How best to take full advantage of the energy contained in intermittent winds is one of the most challenging problems facing wind power technology and renewable energy project developers. Using surplus wind energy to pump water uphill for storage and releasing it to generate electricity as required – so-called “pumped storage” – is one proven way of doing so, but an estimated €3.6-billion ($4.68-billion) project taking shape in Ireland could take the concept to another level.
Some 50 potential pumped storage sites in coastal Atlantic areas have been identified thus far as part of the “Spirit of Ireland: National Energy Independence” project since it was conceived by Trinity College Dublin professor of Applied Physics Igor Shvets and first proposed three years ago, but that’s only one key facet of the project plan, the Irish Times reports.
Ireland’s National Energy Independence Project
Looking to produce as well as consume clean, renewable power locally, the Spirit of Ireland group is setting up Irish Energy Co-operatives, purpose being the establishment of community-based renewable energy initiatives capable of feeding electrical power into a common grid. That would keep locally generated clean power within the local community.
“The local producer-owner model is as good as any other when it comes to maximising employment and RD opportunities of renewable energy – it shouldn’t only be a question of local communities leasing their land to big developer-owned renewables projects,” Irish Energy Co-operatives spokesperson Cormac Walsh told the Irish Times.
“Well planned, medium-scale projects that will attract innovation will keep the secondary benefits of renewable energy in the control of local communities. This is just as important as the big multi-million euro projects.”
The first local renewable energy producer – consumer co-op was created a month ago with the formation of the Aran Islands Energy Co-operative (Comharchumann Fuinnimh). The wind co-op owners are hoping to team up with the new owners of three wind turbines on Inis Meain to upgrade them, as well as add additional turbines over time. Surplus wind power they produce could then be used to pump seawater up to cliff-top reservoirs for storage, and subsequently for power generation.
Aran Islanders are looking to the renewable energy co-ops to become totally energy independent by 2022. “The backers of the new co-op hope that if the island becomes self-sufficient in energy and can generate a cheaper price for itself, it can provide a commercial advantage for energy-hungry companies to come and set up there,” the Irish Times’ Ronan McGreevy reported.
“The new energy co-op will be open to membership from those who are normally resident on any of the Aran Islands. It will also be possible for groups, organisations, and corporate bodies to buy membership shares in the co-op provided they are based on one of the three islands.”
Spirit of Ireland was one of the first renewable energy projects conceived in Ireland. It’s also one of the largest, with the potential to turn Ireland into a net exporter of electricity, according to project backers. Taking a holistic approach to project development, establishing a network of coastal pumped storage sites and wind turbines feeding into a common grid would not only generate cost-effective, clean, renewable power surplus to domestic needs, but it would also bring numerous other benefits to local communities — new investment and green jobs prominent among them, they say.
The Spirit of Ireland project group has been raising first-round capital this past month that will be used to carry out the necessary environmental assessments and initial project development plan outline. Their aim is to have the project built within five to six years, according to the Irish Times’ report.