GUEST BLOG: Is the sun going down for wind energy?

Life sciences and energy | Tue 17 Nov | Author – Business & Finance

By Michael Bradley, director of Greenroom Investments

Environmental, economic, and financial – the benefits to further solar energy development in Ireland are endless – so why has the Government favoured the unpopular wind option?

As the renewables industry in Ireland waits with ‘bated breath’ for the publication of Alex White’s white paper on the role alternative technologies could have in developing renewable energy, we are left wondering why our Government has been so slow to progress in this area and why they are so behind the curve of our European counterparts?

There is a growing urgency for action in this area as we’re under growing pressure to increase the amount of renewable electricity we produce, reduce our CO2 emissions and decrease our dependence on imported fossil fuels.

It is hoped that the white paper will go some way to address our apparent fixation on wind energy, which appears wholly unpopular with local communities and is hindering us from reaching our 2020 target for renewable energy.

Certainly throughout Europe there is no debate – the role of solar energy as a component of electricity supply is firmly established.

Earlier this year Minister White agreed that a greater focus on renewable power is needed in Ireland “given the emerging policy context and the requirements of the EU internal market for electricity”.

And it’s not like we don’t have the infrastructure and climate for the rapid rollout of a fully functioning solar initiative throughout the country. It would probably surprise many to know that south of a line from Dublin to Kenmare, Ireland’s potential for solar electricity generation is as good as that of Germany’s.

The difference is that while Germany has installed tens of thousands of megawatts of solar, currently generating 6% of its electricity with plans to go to 20%, we have yet to install even one megawatt.

Straight thinking and determined action are needed in the Department of Energy if the very real benefits that solar electricity can bring to the homes and the people of Ireland are to be realised.

… we need the Government to follow the example of their European colleagues and put in place a support mechanism similar to that which already exists for the production of wind power

What are the benefits of promoting the development of solar electricity in Ireland? Since it is modular it is ideal for use for small-scale (e.g. farm or domestic) applications where each owner becomes an electricity producer, using whatever electricity is needed at the time, selling the surplus to the grid and purchasing from the grid when no renewable energy is available. Also, it doesn’t ‘hum’, a common criticism of wind turbines.

To facilitate this development however solar energy needs to be added to the qualifying list of the renewable energy feed-in tariff, which is currently limited to sources of renewable energy including biomass and wind. With feed-in tariffs excess power produced by qualifying sources of energy is fed back into the national grid in return for a small rebate from the State.

A case can also be made for allowing tax reliefs currently available to other forms of renewable energy to be extended to solar energy.

As well as the obvious environmental benefits the economic and socio-economic benefits are multi-faceted. In their Green Paper submission to the Government the Irish Solar Energy Association (ISEA) estimated that at least 3,000 jobs could be created with the installation of 500 megawatts of solar energy in Ireland over the next five years.

From our own perspective, Greenroom Investments would be able deploy up to €250m in solar plants in Ireland. But before any of this can be done, we need the Government to follow the example of their European colleagues and put in place a support mechanism similar to that which already exists for the production of wind power.

So what is the case for solar plants in Ireland?

1. Solar plants need not take up valuable farmland. They can be small roof op arrangements, which have been hugely successful in the UK, whereby the property owners can install the equipment themselves or indeed lease their roof space to a ‘solar fund’. In both instances the household can use the energy generated during daylight hours for free as well as selling it to the grid.

Typical returns on investment in this area in the UK can be as much as 10% pa. If this sounds too complicated, companies such as Greenroom Investments enabler others to invest indirectly in this area and achieve typical fixed returns of 8.5% pa whilst taking a back seat.

2. Solar energy is a clean alternative to fossil fuels and nuclear power, and it’s silent. Solar power can be captured anywhere without creating noise pollution that might otherwise upset neighbours and wildlife. Thus, no there is no danger of damaging our already damaged environment further and ordinary people can be part of the Green initiative, lower their carbon footprint, and save our planet from harmful greenhouse gases.

Photo (above): Aaron

About the blogger

Michael BradleyAs well as being a member of the Greenroom Investment board of directors, Michael Bradley is the founder and CEO of Solar 21 Renewable Energy Ireland (Solar 21), and Clear Financial.

Michael holds an engineering degree, ONC and HND in mechanical engineering from Brunel University and has, in addition to ALIA (Dip) and QFA, over 20 years’ experience in financial planning, pension, investments and entrepreneurship. He started his career working within a global financial services group, where he gained valuable experience in investments and wealth management.

In 2002 he established his own successful investment and insurance intermediary in Ireland servicing clients nationwide, before establishing Solar 21 in 2010.