Wind is Ireland’s main source of renewable power, but sometimes it fails to blow

Wind energy advocates must have been breathing sighs of relief as the breeze picked up last month. Figures from State utility Gas Networks Ireland show that wind generated up to 76 per cent of electricity used here in October, a sharp turnaround from previous months when it accounted for less than 1 per cent at times.

Wind is Ireland’s main source of renewable power. Its absence at different points this year, during a cold spell in the early months and again during the summer and part of the autumn, contributed to a squeeze on electricity supplies. This in turn sparked warnings about stretched capacity and potential power cuts.

Through October it accounted for 35 per cent of electricity needs, hitting 76 per cent at its peak. But its contribution also fell away to 1 per cent at times, illustrating once again a key problem with using it to generate power: it is not always there.

As a tiny island in the north Atlantic, Ireland is a naturally windy place, but as the last few months have illustrated, we cannot always rely on it to blow at speeds needed to generate electricity.

Consequently, it has to be backed up with conventional generation, with natural gas – which produces less carbon than over fuels – the obvious option. However, Gas Networks Ireland’s figures show that coal, a far more polluting energy source, continues to contribute strongly to electricity production.

That fuel accounted for 15 per cent of electricity used here last month, peaking at 25 per cent. The State company points out that coal continued to be called on “significantly more” than in 2020.

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That could be the case for some time to come as electricity demand continues to rise, particularly as the economy recovers from Covid-19 closures. This presents a problem for Government, which is committed to ending coal-fired generation by 2025 and to cutting greenhouse gas.

The Republic has hit few of its climate-change targets to date. One that it did hit last year was the commitment to generate 40 per cent of electricity needs from renewable sources.

Unfortunately we have to maintain it at that level if those targets are to mean anything. However, the evidence indicates that renewables have contributed less than 40 per cent of the electricity that we have so far used in 2021.


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