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. https://www.seai.ie/publications/2020-Renewable-Energy-in-Ireland-Report.pdf
2. EirGrid Group (August 2020). DS3 Programme. http://www.eirgridgroup.com/__uuid/a6f0ce76-c5a9-4120-8b53-cac2daa99840/
3. EirGrid Group (August 2020). EirGrid Group achieves record level of variable renewable energy on Irish electricity system. http://www.eirgridgroup.com/newsroom/record-renewable-energy-o/index.xml
4. GlobalData (July 2019). Ireland Power Market Outlook to 2030, Update 2019 – Market Trends, Regulations and Competitive Landscape.