More worrying perhaps is the ESB's politically correct plan that:
By 2020, ESB will be delivering one-third of its electricity from renewable generation. This will include over 1,400 megawatts of wind generation, in addition to wave, tidal and biomass. To promote this, the company will invest in emerging green technologies.Now I'm all in favour of renewable, clean technology: let a thousand wind turbines bloom and all that. But it simply isn't enough. First of all, most of the ESB's 1,400 megawatts is going to come from wind generation. The token genuflection towards wave and tidal is just that: a wishful prayer to imaginary abstractions that simply don't exist yet. If you don't believe me read the European Commission's Technology Map report that was prepared as an input into its Strategy Energy Technology Plan. Ocean power is up their with nuclear fusion: a great idea whose time has not yet come and won't for the foreseeable future.
So back to wind: and that's the scary bit. Go to Eirgrid's web site and click on the Wind Generation Chart. Then use the little calendar application to pull up data for Saturday, 16th February 2008 (that's right, last month). During the entire day of the 16th February, our installed wind generation capacity of over 1,000 megawatts was unable to supply even as much as 80 megawatts of electricity - or 8% of capacity. And in 12 year's time ESB wants to expose one third of its generation capacity to wind. You see the problem?
As I've noted before, we face daunting energy challenges - demanding radical innovations in how we generate, distribute and use energy. The ESB's politically correct bromide does not rise to that challenge, rather it dodges the big issue: nuclear power. In the short term we can hope that one or more East-West interconnectors with the UK mainland grid will keep our lights on when the wind doesn't blow (after 2012 anyway). But the UK faces its own energy challenges - and there is no guarantee that they will have any 'spare' capacity to send our way in ten year's time.
Matt Cooper has a thoughtful opinion piece in today's Irish Examiner setting out the case for nuclear power in Ireland - or at least the need to debate it. But in the end I think we will be victims of what in the IT sector they call 'the tyranny of the installed base'. In other words, if you and all your colleagues are used to IBM hardware and Microsoft software then it's hard to change to something else. In the case of energy, we face the tyranny of an installed base of coal and gas fired power stations and an expanding wind sector. We need them - but we also need the base load, non-fossil fuel, non-wind dependent certainty of nuclear power. We'll get British nuclear power over the interconnector to begin with, but ultimately we'll have to generate our own.
Unfortunately that's when our problems will really start. Ireland's biggest problem regarding nuclear power is that we don't already have it. In other words, we don't have the engineers, suppliers, know-how and networks that would help us expand to meet demand. It takes more effort (energy if you will) to get from nought to sixty than from sixty to one hundred.
And by the way: only one company - in Japan - has a near global monopoly on manufacturing key components of nuclear power stations - and they have back orders out to 2015. Maybe we should place our orders now and have our debate in the meantime? The queue's only going to get longer. A lot longer.