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Harnessing wind to produce clean energy

Our Generation and Trading division is growing its offshore wind farm business in Ireland and the UK to generate renewable electricity at scale by harnessing one of the country’s greatest natural resources.

The Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Eamon Ryan, recently launched the Future Framework for Offshore Renewable Energy, which has been characterised as Ireland’s most exciting industrial opportunity for decades.

The Future Framework policy is the long-term model and vision for offshore renewable energy in Ireland. It sets out the pathway Ireland will take to deliver 20 GW (giga watts) of offshore wind by 2040 and at least 37 GW in total by 2050. For context, the maximum demand in Ireland today is about seven GW. Minister Ryan noted that, "Renewable energy projects are poised to revolutionise our economy, offering significant regional and national economic benefits while giving us more control over our energy sovereignty. Our offshore wind energy is potentially the largest domestic source of electricity that can replace volatile, imported fossil fuels. It also gives us our most exciting industrial opportunity for decades as we plan to not only power our own country but export our excess energy to power Europe."

Pipeline of Projects

To play its part in this story, our Generation and Trading team is delivering a pipeline of offshore wind projects that will help ESB to meet its target of five GW of renewable generation by 2030, and ultimately to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2040.

Working in ESB since 2007, Gary Connolly is now responsible for the development of our offshore wind projects in the UK. As a member of the asset development team within Generation and Trading, “we have the responsibility for any new generation assets that are being developed in Ireland and the UK,” he explains.

Our overall strategy is to achieve net zero by 2040. “To do that we have set ourselves an ambitious 2030 target of five GW of renewable electricity,” Connolly says, adding that about half of that five GW target will come from offshore wind generation.

Potential market leading energy source

“We have done very well as onshore wind and solar PV has expanded exponentially in recent years. But the technology with the potential to move the dial most is offshore wind. It can deliver very large-scale projects and therefore, large amounts of clean electrical energy.”

There are two reasons for this, he explains. “Wind is more consistent at sea and it’s possible to erect larger turbines offshore. For example, a single onshore turbine can produce four megawatts (MW), enough energy to power two thousand kettles at the same time, while an offshore turbine has double that capacity at about eight MW. Some newer designs can even deliver 14MW to 15MW, which is almost double that again.” 

“In offshore wind it’s really important to develop a business of scale,” Connolly explains. “You can’t be a small player if you want to deliver significant projects. The UK is one of the most mature offshore wind markets in the world, and it makes sense to work there. It offers us a very good opportunity to pick up learning and experience and bring it back home to Ireland.

We know have a very strong pipeline of UK offshore wind projects, Connolly adds. “The rationale is to build a portfolio of projects and learn from them. We have a stake in the Galloper project off the east coast of England. It has been operational for some years, and we have been able to see how it works. It has provided great learning for us.”

In 2019, ESB bought 50 per cent of the Neart na Gaoithe project off the east coast of Scotland from EDF Renewables. “That project is due to become operational at the end of this year, delivering almost 450 MW of clean electricity. Our objective there was to find out what it takes to build an offshore project. It’s been very challenging. Construction started just before Covid, and we had to contend with supply chain issues and so on. “

ESB has also acquired a 50 per cent share of the 1,080 MW Inch Cape offshore wind farm, also on Scotland’s east coast, from developer Red Rock Power and we are working on several other ESB-owned early-stage development projects.

An offshore wind farm being constructed in the water.

The Neart na Gaoithe offshore wind project in Scotland, our joint venture with EDF Renewables.


The benefits for Ireland

“One of our first projects here will be the Oriel offshore wind farm, off the coast of Louth. That's a 375 MW project which is being developed in partnership with Belgian company, Parkwind. The Oriel project team has just submitted an application for planning permission and the project is well placed to contribute towards Ireland's 2030 targets for offshore wind,” Connolly said.

The Irish Government’s recently published draft South Coast Designated Maritime Area Plan (DMAP) will offer further opportunities and ESB is working with Ørsted, a world leader in offshore wind, to develop those opportunities. The new draft South Coast DMAP identifies four proposed areas off the south coast of Ireland for offshore wind project development. These include a first area called Tonn Nua, off the coast of County Waterford, with a capacity to develop approximately 900 MWl – this will be the subject of a competitive auction later this year.

In addition to development off the south coast, the next frontier for offshore wind development will be the west coast. New floating technologies will be required to harvest the massive potential in these deep waters, he explains.

“At the moment, almost all offshore wind is fixed to some sort of foundation on the seabed. From 2030 onwards the opportunities will be for floating turbines in deeper waters. It’s not a new technology and has been around for more than thirty years in offshore oil rigs and other applications. Ireland has great potential for this type of approach. Our seabed is between seven and 10 times our land mass, depending on how you calculate it, and it can only be fully utilised by deploying floating technology.” Apart from the obvious environmental benefits, the new technology also offers employment and economic rewards. “Whilst wind farms don’t need a lot of people to run them there are big opportunities during the construction phase. Hundreds of people are involved in the construction of an offshore wind farm and over the lifetime of the project employment is created locally in areas such as crew transfer, catering, and accommodation,” explains Connolly.

Floating Offshore

Floating offshore wind is in its infancy, but the supply chain is more advanced in mainland Europe than in the UK, despite the latter being the more mature market, he explains. “This gives Ireland a potential competitive advantage, to develop a floating offshore wind manufacturing industry here that can export to both mainland Europe and UK markets.”

Looking further ahead he points out that the power generated by offshore wind farms could also be used for electrolysis (a process whereby water is split into its constituent parts – hydrogen and oxygen when an electric current is passed through it) to produce green hydrogen. He explains that one of its potential uses is to replace natural gas in conventional power stations to be used to act as a standby energy source when renewable power isn’t available.

To this end some of his colleagues are already working on a project to redevelop the Kinsale gas field as a hydrogen store in the medium term, he explains. “Offshore wind will play a critically important role in the decarbonisation of Ireland’s electricity system. We look forward to taking our learnings from the UK and applying them to large scale offshore wind projects here in Ireland.”