Buying trap in the “big wind” energy myth
The news that Environment Minister Eamon Ryan has admitted that peat-fired power plants “could play a central role in providing emergency electricity” should be cause for general alarm.
It is an admission that we are in crisis. Energy planning and management in Ireland has failed and the cause is our wind energy policy.
Even more alarming was the Budget’s silence on this issue. In the face of an energy emergency that poses a fundamental threat to the prosperity and security of the state, there is not even a mention, let alone a column, about it. We are in danger of sleepwalking.
At 35%, Ireland now has the EU’s second highest dependency on wind power as a source of electricity. more than double the typical EU dependency level. Indeed, our national goal is to double this figure to 70% of electricity from renewable energies by 2030. However, on closer inspection, this apparent progressivity reveals two deep vulnerabilities.
First, where will those 70pc come from when the wind is not blowing? Contrary to Eamon Ryan’s assurance that “the wind blows most of the time in Ireland”, between 23 August and 5 September, and again last week, the wind hardly supplied electricity to the National Network. It is a very common phenomenon.
Ireland has a second and greater vulnerability. We are an island far removed from the deep power grids that cross Europe. If wind power from Denmark fails, then electricity can be quickly supplied by the huge hydropower projects of Scandinavia, nuclear power from France, solar power from Spain or gas from Germany. . In contrast, Irish interconnectors are tiny, barely able to supply 10% of our annual electricity needs and that of the UK, which already has its own energy problems.
The more we depend on wind power, the greater our vulnerability to the intermittent recurring nature of wind power. Ireland must always have access to the same amount of non-renewable energy to ensure a continuous supply in the absence of wind.
This can only be supplied by gas, as current and emerging energy storage technology can only provide a small amount of it for short periods of time. For example, the world’s largest battery storage facility in California can provide electricity to 100,000 homes – for five hours – a drop in the ocean for the two million Irish homes suffering from a wind drought two weeks.
Like many other countries, we have become prisoners of blind and doctrinal adherence to ill-conceived dogmatic policies. Ireland, in particular, is excessively dependent on wind power, which is unreliable, intermittent, expensive and unsustainable.
The seriousness of this problem cannot be overstated – it affects all of our most basic types of jobs, transportation, home heating and poverty. All of this will fuel increases in demands for wages and social protection at a time when inflation is climbing every week.
This leads to the biggest cause for alarm, namely the government’s complete failure to admit the scale and gravity of the problem or to have a long-term plan to deal with it. The answer to reopening the peat stations is a dressing for a patient in urgent need of major surgery.
This situation is made worse by the fact that the crisis has exposed the state’s recent inability to plan and execute large energy, water and public transport projects.
It is important to note that when it comes to large rapid projects, the State is now the national exception. Ireland is home to many of the world’s largest companies that regularly design, build and operate some of the largest and most complex facilities on the planet, often with budgets in the billions of euros.
These projects are always delivered on time and on budget, using the same planning and legal systems, experts and construction industry that we all use for the construction of warehouses, hotels, apartments and houses, but they all succeed contrary to the development of the state.
It wasn’t like that. This condition has a long history of dealing with major problems quickly and effectively. In the 1920s, when the state was very young and very poor, we built Ardnacrusha along with the national grid, then one of the largest hydropower projects in the world and the world’s first integrated national electricity system. In four years from concept to completion, the project was planned and delivered on time and on budget.
More recently, in four years, between 2001 and 2005, one of the largest urban road tunnel construction projects in Europe, the Dublin Port Tunnel, was built. This happened at the same time that the original Luas lines were built, in less than three years. During the same decade, we also built most of our national highway network.
These examples show that in the private and public sectors, the capacity, skills and experience exist to get things done.
Our energy policy has neither a realistic strategy nor a meaningful program for the transition of our energy economy. He is short-sighted fixed on distant, unrealistic and deeply unbearable targets.
We urgently need a transition strategy that will quickly provide gas import and gas production plants operating in a financially viable system. The fastest and safest way will be to use the existing eight main port-side power plants on the island using generators and specialized storage mounted on ships or barges. These are readily available from specialist suppliers to quickly deliver the medium term electricity supplies we need to sustain and grow our economy.
The shortcomings of those responsible for the management and planning of this fundamental aspect of our society are becoming increasingly evident. Urgent corrective measures, both institutional and technical, are now required for our current electricity supply policies and plans.
It is ironic that, as the world is submerged in baseless alarmism, we risk being blinded by a clear and present danger that is very real, but completely ignored.