• Wind Power
  • Onshore Wind
  • Wind Turbines
  • Renewables

New Power Auctions to Unlock Ireland's Wind Market Limbo

Aug 28, 2018

Wind Energy

Another significant global wind energy market is making the policy switch to competitive power contract auctions. Ireland’s new Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS) provides much-needed market certainty to the wind industry following the discontinuation of the country’s fixed-price renewable energy feed-in tariff (RE-FIT) policies in 2016. Since then, the Irish wind market has been in limbo and development of new projects largely stalled.

Ireland’s Department of Communications Climate Action and Environment (DCCAE) announced in late July that its RESS should see a first auction round in 2019. Four or five auction rounds are likely to be conducted between 2019 and 2025 to capture continuing reductions in levelized cost of energy (LCOE) for wind and other renewables. The DCCAE cites research from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) stating that with every doubling of cumulative installed capacity for onshore wind investment costs fall by 21%, solar PV by 35%, and offshore wind by 14%.

How Much New Wind Should Ireland Expect?

The amount of new wind capacity expected to be built under the new policy in Ireland is not yet certain. According to the DCCAE, the policy goals will be focused on total gigawatt hours of new clean energy electricity versus set megawatt or gigawatt nameplate capacities. The proposal—which requires approval from EU regulators—will be for the procurement of around 11,000 GWh-12,000 GWh, approximately 55% of Ireland’s total electricity generation needs. A rough estimate from DCCAE is that an additional 4,500 MW of onshore wind capacity would achieve the gigawatt-hour target. According to Guidehouse Insights, Ireland had 3,196 MW of wind installed by the end of 2017. If this new 4,500 MW was entirely satisfied by wind, that would be an average of 375 MW annually through 2030—a modest amount of new annual wind power and similar to installations in recent years. In 2017, 426 MW was installed, the year before had 383 MW.

However, there will be an emphasis on the diversification of renewables technologies supported in the RESS auctions to avoid overreliance on onshore wind. Due to the lower capacity factors of solar PV, the DCCAE says that if solar PV alone were procured it would require 3 times the nameplate megawatt capacity total of new wind, or over 13.5 GW.

Next Steps Carry Cautious Optimism

Next steps in 2019 are likely a first auction securing onshore wind. Gigawatt-hour caps on onshore wind could help encourage the technology-neutral auctions to also contract solar and offshore wind on top of more established onshore wind.

Represented by the Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA), the wind industry reacted with cautious optimism, calling it a welcome first step. However, it said the goal of reaching 55% renewables by 2030 was not ambitious enough compared to other countries. “There will be some disappointment that the Government seems to be aiming for a target to get 55% of our electricity from renewables by 2030,” said Dr. David Connolly, CEO of IWEA. He added that Ireland has the resources to reach over 70% renewables penetration and that countries of a similar size, like Denmark, plan to achieve 100% by the same date.

The 426 MW of new wind capacity installed in 2017 was supported under the outgoing RE-FIT policy, which pays €7.2/kWh ($0.81/kWh) for plants less than 5 MW and €6.95/kWh ($0.78/kWh) for plants over 5 MW. Applications for new projects have been closed since 2017 and remaining wind plants installed in 2018 and 2019 are relying on construction extensions ending December 2019.