of policy initiatives at EU level.

It is also worth noting that this is a particularly opportune time for Ireland given that we currently hold the presidency of the North Seas Energy Cooperation or NSEC group. This is something the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, is prioritising and doing a lot of positive work on, but ultimately Ireland can only be a beneficiary of this sort of regional co-operation to start with and then move towards co-operation at a pan-European level. That is because we have the resource and we have talked about the potential offshore for 30 GW off the west coast and the south coast in particular for floating offshore wind. If we were to use the TEN-E regulation and start to make these infrastructural investments now to connect up European grids, and allow renewable electricity flow from where the resource is best - that is Ireland to where the demand centres are - for example, the Irish-German Hydrogen Council is present here, and the demand centres in central Europe where we have a lot of heavy industry. We have spoken a lot about hydrogen, and it will be a carrier to get renewables from the Irish coast over to demand centres, but there will also be interconnection. The idea of a pan-European super grid is something we should be looking at and seeing where there is funding available.

To go back to the specifics of Senator McGahon's question, there is money to avail of in TEN-E and we should be seeking to identify projects that could unlock potential. Interconnection is a great example of that, to enable us to sell electricity to the rest of Europe.

I thank Mr. Goodwin for his very detailed answer. My next two questions are for Mr. Moran again on the excellent document Wind Energy Ireland provided, Twelve Months to Deliver Offshore Wind Energy. It put together eight recommendations that need to be enacted. Are we in serious trouble if they are not enacted in the next 12 months and will we not hit targets as a result?

Mr. Justin Moran

As Mr. Cunniffe said, today we are talking about a 50:50 chance of hitting 5,000 MW. The longer it takes to deliver some of those targets, the more challenging it will be to deliver that to a point where just on a practical level we might not be able to achieve it all. One of the asks in the document was the delivery of the Maritime Area Planning Bill, and that has been delivered and on time, so there is progress and there is momentum building up.

The key point is that there is clear momentum. We have seen how we have passed some significant legislation in recent months. As Deputy O'Sullivan said, that momentum will continue. While it may look unnerving at the moment, we are taking it very seriously.

There are eight very good recommendations. Does Mr. Moran want to pick another issue that the Government needs to act on in the next 12 months or do the eight cover the major issues?

Mr. Noel Cunniffe

Right now, if we were to list the top two issues that we have, number one is the planning system and number two is grid capacity. We need to focus on those two issues in particular over the next 12 months.

Just to follow up on that, does Mr. Cunniffe think there are sufficient qualified staff in An Bord Pleanála, EirGrid or Government agencies to process these massive infrastructural projects? If not, do we need to undertake a substantial recruitment campaign?

Mr. Noel Cunniffe

No, we definitely do not have enough staff across the State agencies. I would strongly recommend a very aggressive hiring strategy in those agencies we mentioned this morning.

Does Mr. Cunniffe think such a strategy exists at the moment?

Mr. Noel Cunniffe

Not right now, but it needs to.

That is a very interesting question. Senator McGahon is probably referring to the capacity in the system. Do we need to look outside Ireland for the expertise to fill the positions that Mr. Cunniffe says are necessary?

Mr. Noel Cunniffe

We are going to need to, for sure. We notice it in industry at the moment with the number of projects that we are trying to progress. There are simply not enough skill sets right across all aspects of planning, economics, grid engineers and electrical engineers. They do not exist in Ireland right now. We are going to have to learn from our international partners who have developed these projects successfully in the past ten years and take best practice. What we really need to focus on, as was called out by Mr. Moran earlier, in the Skills for Zero Carbon report, is investing in third level institutions in order that we can grow and build our own domestic resources in terms of future engineers, economists and planners so that we can deliver by 2030.

In the short term, I guess we will have to import - for the want of a better word - these experts if we want to get where we want to be. What Mr. Cunniffe mentioned in third level is for the longer term; we are not going to be able to train people and to get them to the level we need in such a short time.

Mr. Justin Moran

I think it is a combination. We have good people in all of those companies and we will be able to recruit more from within Ireland but there are not enough.

In terms of the likes of An Bord Pleanála, the Department, and the State agencies, is Mr. Cunniffe saying that the existing resources simply are not capable of delivering the decisions that need to be delivered if we are to meet the targets that we have set ourselves? Where do those people come from? It sounds like we probably need to be looking overseas.

Mr. Noel Cunniffe

In the first instance we need to try to recruit them and see what comes back. There have been examples in other jurisdictions where they have faced initial teething problems in getting the sectors up and running and there have been secondments from industry of experienced people into departments or state agencies to try to progress projects as quickly as possible. The UK and the Netherlands rolled out such a scheme very successfully in the past decade.

I have one final question. A comment was made earlier about the need to give confidence to the international supply chain to be able to show that Ireland is very serious about this. We need to move from position papers and policy to delivery. A couple of points were outlined on what we need to do in that respect, but is the time so short that we need to need to move from policy to delivery to provide the confidence within the next 12 months? The timeframe is short. It is between now and this time next year. What needs to be done is momentous, but if we do not do all of these things within such a short window, we are in serious trouble of not hitting the targets that we set for ourselves.

Mr. Justin Moran

It is alarming. We look at our phase one projects which are mostly on the east coast and there is one on the west coast and we would be very pleased if we were able to connect them in the first half of 2028. That will get us, at best, half way to the 5,000 MW target. It may not get us half way, and we have phase two to come in behind that. We will be trying to build them, plan them and get consent for them all more or less simultaneously and much of it is something that we have not done before in Ireland because we have not developed it. It is as stark as saying we could be in a difficult situation if we do not deliver in the next 12 months. It is not that we will not build wind farms or that we will not decarbonise this country, but it is that we will not do it quickly enough to deliver the kind of carbon budget savings that the committee has been working on.

I thank Mr. Moran.

I call Senator Boylan, who has been waiting for a while.

I thought I was not going to get in at all.

Most of my questions have been answered. I echo what Senator Higgins said regarding our concerns about the designated protected marine areas and how we will square that circle in terms of those of us who want to deliver on the carbon budgets but also want to protect our biodiversity, and getting that balance right so biodiversity is not the sacrificial lamb of climate action. I welcome what Mr. Cunniffe said earlier about the resourcing and funding of the National Parks and Wildlife Service and environmental NGOs. I also welcome the comments regarding the right of the public to object and to make submissions to the planning process, and that the real problem is not stopping people engaging with the planning process but resourcing the planning process so that engagement can happen much faster. I welcome that from most of the commentators today. I hope the Government is listening.

In terms of the public consultation, would the witnesses agree that public participation in the maritime area consent is vital? Do they have a view on whether the public should be allowed to make submissions on that or to participate?

The other issue relates to the Commission for Regulation of Utilities. There is much talk about how State agencies are not resourced to enable the witnesses to deliver what they want to deliver, which is clearly very ambitious. Representatives of the CRU were before the committee last week and my understanding is that 25% of the CRU's budget is spent on hiring outsourced consultants. Do the witnesses think it has the resources that are needed, particularly regarding bringing down the costs of energy for both consumers and those who are producing the renewable energy?

Mr. Noel Cunniffe

I will take the question about the CRU first and then pass to Mr. Moran on the marine protected areas, MPAs. I definitely believe the CRU needs more resources. In our daily interactions with people in the CRU they are highly skilled people who are very good at what they do, but they simply do not have enough people trying to work across such an enormous quantum shift in the energy sector in the next ten years, ranging from security of supply and trying to run renewable options for the first time in Ireland to trying to set up grid connection systems for both onshore and offshore renewables. In our experience the CRU does not have enough people to cover the sheer quantity of work that is being thrown at it in order for us to deliver on the target. I highly recommend that any budget that could be given to it in any way possible to increase its staffing levels would be given.

I will let Mr. Moran respond to the question on the MPAs.

Mr. Justin Moran

We fully support the objective of 30% of our marine space to be allocated to marine protected areas. We would like to see the Government initiatives, not placed in the legislation, to identify them to move forward as quickly as possible. Our industry will do anything it can to support that.

On the secondary point regarding maritime area consents, for the phase 1 projects that will be going in for maritime area consent applications quite soon they will have already done at least one and, in many cases, multiple rounds of community engagement and public consultation in advance of that. It is also important to highlight that the terms of the maritime area consent are themselves the subject of public consultation. I believe that public consultation ended in the last couple of weeks. I have vivid memories of reading the consultation submission. That is really the focus. Once we have that process in place, they will be able to apply for maritime area consent, but it is critical to highlight that it does not give them an advantage in the planning system. They will still need to go through the planning system and there will and must be opportunities for people to engage fully and thoroughly there and to be listened to as part of that process. That is really where people can help shape those projects.

I thank the witnesses.

I call Deputy Cronin, who is also waiting patiently.

I was also involved with the hydrogen strategy Bill along with my colleague, Deputy O'Rourke. We must get on with ending our dependency on fossil fuels from countries with shocking human rights records, particularly given the shameful financial dealings between shell companies in the International Financial Services Centre, IFSC, and dictatorships, the bombings in Ukraine and the bombings in Yemen by the Saudis. With that in mind, will Dr. Carton elaborate on the jobs and research opportunities that will need to happen in our third level institutions so we are ready for this and we can get on with providing the courses and places that are needed?

I have just one question for Mr. Moran. Deputy O'Rourke and Senator Boylan have already covered most of the questions I had. Regarding the hurricanes and storms that are creeping up due to warming in the Atlantic, are the structures of the offshore wind farms built to withstand these hurricanes?

Dr. James Carton

I thank Deputy Cronin for the question. It is a timely one. Last Friday, we had the first physical meeting in two years in DCU on hydrogen. We invited Mr. Bart Biebuyck, the clean hydrogen partnership programme manager of the EU. We also had Mr. Philip Cheasty from Enterprise Ireland, Ms Sarah Dovern from INTERREG Europe, Ms Siobhan Kelly from the Department of Transport and Mr. Gerry Clabby from the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications. All of them did presentations on European funding for hydrogen-specific projects. The opportunity there is to use co-funding between European and Irish development funds to kick off these large-scale deployment projects and move away from the laboratory and even from pilot projects to large-scale deployment projects. Those funds exist. Ireland has been rapped on the knuckles for not applying for these large-scale projects, which we have not done successfully over the last couple of years. We are a laggard with regard to getting large-scale hydrogen funding from Europe.

With regard to academics, jobs and skills, all universities are putting programmes in their departments to upskill employees and to create the future roles we are discussing here today. DCU has created an undergraduate sustainability degree programme. We have also created graduate diplomas and graduate certificates in energy system decarbonisations. All these are oversubscribed and they are only two years in place. We are developing further as we move forward. In this room here, there is a number of projects supported by MaREI and Science Foundation Ireland relating to developing the data. One of the projects, EirWind, was mentioned earlier. H-Wind and HyLIGHT are other ones. These basically aim to produce data that we need to engage with industry and policy-makers, to really just get the numbers to understand what we do if we do A or B or we do A, B and C together at the same time, to develop energy system models and so forth. It is to understand our decarbonisation pathway and, hopefully, feed into Government strategies and then develop roadmaps and plans for industry and investment.

I hope that covers some of the points the Deputy made.

There was a question on the Atlantic storms.

That is for Mr. Moran.

Mr. Justin Moran

I will begin with a confession in response to a point you made earlier, Chairman. I remember sitting across the table from Senator Dooley in Buswells about three and a half years ago and telling him floating wind energy was a post-2030 thing. The reason I do not believe or say that anymore is that I have seen how much the technology has improved and, in particular, how much has been invested in turbine design and turbine manufacture to ensure they work. We have not built a floating wind farm in Ireland, obviously, but we have built them as an industry. We have built them off the coast of Portugal and off the coast of Scotland. They are working effectively. The Scottish test project, and I am open to correction on this, has been the most productive offshore wind farm off the coast of Scotland over the last couple of years, year on year. It has survived the North Sea. We will continue to improve the technology and continue to make it robust and strong enough to survive the Atlantic. As a Galway man, I know what the wind is like off the coast of Galway and in the Atlantic ocean, so I appreciate that they need to be tough. We will build them tough, and we have the science and the engineers who can do it.

I call Senator Pauline O'Reilly, who has returned to her office.

I thank everyone for their contributions. Like Senator Boylan, I think many of the questions have been asked at this point. I wish to focus on the issue of European funding. I know that in Rossaveal and other ports, there has been a shift in relation to European funding. I have noticed a difference in the kinds of applications that have been made over the last few years. They all mention the possibilities of offshore renewables. Are there other things that we could and should be looking at in respect of European funding? I welcome all of the comments that were made on marine protected areas and increased funding for the NPWS. It is good to hear such comments on the record in the debate today.

Mr. Noel Cunniffe

On EU funding, I am aware of a number of areas that certain supply chain elements are investigating at the moment, such as the Connecting Europe facility. Hopefully, that will do something in terms of providing resources and investment in our port infrastructure. Getting our port infrastructure in place as early as possible this decade is going to be absolutely critical to hitting that 5 GW target by 2030 for the reasons outlined by Mr. Moran earlier, in that we only have one current port facility on the island. We cannot deliver all of these projects simultaneously from one port facility. I strongly recommend that anything that can be done to try to get investment into port facilities should be done. Another area of European funding to highlight, and one that I think will be very important, is further interconnection for the island thorough the east-west interconnector and the Celtic interconnector. These were designated as projects of common interest by the EU Commission, which assists in providing funding in order to get them developed. We are going to need more interconnection over the next ten to 20 years if we are to become the renewable superpower that we absolutely can be in providing energy, whether that is through electricity or hydrogen, to try to decarbonise the rest of Europe.

I wish to ask one further question, if that is all right. I was going to ask what other kinds of jobs might be provided. I think it is a key thing in getting communities on board. It is also key for the Irish economy. We have spoken at length about jobs in the industry, but are there associated jobs outside of the skilled jobs in areas we have discussed? For instance, in actually using the energy produced locally, is that of benefit to us, quite apart from the knock-on effects for people's families and the local spend and all of that?

Ms Kate Dempsey

To briefly go back to the Deputy's question around EU funding and the availability of funding for projects, it is actually much wider than we have discussed so far. One of the EU funds we have applied to recently relates to empowering communities to be able to engage effectively with offshore renewables as they develop out. There is a significant amount of funding available for that. However, the problem is that we have a handful of projects that are in phase 1 and we have not yet announced what the phase 2 projects will be. In order to be able to apply for funding successfully, we must first know what those projects will be so that we can work together with the projects and the communities to be able to apply for the funding. That leads me into some of the work that is being done in the offshore renewables sector, certainly in some of the projects I have been working on. It is about trying to empower communities to increase the amount of seafood production, in the first instance, that they can produce as a result of their engagement with offshore renewable energy. It is about how offshore renewables can support those industries in applications for new licences for aquaculture and fisheries, and also how we might integrate aquaculture activities, such as the restorative aquaculture of oyster and mussel farming or seaweed farming, within the offshore renewable development space. There is a huge amount of work under way on that front. Certainly, my experience of the offshore renewable energy industry, and also being part of the aquaculture industry, is that both sides are quite happy to engage with each other on it. They both see the benefits of that. It is actually something that has been very helpful in ensuring we are engaging successfully with what would otherwise be impacted communities.

Mr. Paul Lennon

In relation to EU funding, the ESB has applied for European funding for the initial design phase as part of the green Atlantic Moneypoint project. We fully support that. In terms of jobs, we are seeing a huge number of indirect jobs created locally through large infrastructure projects. Indeed, just focusing on the Moneypoint project, we have seen the creation of many thousands of direct jobs, but significantly more indirect jobs, in terms of retail and so forth, over the course of that project. There is an opportunity for developing those skills as well. From a third level institution perspective, we have engaged with most of the third level institutions, trying to map out where we see the offshore wind industry going over the next number of years to ensure third level graduates have the necessary skills. It is not that third level students are learning anything different now. It is about tailoring it specifically to either offshore wind or hydrogen. The main basic principles around the education system are sound. It is just about complementing it with offshore wind and hydrogen or other storage activities. There is a suite of items there. ESB and many other developers take an active interest in that space because it is the only way that Ireland is ultimately going to deliver its long-term objectives.

Dr. James Carton

To follow up on jobs, through the highlight project, there is a specific work package in relation to jobs around renewable energy, decarbonisation and green hydrogen. Interestingly, for something like hydrogen, when you are using electrolysers, it produces oxygen and hydrogen. There are many complementary applications for that oxygen, such as in sea farming or wastewater treatment facilities. There is a facility being built in Belfast on that proposal. The main focus is oxygen, not necessarily hydrogen, interestingly. Also, because hydrogen is an add-on to renewable energy, a lot more jobs are created per megawatt or money invested because there are a lot of supply chain requirements there, including everything beyond the wind farm, the hydrogen production facility maintenance, security, safety and the supply chain of that fuel energy carrier to the industry. There is a multiplication of jobs there. We are trying to understand exactly what that means for Ireland and how that could be fed into communities.

I wish to broach a subject before we finish up. The committee agreed that we would have this session. It is the first of a series of sessions that will lead to the publication of a report. We are very much thinking of the urgency of climate action and the need to create a clean energy system as quickly as possible. That is the focus of this committee. Everybody is very hard-working and diligent in terms of the remit we have. However, events of the last few days at the other side of the Continent have given us another reason to accelerate the ambition we have. I am not necessarily referring to Ireland, but in many countries, energy and defence are very related in terms of policy. We have seen major shifts in defence policy in Europe in the last few days. As Mr. Daly alluded to earlier, Germany made a twin announcement of its ambition to move away from coal and build an LNG infrastructure, which many members of this committee would take serious issue with. However, Germany has its own challenges. I suppose it is not entirely improbable that Europe will decide, at a political level, that it really needs to look to the west for its energy, and to friendly countries, as opposed to less friendly countries, for clean energy. I imagine that in Europe questions are being asked about whether we can do that at scale and more quickly. I am hearing from the witnesses that they are dealing with the system and timeframes that we have. Is there a scenario where we can accelerate this if we change our systems around planning?

Obviously, we need to be very careful that we do that. We also need to recognise the emergency that we have or is it simply not technically realistic to do that?

Mr. Jim Dollard

I think it is real. ESB has said net zero by 2040. Net zero is net zero - zero carbon emissions. That can be delivered. Within our strategy, we are setting out a roadmap that takes us from today all the way to 2040. The closure of the coal plant at Moneypoint in 2025 is a key step, but there are other steps in how we reduce our dependence on gas in the ecosystem. Ultimately, large-scale renewables, vast quantities of renewables paired with green hydrogen will deliver the solution. Ireland has the resources; it is about accelerating the policies and structures. We have to accelerate the timetable. It can be done. It is really about knowing that there is a need for many projects. Not all projects will make it. The number of projects that fail through various steps is significant. The volume of projects we need to push through the system is significant. The Chairman asked if it could be done. The answer is "Yes". From an energy-security point of view, it should be done.

Mr. Noel Cunniffe

I mentioned earlier that we have the pipeline of projects and can accelerate the delivery. We are trying deliver 5 GW of offshore wind energy by 2030. That is a challenge, as we have discussed this morning. More than 20 GW worth of offshore projects are in development around the coast of Ireland right now, all of which could deliver if they were given the right infrastructure, policy and legislative regime to do so. We carried out research with UCC MaREI last year looking at how to completely decarbonise Ireland. It showed that we needed 25 GW of renewable energy by 2050 purely for our own domestic use. If we were to accelerate that and try to export that to Europe in the short term, that would absolutely pay off in the long term as we look to electrify our heating and transport to get those sectors away from fossil fuel imports.

Dr. James Carton

I think the question the Chairman is asking is what the no-regrets scenario is. The resounding answer from the room is to go to renewables. In a country like Ireland with significant ocean resources and engaging with the protection of biodiversity, it is an ultimate no-regrets scenario. As Mr. Cunniffe said, we need to think about moving to having that energy for our own domestic use. As we are part of Europe, let us engage with and supply that energy to Europe. What the Chairman is talking about is the no-regrets scenario. Ireland would have no regrets with offshore wind.

I think it is about having no regrets and it is also recognising the emergency in climate as much as energy security. I am thinking out loud but we are in a wartime situation and effectively in these kinds of situations things that ordinarily happen slowly and methodically actually happen quite quickly and they have to. We in the political system across Europe need to think carefully about that.

That is the end of our session. I thank all the members who asked very interesting questions and provoked very thorough and interesting answers from our witnesses. I thank our witnesses for coming today in great numbers. It is great to see people back in the committee room where we can have a better engagement. This is the first of a series of sessions on the big potential that is there and the challenges in delivering it. Hopefully it will be a worthwhile report when it is finished and it will inform Government and wider society.

The joint committee adjourned at 2.05 p.m. until 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 8 March 2022.
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