It’s been more than 30 years since the first wind farm in Ireland started delivering power to the grid. The 21 wind turbines installed at Bellacorick, Co Mayo, had a generating capacity of 6.45MW when they came online in 1992. These days they contribute just 0.15% of the 4.5GW of installed onshore wind energy in Ireland.

It might seem that we’ve come a long way in terms of harnessing the power of renewables in Ireland, but the reality is we’ve only just scratched the surface. The Government’s Climate Action Plan has a commitment to bring more than 22GW of renewable energy onstream by 2030 – including 9GW of onshore wind, 8GW of solar, and 5GW of offshore wind energy.

We should be looking towards a net zero future where our power requirements are met by a mix of clean, green energy however, that future remains distant in the face of factors such as planning and regulatory delays and an underdeveloped national grid – which has a current load capacity of less than a third of that required to handle the renewables planned for the next half dozen years.

From a failure to provide grid connections for energy producers and large energy users, to challenges delivering the power where it’s needed when it’s needed – Ireland’s grid restrictions are a growing issue for businesses and consumers in Ireland.

They’re serious enough to call into question the commercial viability of proceeding with planned renewable energy projects, to cast doubt on our ability to decarbonise our economy according to the timeline set out in the Climate Action Plan and to negatively impact the reputation of Ireland as an attractive FDI location for large energy users, such as data centres.

The Irish economy needs some quick fixes to alleviate the challenges the national grid faces. Step forward private wires – network systems that allow businesses, industries, and even communities to link directly to an energy source, bypassing the traditional route through the national grid.

Private wire projects are common in many countries – but despite EU regulations requiring their facilitation, they remain illegal in Ireland.

A consultation on private wires was undertaken last year by the Government, with a new policy due this year. What can we expect from the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities (CRU), and what are the arguments for facilitating private wire? Taking the latter point first, the benefits are wide-ranging.

Private wires benefit the grid by reducing the demands of large energy users and ensuring that renewables are maximised. A manufacturing plant with a private wire connection to a wind or solar farm would always use renewables when they are available – the generating company would never be required to ‘switch off’, as can happen with the grid during periods of low demand.

They also provide certainty for energy producers that their electricity has a customer, and certainty for energy users around their carbon footprint.

Speaking on the Power & Responsibility podcast recently, Marcos Byrne, Policy Manager with Wind Energy Ireland, said: “A key benefit of private wires is that they offer a route to market or a method for large energy users to meet their electricity demand locally and from 100% renewable electricity – something that today’s Irish grid can’t offer.”

Mr Byrne also made the point that private wire projects can be used to bring jobs and investment to regional locations. He said: “At the minute you might be constrained on where you can locate these potential new industries in Ireland – you are kind of limited as to where grid capacity is available. What private wire offers is a bit more freedom. It means all of a sudden you can look at areas or regions around Ireland and consider locating some large energy users there, near enough to a town or a village and offer an opportunity for the community to grow.”

A positive outcome of the consultation would be government policy recognising the vital role private wires can play and a commitment to accelerating projects which demonstrate the potential to facilitate the production of renewables, relieve pressure on the grid, and create significant employment.

The alternative is we have a situation where wind-generated electricity can be plugged into the grid and nowhere else. It could not, for example, be used to directly power a data centre, to charge a large-scale battery array, or to create green hydrogen.

It can only go into a national electricity grid that, at times, will struggle to accommodate the power being produced meaning the renewable energy could be wasted.

If that seems counter-intuitive, it’s because it is. Private wire provides a sensible solution to ease pressure on the grid, encourage investment in renewables, and smooth the transition to a greener economy and its facilitation should be a priority.

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