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Blueprint for offshore wind in Ireland 2020-2050: A Research Synthesis

Cummins, Val; McKeogh, Eamon; Murphy, Jimmy; Dinh, Van Nguyen; Jessopp, Mark; Leahy, Paul

This document is a synthesis of the research conducted by the EirWind project team, over a two-year period from August 2018 to July 2020. It presents a blueprint for consideration by policymakers. The approach to this research synthesis places the market as the central factor for analysis. As previously stated, Ireland has an abundant wind resource, requiring export markets to realise its considerable potential. The market opportunities described in this report, start with national targets for 70% of renewable electricity by 2030. In response, the Arklow project and the seven ‘relevant projects’ identified by the government this year, will be the game-changers; - the projects that will pave the way for future development. Effective delivery of the Renewable Energy Support Scheme (RESS) is central to this in the early 2020s. There is a considerable learning curve to be achieved in the decade ahead, to get things right for these projects which are at various stages of development.

EirWind analysed three scenarios for production zones in the Irish Sea, the Celtic Sea and the Atlantic. The bottom-fixed offshore wind scenario in the Irish Sea, for a 500MW farm coming on-stream in 2025, is the most cost-effective with an estimated range of €51-66/MWh. Floating offshore wind in the Celtic Sea shows considerable potential; an estimated Levelized Cost of Energy (LCoE) range of €63-90/MWh for circa 1GW coming on stream in 2035. For the Atlantic zone, the wind resource yields a high capacity factor (62%). The estimated LCoE range (€75-107/MWh for 1GW from c.2035) is higher than the Irish and Celtic Sea scenarios, primarily due to the harsher conditions reducing the number of weather windows available to complete offshore operations.
EirWind findings indicate that there is a route to market for up to 25GW of offshore wind in Ireland, with 6.5GW to 7.3GW possible by 2030, taking development scenarios for existing electricity transmission and future green hydrogen production into consideration. The potential is possibly much greater, but whether the opportunity exists for 30, 40, or even 50GW depends on an ability to act now. The studies synthesised here suggest that pathways for FLOW and hydrogen need to be enabled, in parallel with support for the relevant projects, in the next 18 to 24 months. The forthcoming auction rounds for offshore wind will provide a competitive landscape for BFOW. A timeline should also be specified for technology specific FLOW auctions taking into consideration the pre-commercial status of this technology.
Furthermore, there is a need to initiate a market development plan for a hydrogen economy which extends globally, as presented in this report. This will be a key enabler for offshore wind development at scale. Hydrogen has raced to the top of the green energy and green recovery agendas, in a manner that was not anticipated, when the EirWind research programme was being planned just three years ago. The European Union (EU) Hydrogen Strategy, published at the end of the EirWind project, states that from now to 2030 investments in electrolysers of the order of €24 to €42 billion would be required and this will support the hydrogen market development process by making hydrogen more competitive. In addition, investments of €65 billion are expected for the development of hydrogen distribution and storage.
EirWind results show that hydrogen production costs of less than €5/kg are possible in an integrated production system which couples a 500MW wind farm to a large scale hydrogen production facility. The additional delivery costs result in a final cost to customers of €8-€9/kg of hydrogen which begins to look competitive with respect to petrol and diesel if a decarbonising subsidy is introduced. For the first step on the offshore wind hydrogen pathway, it is recommended that a 100MW pilot hydrogen facility, linked to FLOW is supported. This pilot could also demonstrate how green hydrogen can be used for domestic industrial processes, such as oil refining and cement manufacturing, for fuel cell electric vehicles in targeted transport sectors, and as an alternative to natural gas for home heating to complement electrification. The big prize is envisaged as bulk green hydrogen production from FLOW, (e.g. off the west coast of Ireland), for export. This would position Ireland as a net energy exporter whilst achieving long-term energy security.
The challenges pertaining to such a growth trajectory for offshore wind, are described below in the Blueprint, and in more detail in the supporting technical reports and studies (e.g. studies on co-existence with fisheries, Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), data, and social licence to operate). The challenges are not insurmountable, but they require government resources in order to be addressed in such a way that principles of sustainable development and community engagement are at the core. Therefore, the critical path to offshore wind development is contingent on decisions the government will make now, on investing in more personnel for key government departments and agencies. Up to 30 new personnel are recommended to be recruited in the next 18 to 24 months.
This EirWind research synthesis strongly suggests that this is a sectoral investment worth making. The socio-economic study indicates that in 2030, 6.5-7.3GW of domestic offshore wind development would support between approximately 12,000 and 13,500 direct and indirect jobs in the domestic supply chain, with a total Gross Value Added (GVA) impact of circa €2bn for the period 2020-2029. Peripheral coastal communities could be transformed by new employment opportunities, however, the development of the supply chain needs to be undertaken in such a way that as much local content as possible can be secured. This study recommends at least three port clusters as catalysts for jobs and enterprise in the Irish Sea (e.g. Rosslare), the Celtic Sea (e.g. Cork Harbour) and the Atlantic coast (e.g. Shannon Foynes and Killybegs).
A national route to market study should be prioritised, including a cost benefit analysis of national investment scenarios for large-scale interconnectors and hydrogen. Regional plans are further envisaged for the three production zones (Irish Sea, Celtic Sea and Atlantic). These should contain the timelines for roll-out of commercial activities and pilot and demonstration-scale projects. At the local level, investment in key ports is a critical enabler; coupled with the opportunity to attract Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) e.g. into the Shannon region as a manufacturing hub.
Exchequer funding and private investment will play an important role in providing the financial support to fully exploit the opportunity that the emerging offshore wind sector in Ireland represents for the taxpayer, the labour force and consumers. Given the strategic national interest of offshore wind, a task force is recommended to mobilise and coordinate priority actions in the months ahead. Route to market needs to be prioritised, to decide on how Ireland, with an offshore wind energy resource, far greater than it can consume, will become an energy exporter. European funding can also be leveraged, as the Green Deal provides a stimulus to rebuild the economy post COVID. The pandemic, climate and biodiversity crises, which served as the backdrop to the EirWind project, have accelerated at unprecedented rates. Offshore wind is only one part of the sustainability solution, however, it can play a major role in the future security and wellbeing of Irish people, for generations to come.

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