DUBLIN-BASED SOLAR energy firm BNRG Renewables wants to crack the Irish market with plans to develop multiple commercial solar farms across the country.
But the company won’t push ahead with its desire to build the large-scale projects without the government stepping up with subsidies to help make the technology financially viable.
BNRG chief executive David Maguire told Fora that the firm is planning to build up to 250 megawatts (MW) of solar capacity across the Republic of Ireland. At the current price of solar development, this would cost more than €300 million.
“We probably have applied for about 150MW in terms of grid and land, and we’re looking at another maybe 100MW,” Maguire said.
“We don’t expect a support mechanism to be out until 2017, so between 2017 and 2021 we would hope to deploy at that type of scale … we would like to deploy 250MW.”
Maguire said the firm has also identified the US and Northern Ireland as key markets that the company is eager to make a dent in. In the US, BNRG is ”exploring an opportunity for about 120MW with local developers”.
In Northern Ireland the company has just over 20MW under development including a 5MW farm on the outskirts of Downpatrick in Down, which was the first large-scale solar permission to be granted planning permission on the entire island.
Ireland currently has about 1MW of installed solar capacity, enough to power between 150 and 300 homes. There are no commercial solar farms in operation in the country, although we recently revealed state power supplier ESB was planning to construct dozens of solar farms.
Maguire said the solar industry needed some state backing to help get the industry moving in Ireland as it was lagging the progress being made in other territories.
“Ireland has the lowest level of support for renewables in Europe (and) there is a really compelling case for supporting solar,” he said.
“The net contribution to the Irish economy is about €2 billion in gross value add and about 7,300 jobs annually if you build up an industry.”
He added: “You can’t deploy solar in Ireland without losing a lot of money, but if you look at every form of energy generation, it’s all supported - half of the public service levy went towards supporting peat.
“Solar cannot be deployed in Ireland without some form of policy support.”
There are currently no specific subsidies available for the development of commercial solar farms in the Republic, although the government previously flagged the possibility of introducing an as-yet unspecified scheme by the end of this year.
Meanwhile, BNRG recently finished construction of four solar farms across England and Wales that have a combined capacity of 20MW and a total value of €29 million.
HSBC provided €20 million in funding for the projects, and Maguire said that the UK banking giant would likely be willing to help finance the company’s future ventures.
“HSBC have indicated that they are keen to support us in our activities in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, the US and a couple of other markets that we’re active in like Africa and Latin America,” he said.
Traditionally solar has been one of the more expensive forms of renewable energy, although this looks set to change. Last year, the Irish Solar Energy Association said it cost just under €1.4 million to develop 1MW. That price was expected to drop below €1.2 million per MW by 2017.