Ireland's offshore energy supplies are at a crossroads

Gas fields off the Cork coast have supplied Ireland with energy for decades but are coming to an end. Can wind energy replace them.
Ireland's offshore energy supplies are at a crossroads

More than 12 GW of offshore wind energy projects are at some stage of development off Ireland's coasts. Picture: iStock

The past and the future met this month as a significant milestone for offshore energy in Ireland was reached.

Earlier this month the last commercial volumes of natural gas arrived onshore in Cork from the Kinsale gas fields as PSE Kinsale Energy Limited (KEL) ceased production after 42 years of service and almost two trillion cubic feet of natural gas – double the original reserve estimate.

At the same time, work began planning an offshore wind project near the Kinsale Gas Fields that could produce up to 1GW of energy through 67 floating wind turbines.

Simply Blue Energy (Kinsale) has lodged a foreshore licence application to carry out survey works off the Cork coast as part of its Emerald Project which it says has the potential to replace 16.5% of current fossil fuel-derived electricity in Ireland.

Both developments provide some insight into where Ireland has been and where it is going in terms of energy production.

The Kinsale gas fields have been considered a major success for Ireland providing a high-quality supply of energy into our national grid. Up until 2015, the Kinsale field was Ireland’s only indigenous source of natural gas. Production began off the Old Head of Kinsale in 1978, with Ballycotton (1991), Southwest Kinsale (1999) and Seven Heads (2003) coming into production later.

One of the reservoirs was even repurposed to act as a storage facility allowing gas to be taken from the onshore network in periods of low demand and prices and pumped back to the onshore network in periods of high demand and prices. Work is now underway to decommission the rigs and other infrastructure that former part of the Kinsale gas fields.

It means that the country’s last source of natural gas, providing approximately three-fifths of Ireland’s electricity is from the Corrib field off the coast of Mayo. However, the Corrib Gas Field is also due to run out over the next decade. This means that Ireland will then have to import natural gas through interconnections from Scotland.

Wind energy could be Ireland's leading source of energy by 2025 - IWEA 

Climate change has put the focus on new ways of delivering energy in a sustainable manner. As a result, numerous offshore wind farms are being proposed including two major developments off Ireland's Southern coasts taking advantage of the open space. Onshore windfarms are now commonplace throughout the country and they will likely become a feature offshore over the coming years.

The IWEA said investments are needed in at least one Irish port to allow for the assembly and servicing of offshore wind turbines.
The IWEA said investments are needed in at least one Irish port to allow for the assembly and servicing of offshore wind turbines.

Sam Roch-Perks, managing director of Simply Blue Energy (Kinsale), said Ireland has massive unrealised potential for offshore wind energy production, particularly on the south and west coasts “With a sea area 10 times that of our landmass, we have a chance to catch and become a leader in offshore wind energy production both in Europe and globally, allowing us to become the ‘Green Gulf’ of renewable energy.”

Cork firm DP Energy Ireland (DPEI) is also planning a separate offshore wind development called Inis Ealga that would be located off Cork and Waterford and are targeting a 2026 start. The proposed site is approximately 54km wide, stretching from Dungarvan to Cork harbour and occupies an area of 925 km².

This week, the Irish Wind Energy Association said a report shows that Ireland is second only to Denmark in the share of electricity provided by wind energy. They said that 32.5 per cent of Ireland’s electricity came from wind power last year.

Dr David Connolly, CEO of the Irish Wind Energy Association, said with new wind farms coming on stream and the Government putting in place a planning system for offshore wind energy they believe that wind could be Ireland’s leading source of power by the end of 2025.

"With the right planning systems, on land and offshore, and the right policies there is no reason why wind energy should not be providing most of Ireland’s electricity by the middle of this decade," he said.

However, it is not all plain sailing for offshore wind farms. A report by Carbon Trust, published in May said that no port in Ireland had the right infrastructure to allow wind turbines to be assembled before being towed to their location offshore. The IWEA said that unless investments are made in at least one Irish port then this work could be lost to ports in the UK.

Organisations such as the Irish Offshore Operators' Association (IOOA) have also said that Ireland will continue to need gas even if we were to hit all climate action commitments. The IOOA said work must continue to find replacements sources of natural gas to replace Kinsale and Corrib. "We are now at a crossroads where we need to decide if we aim to repeat the success of Kinsale Head and Corrib by developing our own offshore natural gas resources or if we import gas from foreign countries," Mandy Johnston, CEO of the Association said.

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