Renewable Energy Sources of Electricity (RES-E) – Wind is not the only option.

Dr. Anthony White gave an interesting investigation into the currently prevailing ideology that wind energy is the only solution to meeting our renewable electricity target of 40% for 2020. His contention was that wind is not the only option, that there are credible alternatives to wind and that it is not too late for Ireland to change its policy and investigate the alternatives in time for 2020.

Dr. White began by noting that from 2000 to date, Ireland has made a massive switch from reliance on coal and peat sourced electricity to natural gas. He commended Ireland’s CO2 savings in doing so. He pointed out that since the recession began in 2008, electricity consumption in Ireland has reduced dramatically. Due to this reduction, no new electricity generating plants or turbines are actually required to satisfy demand within the Irish market. Were it not for EU directives on the quantity of renewables used to generate electricity we would not need to worry about the status-quo in national electricity production.

On the subject of “spinning reserve” (the backup required within any electricity generation network), Dr. White highlighted that a network operator needs to build-in as much spinning reserve as its largest infeed into the network. This is required to prevent black-outs and guarantee consistency of supply in case of failure of that infeed. Because wind is not despatchable (i.e. it cannot be switched on as required) the network has to match the wind supply with spinning reserve. The example given was the event of maximum demand on a still day: a calm, cold week day in the winter. As the quantity of wind energy included in the network is increased, the spinning reserve required to match it must also be increased. He noted that the issue of building in more spinning reserve could be solved by an interconnector to a neighbour. As a backup plan, not for export.

One of the main points of Dr White’s lecture was the possibility of converting an existing solid-fuel power station (such as the coal-burning Moneypoint station in Co. Clare) to bio-mass, in the form of wood pellets. Without ANY further modification to the Irish grid such as additional pylons or sub-stations, this conversion could allow us to reach our renewables target for 2020. One possible drawback of burning wood pellets is that currently Ireland cannot produce enough to supply the proposed conversion. We would have to import a large quantity of the pellets leaving us exposed to the fluctuations of the commodity on the markets. There would be no change to the security of supply over reliance on imported coal. However, he referenced the Paterson Index on the suitability of locations for forest growth and stated that Ireland has double the production capacity of Finland for timber.  Local, renewable production of timber for wood pellets would ensure security of supply, reduce the cost of supply and create local, sustainable jobs.

In addition, Dr. White suggested Ireland has other options available in the quest to reach 40% electricity production from renewables. Two possibilities are the fitment of PhotoVoltaic (PV) solar panels to houses and reducing consumption by means of retro-fitting insulation and simply educating people to reduce consumption. If consumption is reduced, the target of 40% becomes 40% of a lower amount of energy, making it easier to attain.

In conclusion, Dr. White reiterated that a wind-only policy of meeting renewables targets might not be the best option; biomass conversion of Moneypoint is certainly worth considering; residential actions have a key role to play and that finally, it is not too late to change direction on meeting renewables targets.

About the speaker*

Dr Anthony White (MBE) has over thirty years’ experience in international power markets and the low carbon economy. He was a founder of Climate Change Capital, was lead analyst at James Capel, Head of Strategy at National Grid Group and Head of Power teams at Kleinwort Benson and Citigroup. He has participated in numerous UK Governmental advisory groups on energy, was a non-executive Director of the UK’s National Renewable Energy Centre and is a non-executive Director of the Crown Estates.

About the event

Speaker: Dr. Anthony White, BW Energy Ltd

Date: 7-5-2014

Hosted by: Engineers Ireland, 22 Clyde Road, Dublin 4

*  Engineers Ireland website Event link