Thursday, 16 August 2012

Reaping the rewards of wind power
13 Aug 2012

ONE OF THE biggest renewable energy projects every conceived of in this country is the Spirit of Ireland. First proposed three years ago, it envisages using coastal-based pump storage facilities to turn Ireland into a net exporter of electricity. The proposal, which was first conceived by TCD Professor of Applied Physics Igor Shvets, seeks to resolve the biggest issues facing those involved in wind generated electricity, namely what to do when the wind is not blowing.

Some 50 potential sites have been located along Ireland s Atlantic coast. The Spirit of Ireland would use the excess energy generated by several large wind farms to pump seawater up to a reservoir at the top of a cliff. The water is released when the wind is slack, turning a turbine which generates huge amounts of electricity. Pump storage is a proven technology that is used in countries such as Italy and Japan to generate electricity. There is a small one at Turlough Hill in Co Wicklow. What puts the Spirit of Ireland on another level is the use of seawater for electricity generation.

The proposal is still in the planning stages, but the backers of Spirit of Ireland are hoping that it will be the largest part of a mosaic of interlocking renewable energy projects in the future. The overall cost of the project is estimated at EUR 3.6 billion. The first round of sourcing funding has been taking place over the last month and it is hoped to raise seed capital which will be used to fund environmental assessments and initial outlines of the Spirit of Ireland project with the aim to have it built within five to six years.

In the meantime, the Spirit of Ireland group has set up Irish Energy Co-operatives. The purpose behind the project is to form a network of community-based renewable energy initiatives to feed into a common grid.

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