Ireland Prepares To Feed UK Wind Power Appetite

Wind power works best if it comes from a wide range of sites and is part of a diverse mix of energy sources. This helps smooth peaks in production and gives grid operators flexibility in managing load.

That’s what makes the new agreement between Element Power Ireland and National Grid UK on a grid connection, which could send up to 10 terawatt-hours of wind-generated power from Ireland to the United Kingdom annually, so important.

Irish renewables

image via EirGrid

Well, that and the fact that the U.K. – enmeshed now in an intra-govenrment row over support levels for domestic wind development – badly needs the power to meet its clean energy targets.

Element Power has dubbed the grid-connect scheme “Greenwire.” The company envisions linking together 3,000 megawatts of wind power in the Midlands of Ireland and sending it to the U.K. through two cables running at the floor of the Irish Sea by 2018.

That amount of power would represent 10 percent of the 30,000 MW of renewable generating capacity the U.K. needs to meet its 2020 renewables target of 15 percent clean energy.

“Optimizing the natural renewable resource around our islands would benefit us all,” U.K. Energy Minister Charles Hendry said in a statement. “As we face a future where we will be increasingly dependent on imported fossil fuels and understandable concerns about costs, it is absolutely sensible to look at how we can share the clean, green energy which our neighbours have in abundance.”

And how much the Brits themselves might be able to produce is right now looking a little sketchy; the Element-National Grid announcement came as Britain’s coalition government continued to send mixed signals regarding its commitment to onshore wind development on its own home turf.

According to reports, Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne is seeking a 25 percent cut in subsidies. Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey, a Liberal Democrat, has apparently agreed to cuts of around 10 percent, reflecting the declining cost of the developments.

An announcement of a deal on the matter was expected in Parliament on Tuesday, but was delayed for a second time, and MPs are now scheduled to be out for summer recess until September. All this government fiddling, Reuters reported, was “risking further delays in projects that will help Britain meet its legally binding climate change targets.”

So perhaps it will be Ireland to the rescue.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.