Solar vs wind: What do the environmental campaigners say?
By Morgan Pierce
Updated April 24, 2023
“You can’t be just a blow-hard if Ireland wants to meet its climate change target”
Developers of on-shore wind power got a renewed boost last week, when Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan announced the Irish government’s latest price supports for the energy sector. Ryan’s department hopes the funding will attract developers and increase Ireland’s capacity to generate on-shore wind. Yet, in the solar vs wind debate, we could have campaigners rooting for more solar energy, rather than wind, in Ireland.
While we’d never slag the Minister for trying to encourage production of a renewable energy source, community organisations have long argued that, “on-shore wind” is detrimental to landscapes, wildlife, archaeological heritage, and the health of those living nearby. It has, they’ve said, “more than enough support already”.
Under amendments to Ireland’s Climate Action Plan (CAP-23) passed in early March, the government has increased its target for the generation of on-shore wind to 9 gigawatts by 2030 – that’s more than double the amount currently generated. Environmental Campaigners fear that means “covering the country” with turbines to meet that goal, unless they “come up with an alternative”.
On-shore wind is already the largest contributor to Ireland’s renewable energy mix. According to the Sustainable Energy Authority, wind accounted for 85% of renewable energy generated in 2022, while Solar PV accounted for less than 1%.
Ireland’s plan – and many would describe it as a life-or-death obligation – is to reduce overall greenhouse gas emission by 51% by 2030, and reach net-zero by 2050. Renewable energy is the key to decarbonising, and there has been progress. The amount of electricity Ireland generated from renewables rose from 33% in 2018 to 43% in 2020 – but that’s a long way from the 80% target. The current mix, disastrously over-reliant on on-shore wind as it is, simply won’t achieve the goal.
Solar must be part of the plan
Although the government’s latest initiatives once again bolster on-shore wind, what the “alternative” campaigners seek is also there. In the latest Climate Action Plan, there is plenty that should both even up the energy mix and help us meet our climate change targets.
When the plan was being amended, Ryan himself drew attention to an increase in targets for solar energy production. When it was first drafted back in 2021, it had projected a contribution of just 1.5 gigawatts of solar as part of the mix. Since then, technological advancements, lower costs, and government incentives mean that projections have leapfrogged from 1.5 to 2.5 to 5.5 and now set the target at 8% of electricity production by 2030. (Almost equalling the target set for on-shore wind!)
The new targets led Irish Solar Energy Association CEO Conall Bolger to describe 2022 as a “break-out year” for solar in Ireland. “After many years of talking about Ireland’s solar potential, it has now materialised,” he said at the time. “This new target reinforces just how important the generation of solar PV energy is going to be in helping us decarbonise our electricity supply. It recognises that solar at scale, working in tandem with wind and storage, will be critical in moving Ireland towards its zero-carbon future.”
In 2022, some 17,000 Irish homeowners installed rooftop Solar PV systems – more than double the number installed the previous year. The government also got into the act when it announced a €50 million fund to install Solar PV on schools across the country.
Solar vs wind: what is better for consumers?
While the government’s latest supports for the wind industry may be good news for developers, the Climate Plan’s initiatives for solar are good for consumers.
Taken together with the drop in production costs for solar panels, they mean there is a durable, low maintenance, easy to install, renewable source for anyone. And it’s one on which consumers – not developers – can even hope to make a profit.
Investing in solar PV systems can bring many benefits, including reduced energy bills, increased energy independence, and a reduced carbon footprint. If you are interested in installing a solar PV system, it is worth exploring the different grant options available and seeking professional advice from one of our solar energy advisors.
Feel free to contact us for more information, we’re here to help.