Focusing on our energy priorities in an uncertain world

Earlier today, I joined with other energy industry leaders at Utility Week’s 2019 Ireland Power conference to discuss how we can work together as a sector to deliver a low carbon energy future here in Ireland. And given the uncertainty of the world we live in, achieving that future will be no mean feat.

Top of the agenda this morning were the topics of discuss Brexit and ISEM, and in particular how the B-word will impact the continued operation of Ireland’s all-island Single Electricity Market (SEM). So... no pressure!

Like other conference speakers, we do not see problems associated with a no-deal Brexit as having an overly disruptive impact on the sustained operation of Ireland’s cross-border energy market. However, we know that there is significant anxiety among customers, and in particular larger business energy users about what the future might hold in terms of continued supply and associated cost. So it was important for us that we had an opportunity today to discuss the potential impacts of a no-deal outcome to the Brexit process.

At SSE Airtricity, our core purpose is to responsibly provide the energy and related services needed now and in the future. Our aim to be a leading provider of energy and related services in a low-carbon world.

Whatever happens with Brexit, our role as an energy provider will be to continue to fulfil our core purpose. With that as our foremost priority, our view at SSE Airtricity is that we see no insurmountable barriers to us continuing to provide the energy our customers need, nor do we foresee any interruptions to customers’ supply of electricity or gas – a point that has been echoed by both Governments and the system operators responsible for ensuring secure energy supplies.

As part of the wider SSE group, we are strong supporters of the continuation of the Single Electricity Market and, in spite of all the current uncertainty, we continue to welcome the UK and Irish government’s ongoing commitment towards maintaining it.

The SEM has allowed customers to benefit from improved market efficiencies and system stability from shared resources across the island. It has successfully leveraged major investment in cleaner, greener and flexible forms of energy – SSE alone has invested over €2.5bn in low carbon energy infrastructure here since we entered Ireland’s energy market in 2008 – and we believe that an integrated market should be maintained post-Brexit to safeguard future investment.

That said, at SSE we believe we cannot remain fixated on Brexit to the point where the process distracts us from our pursuit of our important climate action objectives in years ahead. Our energy policy ambitions need to move forward, regardless of the status of the ongoing Brexit process.

To that end, we believe that Ireland must recommit to meeting its energy challenges for the years ahead to 2030 and thereby provide policy certainty to investors. In particular, we have a huge responsibility now to address the climate change challenge and in particular to take the steps necessary to help Ireland meet its new 2030 climate action targets.

Ireland has a real opportunity to make a step change in delivering renewable capacity to 2030 if we embrace our offshore wind energy potential. Our seabed is one of the largest in Europe; more than 10 times the size of our land mass – however Ireland lacks a policy framework to support offshore wind and there is currently no clear route to market.

As one of the world’s leading developers of offshore wind energy projects, we’re working hard to drive forward the case for offshore wind energy here. There is growing support for offshore wind in Ireland, and we have been encouraged to hear political representatives as well as EirGrid and the Regulator say they recognise the opportunity that offshore presents.

That’s why the publication last week by the cross-party Joint Oireachtas Committee of its landmark Climate Action Plan is so important. It has recommended setting a new 70% target of electricity generated by renewables by 2030, and calls for an ‘appropriate and ambitious’ target for the deployment of offshore wind capacity to be set by the same target date. It states clearly that developing offshore wind generation will become a priority in the next ten years, and so requires the urgent delivery of a new regulatory and licencing framework to enable this.

These recommendations echo our views at SSE, where we believe that in order to meet a new 70% target for 2030 we’ll need to deploy 10GW of renewable energy. Clearly offshore wind energy is only technology that can deliver renewable capacity at scale in order to meet this target – indeed, our own Arklow Bank Wind Park project has the potential to generate up to around 800MW of green energy. All we need are the confirmed signals from government in support of offshore wind energy and urgent action in the delivery of a clear policy framework including grid connection to get Ireland’s offshore sector started.

SSE stands ready to work with all stakeholders towards helping to implement the policy changes needed to realise it. If we unlock a route to market for offshore wind energy, we will help ensure that Ireland can become a leader once again in tackling climate change.

About the author

Stephen Gallagher Director of Business Energy

Stephen Gallagher is Director of Business Energy with SSE Airtricity, Ireland’s second largest energy utility and leading provider of wind power. SSE Airtricity Business Energy provides energy and related services to commercial customers in Ireland and Northern Ireland, from SMEs to large scale energy users and to government agencies. Stephen was formerly Head of Finance and Pricing with SSE Airtricity. He is a graduate of UCD and a Fellow Chartered Accountant.

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