THE CIRCULAR

Ireland’s First Large Scale Solar Farm, Highlights Absence of Solar Energy Production

Image by Zsuzsa Bóka from Pixabay

Last week saw Ireland’s first large-scale solar farm opening near Ashford, in County Wicklow. Millvale solar farm can produce 8MW of energy to the grid and will provide enough energy to power 3600 homes per year. This is the first significant addition of solar energy to the energy grid as part of the Climate Action Plan, in which the government has set a target of producing 2.5GW of solar energy by 2030. This lofty goal will be a difficult task to reach as it will require over 300MW of solar energy to be added to the grid every year for the next 8 years. The government has struggled to diversify Ireland’s fuel mix as Ireland has been heavily reliant on the onshore wind to produce the nation’s green energy. For many years now there have been numerous solar projects looking to become operational, awaiting government approval. Solar farmers will be hoping that the opening of Millvale will be the starting pistol that finally activates the solar energy sector in Ireland.

The prospect of a profitable solar farming industry in Ireland would bring financial relief, especially to rural communities that have been experiencing failing agriculture businesses and job losses due to the phasing out of fossil fuel power plants. At the moment, Ireland is still overly dependent on archaic, carbon-heavy fuel sources to keep up with energy demands.  Ireland’s fuel mix has been consistently reliant on gas importation, and with the growing hostilities over energy supplies due to the Ukrainian war coupled with a high demand from a resurgent economy, the price of energy is alarmingly high. The introduction of large-scale solar energy projects and new technologies such as battery units will help Ireland become somewhat self-sufficient in energy production, and ultimately protect Irish consumers from these energy price hikes.
 
One burning question is; why has it taken Ireland so long to introduce solar energy? In comparison with a similar EU state such as Denmark , our output of solar energy is embarrassing low. Denmark produced 200MW by 2012; 8 years earlier than their initial target of 2020. Denmark then reached 790MW of solar energy in late 2015, with a total of 3,400MW expected to be installed by 2030. This is a bleak comparison with Ireland’s almost non-existent solar output; having only added 8MW of solar energy as of last Friday. A lack of funds being made available and a directionless vision from recent Irish governments have stalled and curtailed Ireland’s solar energy project. A major cause of this issue can be attributed to a lack of connectivity for solar farms to reach substations in order to feed the green energy onto the grid.
 
The diversification of renewable energy is a crucial requirement for Ireland’s decarbonisation project. The over-reliance on wind power for green energy output comes under strain when there is a lack of wind and the reliance falls back on gas to pick up the slack. The introduction of solar energy to the Irish fuel mix would help shoulder some of the burden when the wind energy dips. The inaction of the Irish government to mobilize and create a diverse fuel mix is worrying, as we are falling behind the rest of the world not only in the energy production of solar but also offshore wind. Solar energy is a vital source of clean energy in Ireland’s fight for decarbonisation as 1MW of solar energy produced can offset 600 tonnes of greenhouse emissions. 
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