It is likely to be some time before solar farms become a common sight in rural Ireland, with Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton saying commercial solar power is still relatively expensive, and it has not won out at auctions or successfully competed for any Renewable Energy Feed In Tariff schemes.
He predicted offshore or onshore wind will again dominate the next auctions, in 2019, but said, “We may see the start of some inroads made by solar power.
“It is still more expensive, but those costs are coming down very dramatically.”
There is more than 1 gigawatt (power output equivalent to about 431 wind turbines) of solar photovoltaic (solar PV) with planning permission, and over 1.5 gigawatt with grid contracted or in process, ready to progress with the aid of support.
However, the Irish Solar Energy Association has said solar developers were struggling to get projects over the line.
Speaking in the Dáil before Christmas, Minister Bruton said solar PV generation accounted for 0.03% of energy contribution to gross electricity consumption in Ireland at the end of 2017, after a three-fold increase over the previous 12 months.
He said the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS) was approved by Government in July, 2018, because commercial renewable technologies are still not viable without financial support.
The Scheme has been designed to deliver Ireland’s contribution towards the binding EU-wide renewable energy target of 32% out to 2030.
The Government recognises the important role that solar PV can play as part of a mix of renewable generation, and the RESS will offer a potential pathway for solar PV projects at scale
Minister Bruton welcomed reports of falling costs of renewable technologies, including solar PV.
The EU lifted restrictions on Chinese solar imports last autumn, and this could bring down the cost of large-scale solar projects here by almost 10%, said David Maguire, head of the Irish Solar Energy Association representative body,
He said that the change could be particularly helpful in Ireland.
Meanwhile, Minister Bruton revealed in the Dáil that 3,000 applicants had expressed an interest in the SEAI-led pilot scheme of rooftop solar microgeneration for householders.
It targets domestic self-consumption through a grant scheme for solar PV installation and battery storage.
About 200 rebate claims were already in the process for payment.