Ireland showing the way towards a high renewable energy future

6 August 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic outbreak forced several European countries to impose restrictions on economic and social activity, which led to declined electricity demand throughout the continent. Consequently, the share of renewable electricity has been greater than ever before. On 5 July a new record was made, as renewables produced 55% of the electricity in Europe. We are now experiencing a situation not expected to happen in years, and the past months have given us a glimpse into the future.

A reliable and secure system operation is a concern often associated to the grid with high share of variable renewables. However, the recent development demonstrates that the European power system is capable to cope with significantly higher percentages of renewables than expected. Ireland is an interesting country in Europe to examine, as it is an isolated system with limited interconnections and with one of the highest levels of variable renewable generation in the region – making it a challenging grid to operate1.

Wind energy is the main source of renewable electricity generated in Ireland. The country has worked consistently over the past ten years to integrate large amounts of variable renewables into their grid. A long-term target has been to gradually increase the limit of renewable generation in the system from 50% to 75%.1,2 In 2018, Ireland was already able to handle up to 65% of renewables in its grid3.

The data from the Wärtsilä Energy Transition Lab indicates that share of variable renewables has continued to increase in Ireland. February 2020 was a windy month and renewables covered 66% of the generation (+14.5% compared to the last year). A record day was 9 February, when renewables produced 78% of the electricity.
Summary of Ireland 1 Feb - 29 Feb 2020
Net generation by power source in Ireland on 8-14 January and 11-17 February 2020
Ireland was actually very close to reach a point where renewables would have been providing baseload to the system. The data from February shows that the utilisation rate of the thermal fleet has been very low due to favourable wind conditions. Capacity factors of thermal baseload assets, combined cycle gas and steam turbines (mostly gas, coal and oil capacity)4, were extremely low during the month. It seems that even the inflexible thermal capacity, particularly CCGTs, have been used for balancing during the less windy periods as well as peaking purposes. However, the mentioned technology is not designed to do this neither cost effectively nor efficiently. The dispatch graph from 8-14 January 2020, which was a less windy month, illustrates cycling of gas plants very well.

Increasing the amount of variable renewables in a system further highlights the need for flexibility to quickly respond to the impacts of solar and wind variability and uncertainty. Ireland has been successfully operating an isolated power system with a high share of variable renewables over the past years, although the Wärtsilä Energy Transition Lab data suggests that the existing thermal fleet is currently struggling with high share of renewables. Simultaneously, the data shows the need for flexible assets, such as energy storage and gas generation having technical characteristics suited for peaking and balancing operation.

The past months have proved that the power system can handle a high share of renewables but also demonstrated the need for flexibility to ensure secure operation of the grid. It can be expected that the share of renewables will keep increasing in the future and months like February 2020 can soon be regularly witnessed across Europe.

To learn more about how Wärtsilä can help you navigate the seas of energy transition please visit:

1.Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (August 2020). Renewable Energy in Ireland.

2. EirGrid Group (August 2020). DS3 Programme.

3. EirGrid Group (August 2020). EirGrid Group achieves record level of variable renewable energy on Irish electricity system.

4. GlobalData (July 2019). Ireland Power Market Outlook to 2030, Update 2019 – Market Trends, Regulations and Competitive Landscape.

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Jaana Lager

Power System Analyst, Business Development
Wärtsilä Energy

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