Subsea Irish-Scottish grid an “opportunity Scotland cannot miss”

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By a Newsnet reporter

The huge potential benefits of a new electricity grid under the Irish Sea connecting power sources on Scottish, Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland electricity networks have been highlighted in an exhaustive study.

The Irish-Scottish Links on Energy Study (ISLES) was set up jointly by the governments of Scotland, the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland and largely funded by the EU.  The study examined the feasibility of creating an offshore interconnected electricity grid based on renewable energy.  The project was launched in 2010.  

The Scottish government’s Energy Directorate is the lead partner in the project, which also has as partners the Northern Irish Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment and Roinn Cumarsáide, Fuinnimh agus Acmhainní Nádúrtha (the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources) of the Irish Republic.

The target area examined in the report has an enormous potential for capturing wind, wave and tidal energy.  Covering a sea area from the Butt of Lewis, down the West Coast of Scotland and into the Irish Sea, then along the Irish coast to the Atlantic coasts of Galway, the area has one of the greatest potentials in Europe for the generation of electricty from wind, wave and tidal resources.  Scotland alone possesses an estimated one quarter of European wind energy potential and a tenth of Europe’s tidal energy potential.

However, the electricity networks of Scotland and both parts of Ireland have not been developed as an offshore grid to exploit this major marine renewable resource.  The infrastructure is poor and as a result the massive generation capacity is not matched by the ability to collect and transport that energy to market.

The ISLES study sought to identify the challenges in creating, storing and transporting the electricity created from these renewable sources in order to help pave the way for renewable energy and carbon reduction targets to be met and giving a boost to the economies of the Scottish and Irish Atlantic coasts.

An executive summary of the report, published yesterday, concluded that an ISLES cross-jurisdictional offshore integrated network is economically viable and competitive and can potentially deliver a range of wider economic, environmental and market related benefits delivering a boost to Scotland’s renewable energy industry.  The network could be operational by 2020.

Amongst the economic benefits of the network would be a reduction in the subsidies required for renewable energy generation, and a stimulation to the development of renewable energy.  The zone covered by ISLES is expected to have a generation capacity of 16.4 GigaWatts, comprising 12.1 GW of offshore wind generation and 2.3 of wave and tidal.

Speaking as the report was launched at the ISLES Conference in Glasgow on Wednesday, Pat Rabbitte, Irish Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, said the study is “further proof” of the economic potential of renewable energy:

“With a sea area that is almost ten times the size of our landmass, Ireland has an abundance of ocean renewable energy resources, potentially a multiple of the energy requirements of our own system.

“By co-operating with our neighbouring administrations, we can work together to create a viable market for these resources, initially across our own islands but in time to continental Europe.  The study shows that we have the long term potential to reduce infrastructure costs by working together to develop a planned network design.”

Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney said: “This ground-breaking study highlights the opportunities and the challenges in realising our shared renewables potential.  It underlines the commitment of our three governments to work together to harness the huge potential of renewable energy.

“It is further proof, if any were needed, of the enormous economic opportunities renewable energy provides.  The low carbon economy could re-industrialise Scotland and the transmission network is an enormous part of that.

“The ISLES study shows that, by working together on a shared renewables grid, we could boost jobs, revenue and economic growth – as well as helping secure future renewable energy supplies.

“These islands have some of the most abundant and powerful offshore renewable energy sources in Europe.  Indeed, Scotland has around a quarter of the continent’s wind and tidal resource and as much as a tenth of its potential wave power.  This project paves the way to allow us to harvest that potential, further develop our export capability and bring in revenues to Scotland.

“This project has EU-wide significance. It shows Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland are leading the debate on how to deliver our offshore energy networks and we will now take these findings to both Westminster and Brussels.

“Connecting our transmissions networks is a challenging endeavour, but the rewards will be huge.  It is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss.”

Alyn Smith, SNP Member of the European Parliament for Scotland, welcomed the findings of the report and committed himself to assist in accessing continued EU support for the venture.

Speaking from Brussels, Mr Smith said:

“This is good news.  This study highlights that the development of an interconnected transmission network within the decade would help drive further growth in the renewables sector, create jobs, generate revenues and ensure future sustainable energy supplies by better connecting and exporting electricity.

“This further cements Scotland’s role as Europe’s renewable energy powerhouse.  Scotland has around a quarter of the continent’s wind and tidal resource and as much as a tenth of its potential wave power.  This project would allow us to harvest that potential, further develop our export capability and bring in revenues to Scotland.

“This project also paves the way, as it shows Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland cooperating to deliver improved energy networks.  Hopefully this development will encourage other EU member states to engage in similar cross-border initiatives.

“Connecting our transmissions networks is a challenging endeavour, but the rewards will be great.  This is an opportunity Scotland cannot afford to miss and I will do all I can to ensure this project of EU significance continues to receive EU support.”

 

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