Chu in Ireland: A Case Study in Wind Power

Secretary Chu is currently in Ireland, a country which shares many of the same energy challenges and opportunities as the United States. Like the U.S., Ireland has the potential to tap enormous renewable energy resources. In particular, Ireland has significant wind energy and wave power potential, and is moving quickly to capitalize on these natural advantages.

Ireland has set an aggressive goal of obtaining 40 percent of its annual electricity needs from renewable energy by 2020, almost all of which will come from wind turbines.

In fact, at one point on April 4, 2010, Ireland was able to draw 50 percent of its electricity from wind farm. Of course, wind power is a variable source of energy, and one of the challenges Ireland faces as wind energy becomes a greater share of the power mix is ensuring a stable, reliable flow of electricity even when the wind stops blowing.

Ireland’s aggressive goals for integrating large percentages of wind energy onto the power grid make it an interesting case study for the United States and other countries. Secretary Chu has been meeting with business, government and academic leaders in Ireland to learn more about how the country is managing this challenge – and what lessons the United States can learn as we pursue our own ambitious agenda toward greater energy independence through clean, renewable fuels.

Ireland has not had to resort to load shedding – i.e., asking consumers to temporarily lower electricity demand when the wind stops blowing. Instead, Ireland utilizes some of its excess capacity to compensate when the wind might not be as strong.

For example, a coal or gas plant may run at 80 percent but then throttle up closer to 100 percent when needed. For the most part, the Ireland would need to have this excess capacity even without wind power because it has to be prepared in the event that a major baseload power plant would have to go offline. Ireland is also working to build better transmission systems, including links with the United Kingdom, to help balance the load and ensure that the flow of electricity can meet demand at all times.

President Obama has committed $4.5 billion in Recovery Act funding for building a reliable, flexible “smart grid” in the United States, and we are also working to speed the deployment of wind power – onshore and offshore – as we seek to build American leadership in the clean energy economy. The Department of Energy has also committed $100 million to develop the next generation of wave power technologies.