Working within the difficult and expensive renewable energy sector, Airtricity has been one of Ireland’s greatest business success stories of the past decade.
Airtricity can be traced back to 1997 when Eddie O’Connor founded Future Wind Partnership and successfully entered the Irish electricity market as the first supplier of wind-generated energy.
Trading as Airtricity, the company became the leading independent competitor in the Irish marketplace, developing and constructing wind parks and trading in renewable electricity and green credits.
Airtricity was sold to E.on and Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) for a combined sum of €2.2bn in 2008 and is now a wholly-owned division of SSE plc, the broadest-based energy utility in the UK.
The Top 40 FTSE-listed company has over 11,000MW of electricity generation, distributes electricity to 3.5 million homes and businesses and supplies electricity, gas and related services to around 10 million customers.
The company has invested over €1.7bn in energy infrastructure in Ireland, of which half relates to the period since Airtricity became part of SSE in 2008.
Allied to Airtricity’s investment in infrastructure, its branding and marketing in recent years has been equally impressive, with its sponsorship of Irish domestic football among the most prominent.
Today Airtricity/SSE Ireland is the largest independent energy provider, supplying over 750,000 domestic and commercial gas, electricity and home energy services to customers in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Almost one quarter (24%) of the electricity Airtricity supplies to its customers is generated from renewable sources and generation of the electricity supplied to all Airtricity customers results in 31% less CO2 emissions per MWh than the energy supplied to the average customer on the island of Ireland.
Airtricity is powered by SSE, with renewable energy from the largest wind generation portfolio on the island of Ireland.
Over 500MW of renewable energy from 25 wind farms powers Airtricity’s greener electricity supply – including power from Ireland’s largest wind farm, the 84MW Meentycat Wind Farm in Co Donegal.
SSE Ireland is overall the third largest generation capacity owner in Ireland, with 1,568MW (around 13% of installed capacity) in operation, including 500MW of wind farm capacity.
SSE Ireland is currently constructing a 460MW combined cycle gas turbine at Great Island, Co. Wexford. Expected to be commissioned in 2014, the modern gas-fired power plant will replace the existing 240MW fuel oil unit at the site, significantly decarbonising electricity generation in Ireland.
The construction of the new power station in Wexford has been made in tandem with the purchase by SSE plc in October of Endesa Ireland Ltd from Endesa Generacion SA for a total cash consideration of €308mn, plus an estimated €53mn for working capital.
In addition to the transaction amount, SSE expects to incur a further €137mn on the same power station currently under construction at Great Island, Co. Wexford.
The wider wind energy sector in Ireland has been primed to become a driver of the Irish economy for years, but problems with grid access, funding shortages and planning regulations have delayed progress.
By meeting its 2020 targets, which are laid out in the EU’s National Renewable Energy Action Plan (NREAP), a study by Deloitte found that €9bn of capital investment is required with the estimated creation of 10,000 jobs.
There are severe penalties for not reaching commitments and such fines are designed to outweigh the spending required to reach these goals.
Ireland is committed to ensuring that, by 2020, 16% of all energy consumed in the State comes from renewables.
Within that pledge, the Government has set a target of 40% of electricity generation to come from renewable sources.
The most recent figures from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) show that in 2010, the renewable contribution to electricity was 14.6% – wind alone accounted for 11.3% of the total figure.