For me, Celtic Connections means the annual Glasgow traditional music festival. It is famous for bringing together Celtic musicians from across the world and putting them together in on-off collaborations. It’s well worth a visit if you find yourself there in January. However, the phrase now brings to mind the dynamism I witnessed at the Power and Energy Conference recently in Cork and the connections within Ireland, Europe and beyond that are driving Ireland’s ambitious vision for renewable offshore energy and associated infrastructure.
Ports are critical
As I know from my work in the offshore sector, ports are critical: not just any ports but the facilities with sufficient land to accommodate the construction, transport, installation and maintenance of the offshore infrastructure, as well as roughly 12 m clearance for shipping lanes up to the quayside. The Port of Cork has a masterplan to migrate operations nearer to the coast and away from the city centre to maximise its potential. However, the reality may be that connections have to be made between Cork, Shannon and Dublin ports. It may be that one size doesn’t fit all. Given the scale of the ambition, all three could be critical at various stages, and collaboration will likely occur.
Connecting the hinterland
The offshore wind farms have to connect to the mainland, the hinterland behind the ports and beyond. This includes the electrical infrastructure to transport the power, the road and rail connections, the supply chain (another critical factor to be built up) and the associated social infrastructure, such as housing, social services and amenities. People have to connect with the opportunity, work on and deliver it. I heard a passionate speech at the conference about working with local colleges and schools to excite the next generation of Irish youngsters for well-paid, skilled jobs in the sector.
Powering up Dublin
To maximise the benefits of the energy produced by offshore wind, EirGrid has a massive €1 billion project to install over 50 km of underground electricity cables across Dublin. Planning for the complex outages to minimise disruption, as well as the potential impact of the work, is being coordinated along with the other state utilities, transport providers, councils and government agencies. EirGrid is connecting all the stakeholders to find the best way to make it happen.
The Celtic Interconnector
This is a planned undersea link to enable the exchange of clean, renewable electricity between Ireland and France and Europe. The EU has partly funded the project and designated it as a project of common interest, enabling EirGrid and its French counterpart Réseau de Transport d’Électricité to access strategic EU funding. In March 2023, a contract was signed to deliver the cable work from the landfall site at Claycastle Beach to the grid connection point at the Knockraha substation.
Ireland has an available wind farm area in the Atlantic that is ten times larger than the country itself. It has 100 times more sea area than Germany and has the biggest offshore potential in the EU. The UK disconnected from Europe, and parts of it want to disconnect from the UK. Ireland is showing that developing a broader vision, connecting the ambitions to the planning, infrastructure and people on a grand scale, is a better way to get things done.