Wind Energy - Ireland
Wind energy production has increased in Ireland over the last two decades or so, with important environmental, economic and social impacts.
- The primary environmental benefit from wind energy is that it does not emit greenhouse gases during operation. Electricity production is the largest single sector emitting fossil fuel CO2 at present in Ireland. Renewable wind energy in the electricity sector therefore plays a major role in mitigation greenhouse gases.
- Economic benefits from wind energy include employment, lower bills arising from imported fossil fuels, a stable income for landowners who lease their land for wind farm development, income for local authorities through rates, and increased competition in the energy market which helps to lower costs for end users. For instance, a report from the Irish Wind Energy Association in 2016 claimed that 300 jobs a year are being created in the wind energy industry with projections for the creation of 1,100 new jobs by 2020. This would add to the 4,400 jobs already existing in the wind energy industry that year (IWEA, 2016).
- Ireland’s energy import dependency was 67% in 2018, decreasing from an average of 89% between 2001 and 2015. This improvement was mostly due to the beginning of production of gas from the Corrib gas field, located off the west coast of Ireland. However, there was also an increasing use of indigenous renewable wind energy to support this reduction. Despite this improvement, Ireland is still one of the most import dependent countries in the EU (SEAI, 2020). Diversifying our energy supply enhances energy security by reducing both demand for imported fossil fuels and also exposure to price variations. In addition, reducing fossil fuel imports saves money.
- One of the primary objections to wind farms in Ireland is the visual impact that they have on the surrounding landscape. Local communities are often concerned that wind farms will damage the landscape, reducing uninterrupted views and potentially damaging tourism to the area as a result.
- The primary environmental concerns associated with wind energy relate to the impacts on species (primarily birds and bats) and to habitat disturbance. Wind farms can harm birds in three possible ways: disturbance, habitat loss (both direct and/or indirect) and collision.
- The impact of intermittent or variability is unavoidable due to the nature of wind energy. However, it can be reduced through the use of flexible fossil fuel generation capacity (as a backup), interconnectors and energy storage.
- The primary difficulty associated with wind energy is to find a way to store the energy once produced, for example, in batteries. When wind stops blowing we have to resort to flexible fossil fuel-based power plants as an alternative. A key step will be finding a way to store excess energy production when the wind does not blow if we are to depend on wind energy in the future. A commercially viable solution for wind energy storage is not yet available however (Oireachtas Library & Research Service, 2018).
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