The Irish solar energy sector has seen considerable activity in the last 3-4 years without yet seeing any grid-scale solar project constructed. Solar’s time will undoubtedly come given how technology costs have fallen and will eventually become competitive with other renewable technologies in Ireland, with or without price supports.
With lower capacity factors and higher grid connection costs, Irish solar PV projects will need all the last-mover advantages they can get to make them competitive in future RESS auctions. Minimising costs and maximising design flexibility will be key to delivering viable projects. From the earliest stage of an Irish solar PV project with so many unknowns and uncertainties, no project can be guaranteed to be viable but some wrong decisions can certainly make a project unviable. Developers need planning permissions that are future-proofed and provide design flexibility to take account of changing technological requirements, EPC contractors’ needs or a grid connection offer’s specifications.
While solar applications to-date have not attracted any significant levels of local opposition, a single objection, appeal and judicial review can still give rise to considerable project delays that could result in knock-on delays for the next ECP process and future RESS auctions. Solar developers will want to avoid the difficulties associated with wind farm grid connections and avoid having to re-enter the planning process to secure permission for the solar project’s grid connection method nominated by the system operator.
With grid connection applications already submitted for thousands of megawatts of solar and over 1GW of planning permissions now in or successfully through the planning process, the industry is likely to see some further consolidation of these assets in preparation for RESS auctions or as some investors seek to realise a return on their early-stage investment. One constant will remain, the projects with the lowest build costs and most flexible and all-encompassing planning permissions, will be most competitive at auction or most sought after