aerial view of landscape with wind turbines

Teamwork is vital on Ireland's energy transition roadmap

Nick O'Neill Director
Nick O'Neill

Nick has an interest in the sustainable development of natural resources and the promotion of Ireland as a place to explore for clean gas. He has been involved in drilling and exploring for oil and gas in Europe, Middle East, Africa, South America and the North Sea. Nick is currently Project Manager for the Irish Petroleum Infrastructure Programme, a joint government/oil industry research programme to enhance Ireland’s hydrocarbon prospects. Nick has contributed to a number of strategic reports on Irish energy policy including strategic gas storage, wind energy, and building community engagement and social support in energy transition.

“Ní neart go cur le chéile” is an old Irish saying which loosely translates as “we won’t win if we don’t pull together”. This is certainly the case for Ireland’s energy transition, where government, academia and a bunch of different business interests are blundering along the route at different speeds and often at odds with each other.

There are a number of parallel routes on the roadmap to a zero carbon renewable energy system such as significant electrification using renewable resources; biofuels and hydrogen-based energy in sectors like transport that are harder to electrify and; removing emissions using carbon capture and storage and re-afforestation. It is already too late to meet the goal of the Paris Agreement. A pandemic style urgency is needed to accelerate the energy transition. The pandemic demonstrated the successes of collaborative efforts and healthy competition among international medical and scientific communities in developing vaccines. We can do the same with energy transition.

Spending on renewables needs to rise. And the supply and demand of dirty fossil fuels needs to be wound down in tandem, without creating dangerous mismatches. Many countries need gas to be a bridge fuel in the 2020s and 2030s, shifting to it temporarily as they ditch coal and oil but before renewables have ramped up. In December 2021 government announced that 2 GW of new gas-fired power generation will be built to meet this requirement.

The area offshore Cork, where the decommissioned Kinsale Head Gas Field is located, provides the perfect example of how an integrated energy infrastructure project could accelerate Ireland’s energy transition. This group of projects combines offshore wind, LNG floating storage and regasification, hydrogen production, hydrogen and CO2 storage, and gas storage in a collaborative energy initiative between an Irish energy developer, an LNG infrastructure company, an offshore renewable energy developer, a refinery operator, a power station, a pipeline operator and two academic research centres. Simply Blue Energy’s floating offshore wind Emerald project will generate 1.3 GW when completed. Curtailed electricity can be harnessed to generate green hydrogen by electrolysis and store it for injection into the gas network.

In advance of this the Mag Mell liquid natural gas (LNG) floating storage and regasification unit (FSRU) will import vaporised natural gas on demand via the existing subsea 24” pipeline which is connected to Gas Networks Ireland (GNI) onshore entry point at Inch in Cork. Some of this gas can be used to generate blue hydrogen by steam methane reformation (SMR) at the Whitegate oil refinery. This blue hydrogen can be injected and blended into the gas network at Inch to supply power stations, industrial customers and the domestic market thereby establishing a market for hydrogen well in advance of the generation of green hydrogen by the Emerald Project. Ervia has identified a solution for storage of the CO2 emitted from SMR and abated natural gas from power generation. It has an agreement to export CO2 by tanker to foreign storage facilities in Norway.  

This combination of projects is a practical, socially responsible, and pragmatic solution that preserves Ireland’s energy security and establishes an Irish hydrogen export economy during the Energy Transition. To achieve it we will need solid teamwork between different business interests, government regulators, academia and the many public stakeholders.

“We won’t win if we don’t pull together."

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