Ireland plans interconnector expansion to EU and UK, aims to become renewable energy exporter

The Irish government has approved a new policy statement on electricity interconnections which will see Ireland explore new interconnection opportunities with Spain, Belgium, and the Netherlands, as well as further connections to Great Britain and France.

The National Policy Statement on Electricity Interconnection, approved by the Irish Cabinet on Tuesday, 25 July, outlines how a state-directed approach will ensure integrated forward planning, enabling the necessary infrastructure to unlock significant green energy export opportunities.

The key aspects of the new policy include specifically supporting a further connection to Great Britain by 2030 beyond the completion of the Greenlink interconnector, as well as providing consideration to the second connection with France beyond the Celtic Interconnector, a connection to Spain, a further connection to Great Britain beyond 2030 and a connection to Belgium or the Netherlands.

According to the Irish government, there is also a commitment to develop an offshore transmission strategy and to explore the potential for multipurpose interconnectors in order to maximize export opportunities and facilitate offshore renewable energy development.

Consideration will also be given to further interconnection required to support the export of renewable electricity in the context of other uses, such as green hydrogen.

“Increased electricity interconnection will be a key enabler in our growing use of renewable energy. It will also play an important role in our transition to become a net energy exporter, making Ireland central to wider European energy plans,” said Irish Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications Eamon Ryan.

“The integrated forward planning approach outlined within this policy statement, will be aligned with offshore renewable energy forward planning, enabling the delivery of necessary infrastructure to facilitate our energy ambitions. It will also better integrate European electricity markets, and by using more diversified energy markets, this will improve our electricity security and resilience.”

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A study was carried out by DNV to identify the most likely implications for the Irish electricity sector from further cross-border interconnection, also indicating what the optimal and realistic interconnection capacities are with the objective of maximizing socio-economic benefits.

The study found that “additional interconnection in 2030 beyond existing projects, or projects that are already at an advance stage of development, has significant economic benefits for the Single Electricity Market and supports the achievement of Ireland’s 2030 energy objectives and de-risks offshore wind development.”

MaresConnect, the developer of a proposed 750 MW interconnector project between Ireland and Wales, welcomed the publication.

“We are encouraged to have the Interconnector Policy in hand, and we commend the Government for addressing both the urgent need for further interconnection in the immediate future, as well as taking a proactive approach to planning further connections into the future,” said Simon Ludlam, Partner at Etchea Energy3 and CEO of MaresConnect.

“This forward-thinking policy paves the way for increased interconnection capacity, enabling the integration of renewable energy sources, diversification of the energy mix, and enhanced energy security. It presents a significant opportunity for Ireland to become a regional energy hub and a model for sustainable development.”

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This new policy is said to allow MaresConnect to progress key development steps in Ireland this year, paving the way to reach financial close and commence construction in 2026 and become operational in 2029.

Ofgem is currently assessing MaresConnect’s application for cap and floor regulation in Great Britain as part of its third cap and floor window, with a decision expected by the end of 2023. MaresConnect is planning to undertake marine surveys in 2024, ahead of making planning applications in Ireland and Wales in 2025.

The project is being developed by Foresight Group’s energy transition fund, Foresight Energy Infrastructure Partners, and Etchea Energy.