From turf to turbines Irish energy goes green

A few years ago, just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, I blogged about a little known ‘cub’ of the oft-described ‘Celtic Tiger:’ the fast-growing Irish wind energy industry. As the calendar once again approaches March 17th, and everyone in the U.S. prepares to celebrate all things Irish tomorrow, I felt it was high time for a wind update from the Emerald Isle and their British neighbors.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Ireland’s first utility-scale wind farm in County Mayo.  In those two decades, Ireland has installed more than 1700 megawatts (MW) of wind.  As a result, tiny little Ireland ranks 16th in the world for installed capacity.  Even though they slipped from 15th in 2009, they nearly kept pace with the global average of 21 percent increase in installed capacity in 2011 despite continued economic turmoil.

Ireland’s neighbor across the Irish Sea, Great Britain, experienced even greater growth last year with 3 percent of the world’s new installed capacity in 2011 (noted in the chart to the left). The UK’s numbers are sure to grow even more in 2012 as the world’s largest offshore wind farm, Walney, began operations last month with more than 100 turbines generating enough power for 320,000 homes. Moreover, Britain’s offshore capacity could double in the next few years as 15 offshore farms are currently operating off the coasts of Britain and 13 more are planned.

While it seems inevitable today that island nations like Ireland and the UK would harness offshore and coastal winds, this is a recent phenomenon. Ireland has harvested turf from peat bogs for millenia and both Ireland and Britain have mined coal for more than a century.  It’s fair to say that a culture as closely associated with green as Ireland is has only begun to green their energy production in the past few decades.  One place in Ireland where the evolution from turf to coal to turbines is visible is near the tiny town of Drumshanbo, Co. Leitrim, Ireland.

There used to be a rich coal seam beneath the ancient peat bogs on Kilronan Mountain. It took only a century of mining to clear the usable coal, and the last mine closed in 1995. Before, during and after the coal was mined, local residents would cut and dry the turf on top of the ridge as fuel for household fires.  Today a small wind farm sits on the land above the closed mine. On a visit there last summer, I found chunks of coal among the rubble wherever the ground has been disturbed as well as evidence of turf cutting in and among the turbines.  This little corner of Ireland graphically illustrates how polluting sources energy are giving way to a clean and green energy future – inspiration indeed for those who want to celebrate Irish history, heritage and clean energy leadership on March 17th!


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Im afraid you are a bit out of touch with what is happening in Ireland.
We have just got rid of a corrupt administration comprised of a coalition of Fianna Fail Party and Green Party who between them almost bankrupt our lovely country. Fianna Fail depended on Greens to stay in power and gave in to all their obsessive demands ( high targets for wind energy being just one of them) Between the two parties they managed to send the economy down the tubes and were voted out of power over a year ago. Not one Green got re-elected and the party is now decimated .

The new administration is now trying to undo the damage done to Ireland by greedy developers over the Celtic Tiger decade . Amongst other reforms, the previous government’s uncritical relationship with the wind industry has been ended. The new Irish administration has cut subsidies for wind power, stopped fees for curtailment etc. |As in the UK, local county councils and local people are increasingly turning against wind farms because of their negative impact on beautiful landscapes, their expense, and their unreliability. Happy St Patricks Day .

Comment by James O’Brien on March 18, 2012 7:00 pm

Although I don’t call Ireland home (yet), I do follow Irish politics and policies rather closely and was pleased to learn that Ireland’s new leading party, Fine Gael, announced a 33% renewable energy goal by 2025 just six years ago suggesting they are (or recently were) as supportive of renewable energy choices as their predecessors

I also noticed considerable outcry about the previous government granting exploration licenses to oil & gas companies that gives them excessive tax breaks As such, I suspect the recent elections were more likely a result of the still-weak global economy, and not a referendum on renewable energy, per se.

From a random sampling of newspapers, it appears that Ireland (like many other countries) has its share of both supporters and and opponents of wind energy

Happily, Ireland is on track exceed its renewable energy goals regardless of who is in office. In 2009, they generated 14.4% of their national electricity from renewables – mostly from wind energy.

Comment by Jennifer Rennicks on March 20, 2012 11:00 am

Just days after I published my blog, the European Wind Energy Association (AWEA) posted a piece noting that Ireland is on the threshold of becoming an exporter of energy due to wind:

Comment by Jennifer Rennicks on March 26, 2012 9:41 am

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