Eirgrid added that the characteristics of wind power would change the dynamics of the Irish electricity system and would need to be understood and managed to ensure that the system was secure and reliable.
On Jan 2010, the Republic of Ireland had an installed wind power capacity of 1260.4 megawatts. Recent years have seen a marked increase in the level of wind farm generation, three times more than the total of 495.2 megawatts in 2005.
In 2008 alone, the rate of growth was 54.6%, amongst the highest in the world. On July 31, 2009, the output from the country’s wind turbines peaked at 999 megawatts. During certain times that day, up to 39 percent of Ireland’s demand for electricity was met from wind energy. On October 24, 2009, the output exceeded 1000 megawatts for the first time with a peak of 1064 MW.
In the Directive 2001/77/EC, otherwise known as the RES-E Directive, the European Union stated a goal to have 22% of the total energy consumed by member states to be produced from renewable energy resources by 2010.
As a result the Republic of Ireland in a report titled “Policy Consideration for Renewable Electricity to 2010” made the commitment to have 4% of its total energy consumption come from renewable energy resources by 2002 and 13.2% by 2010.
To meet the 2010 target of 13.2%, 1,432 MW of electricity will need to be generated from renewable resources with 1,100 MW being generated from wind energy resources both onshore and offshore.
Grid connection is currently awarded on a ‘first come, first connect’ basis through Gate 3 procedures. On examination of the Gate 3 queue, there are a number of large onshore and offshore wind farm projects that are down the list and will, therefore, be offered grid connection towards the end of the anticipated 18-month processing period commencing in December 2009.
Wind farms currently are given a planning permission that expires after five years. But, the application process for securing a connection to the grid is six years. Extensions to the planning permissions may be granted if a significant amount of work has been completed on the wind farm.
This causes some developers to not begin work on a wind farm until a grid connection is guaranteed, which slows the process of fulfilling necessary development to meet the 2010 and future energy goals.
The fourth issue regarding the generation of wind power is the Renewable Energy Feed-in Tariff, or REFIT. The purpose of REFIT is to encourage development of renewable energy resources. For wind power production, the current limit to the tariff is 1,450 MW.
However, applications currently being processed for grid connections exceed the limit by almost 1,500 MW for a total for nearly 3,000 MW. Since the limit is 1,450 MW, many of the applications for grid connections may not eligible for the tariff.
The Arklow Bank Wind farm, located 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) off the coast of Arklow on the Arklow Bank in the Irish Sea, was Ireland’s first offshore wind farm.
The wind farm is owned and built by GE Energy and was co-developed by Airtricity and GE Energy. The site currently has 7 GE Energy 3.6 MW wind turbines that generate a total of 25 MW. The development of the site has been divided into two phases with the first phase being the first 7 wind turbines.
The second phase, which is in current development, is a partnership between Airtricity and Acciona Energia. Acciona Energia has an option to buy the project after the facility is completed. The wind farm has current plans to expand the site to generate 520 MW of power.
Although the waters off the Atlantic coastline of Ireland is a better site for wind farms because of the available wind resources, sites along the eastern coastline such as Arklow were chosen for the first wind farms because of the shallower waters, which are 20 m (65.62 ft.) or less.
The potential for generating employment, however, is incredibly significant. The National Offshore Wind Association of Ireland (NOW Ireland) announced in April 2010 that 60,000 potential jobs could be created in the Irish marine, construction, engineering and service industries through the development of offshore wind energy in Irish and European waters.