12/31/2011 02:14 pm ET

Ireland Wind Energy: Renewables Being Pushed In The Republic And Northern Ireland

From EarthTechling's Pete Danko:

We all knew Scotland was on a tear when it came to renewable energy development (leading some to wonder if the country was moving ahead too ambitiously). But a recent report on the feasibility of a Scottish-Irish offshore grid connection brought to light the significant efforts being made in Ireland and Northern Ireland to move beyond fossil fuels.

Now a big update from the state-owned grid operator EirGrid in Dublin is giving a full picture of how Ireland -- the Republic and the six counties that comprise Northern Ireland -- are pursuing their renewable goals even as economic uncertainty reigns. You can pretty much sum up their efforts in one word: wind.

As Pat Rabbitte, Ireland's minister for Communications, Energy & Natural Resources, noted in a statement [PDF], Ireland and Northern Ireland now have a total of 2,262 megawatts (MW) of renewable electricity capacity. And according to the EirGrid report [PDF], 1,971 of that -- 87 percent -- is from wind. This commitment to wind is even more remarkable when you consider that there were moments in the past year when wind’s penetration -- its percentage contribution to the grid -- approached and even topped 50 percent, and days when wind met 30 percent or more of the island's total electricity demand (see graph below).

That said, the wind doesn't always blow so strongly, and during the year ended in September 2011, wind provided a much smaller portion of EirGrid's energy needs -- 10 percent. That's why, in its bid to meet a goal of 40 percent renewables on the grid by 2020, the island is aiming to reach a total of 5,100 MW of installed wind capacity, with most of that coming offshore.

With extensive grid upgrades, including smart-grid advances, that vast wind capacity, officials believe, would allow wind to meet 37 percent of electricity demand, with hydro and marine power contributing enough to bring the countries to their 40 percent target.

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