In January 2007, the European Parliament voted, by an overwhelming majority, for a 25% target for renewable energies in the EU’s overall energy consumption by 2020. The Department of Energy and Transport then prepared a Renewables Road Map which set out the long term vision for renewable energy sources in the EU. It proposed a mandatory target of 20% for renewable energy’s share of energy consumption in the EU by 2020. Ireland’s individual target under this Directive is for 16% of total energy consumption to come from renewable resources. Driven by this EU initiative, Noel Dempsey, the then Minister for Environment, Heritage and Local Government introduced a target of 33% for renewable electricity’s share of electricity consumption in Ireland in his department’s Energy White Paper. This target was then increased by Minister Ryan to 40% in late 2008 as part of the Government’s strategy to make the green economy a core component of its recovery plan for Ireland. Northern Ireland is currently preparing to conduct a Strategic Review of Energy policy and it is envisaged that this will result in a progressive target for renewable electricity.
It is also envisaged that wind energy will provide the largest source of renewable energy in achieving this target and it is estimated that installed wind capacity will need to reach 7,800 megawatts (MW) on the island of Ireland to achieve these targets by 2020.
For the purposes of this study, it has been assumed that 6,500 MW will be located in Ireland and 1,300 MW in Northern Ireland. In early 2009, there was 1,320 MW of installed wind energy capacity across the island of Ireland. In order to reach the 2020 target, another 6,480 MW will be required to be installed. The majority of these will come from the larger scale turbine installations which have occurred over the last number of years but will also come from a new growing market for the installation of small scale turbines (Microgeneration).
It will be impossible to get the necessary number of wind farms approved, constructed, installed and maintained without people and investment.
Based on these estimates of MW to be installed, the Irish wind energy sector to 2020 is capable of supporting more than 10,760 jobs through direct and indirect involvement in the sector. The construction and development of wind energy projects across the island will involve c. €14.75 billion of investment; c €5.1 billion of which will be retained in the local Irish economy to 2020. Of the €5.1 billion it is estimated that c.€4.3 billion will be invested in Ireland and c. €0.8 billion will be invested in Northern Ireland.
Other opportunities in the Wind Energy Sector are becoming apparent, such as grid development upgrade works, pump storage, energy exports and electric transport and many others, and these initiatives will all contribute positively to the growing employment numbers in the wind energy sector and the investment in the sector. At this stage, the research is still ongoing in relation to these initiatives and as such employment numbers cannot be quantified accurately.
Construction provides the majority of the jobs opportunities available from the wind energy sector.
Offshore wind development requires significant construction inputs in order to develop the large scale wind farm projects planned. It is estimated that there will be in excess of 7,250 jobs that can be supported by the construction element of wind energy projects.
A number of challenges such as grid access; shortage of experienced personnel and lack of awareness about employment opportunities in the sector have been identified and act as a barrier to the sector evolving and reaching the targets set by Government.
In order to tackle these issues, work must continue in relation to the roll out of grid upgrades and information on careers in the sector needs to be distributed at secondary and third-level so that students are aware of the paths open to them paths open to them.