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Scaling up: ESB Group’s significant investment in renewable energy and infrastructure

2023 has been a busy year for ESB as we pursue ambitious decarbonisation goals, investing more than €1 billion in the critical infrastructure required to help decarbonise electricity, to improve the resilience of the electricity network, and to empower customers to use clean electricity for heat and transport.

Despite the continued turbulence in the energy sector during the year, the group’s businesses including Generation and Trading, ESB Networks and Electric Ireland made significant progress against the strategy Driven to Make a Difference: Net Zero by 2040.

“Continued uncertainty and global market volatility in 2023 brought with it a range of challenges to the Irish energy sector and for our customers right across the country,” says Paddy Hayes, Chief Executive of ESB.

“COP 28 called out the importance of decarbonising the energy system of today and building the energy system of the future. So, it is more important than ever that we, at ESB, continue to invest in clean and resilient energy infrastructure that will allow us to deliver our strategic ambition of net zero in line with the National Climate Action Plan. So, it is good to be able to report that we continued to deliver key projects in 2023, and that we are well placed to build on this momentum in 2024 and the years ahead.”

Such projects include phase two of Ireland’s largest wind farm at Oweninny in Co Mayo. This joint venture between ESB and Bord na Móna came into full commercial operation in 2023 delivering a total of 192MW renewable capacity over its two phases which is enough to power 150,000 homes, farms and businesses.

Overall, ESB’s Generation and Trading business invested more than €500 million in 2023, directly and through joint ventures, to support energy security and to decarbonise electricity in Ireland and Great Britain.

Two grid scale battery energy storage facilities – at Poolbeg and Kylemore – were commissioned in 2023. Grid scale batteries can be charged up when the wind is high and demand is lower. They can give back electricity to the network at times of peak demand; reducing carbon, reducing costs and improving energy security. We have two more large battery facilities under construction, in Dublin and Cork, both on track for completion in early 2024.

We have been involved in offshore wind since 2017 with a share of the Galloper project off the east coast of Great Britain. 2023 saw significant progress on the construction of Neart na Gaoithe – a joint venture with EDF – off the east coast of Scotland. We also entered into an agreement with Ørsted, a world leader, to develop an Irish offshore wind portfolio of renewable energy and complementary renewable hydrogen projects which are intended to capitalise on Ireland’s renewable resources, improve security of energy supply and reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

Back on-shore, in another co-development with Bord na Móna, we are progressing the first of five solar farm projects.

Networks for Net Zero Strategy

Renewable generation is important but it is only part of the story. Earlier this year, ESB Networks which manages ESB’s transmission and network activities launched its Networks for Net Zero strategy. This commits to futureproofing Ireland’s electricity network and making the country’s goal of net zero by 2050 a reality. ESB Networks plans to invest an estimated €10 billion up to 2030 to develop a smarter and more flexible electricity network.

ESB Networks is responsible for delivering the National Smart Metering Programme on behalf of the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities (CRU). By November, more than 1.5 million smart meters had been installed in homes, farms and businesses across Ireland allowing customers to play their part in the clean energy transition. The programme, which now provides a smart solution to customers with day/night meters, has enabled ESB Networks to add over 80,000 microgeneration customers to the network. Smart meters support customers with their own on-site solar or wind power devices to export surplus power to the network, good for both the pocket and the environment.

ESB Networks scaled up the Beat the Peak programme in October to encourage and support reduced electricity usage during peak-demand times. Customers can make a significant difference if they are able to reduce or move electricity consumption away from times of highest demand, particularly during winter evenings between 5pm and 7pm. This builds on the pilot of last winter, which was very successful thanks to the response of customers. Reducing the peak reduces carbon emissions, reduces system costs, and supports energy security.

ESB Networks has also developed a range of digital services for all electricity customers including the ESB Networks Online Account. The 70,000 customers who have so far registered for the one-stop hub can monitor their smart meter consumption, sign up to the Beat the Peak programme and access other services.

On the ground, Networks teams had a busy year restoring power following storms including Storm Betty and Storm Debi. Crews also sailed to Brittany to assist French counterparts with electricity restoration efforts in the aftermath of Storm Ciarán.

Reflecting the importance of the Housing for All programme, more than 30,000 new housing units were connected to Ireland’s electricity network over the course of the year by ESB Networks.

Powering Forward

Growing the electrification of transport is a critical part of meeting the government’s climate action targets. We continue to invest in its nationwide EV charging network and as part of this, a new high-power (200kW) EV charging hub at the Barack Obama Plaza on the N7 launched in August.

The €20 million investment programme, which is partially funded by the Government’s Climate Action Fund, has allowed us to install 35 high-power hubs nationwide by year-end and replace almost all of the standard 22kW chargers with newer technology.

Investing in People

In 2022, we set out to recruit 1,000 additional people and this milestone has been achieved ahead of schedule. Between graduates, apprentices, office-based and skilled specialists, we continue to invest in the people required to deliver clean the energy transition.

The group’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes are also supporting progress on Ireland’s net zero journey. In 2023, over €2 million has been distributed through CSR programmes and wind farm community benefit funds, and 18,000 children and young people have been supported through education and STEM sponsorship programmes coordinated by ESB. Electric Ireland also continued its decade-long support for Darkness Into Light with Pieta House.

“It is essential that ESB continues to support the clean energy transition through investment in Ireland’s electricity system,” Hayes concludes. “While 2023 was a year of strong delivery, there is a lot more to be done as we move into 2024. We remain acutely aware of the challenges faced by many of our customers and we continue to offer extensive supports for those who need it. In the longer term, reducing Ireland’s exposure to fossil fuels and delivering the clean energy transition is essential, and ESB remains determined to make a difference and deliver Net Zero by 2040.”

The above article was first published as sponsored content in the Irish Times on December 29, 2023.