This comprehensive document covers a number of key areas including energy efficiency, decarbonising transport and agriculture/land use. Of particular interest to renewables developers is the section on decarbonising electricity generation.
The draft Plan gives some notable signposts on the direction of travel for future renewables development. The Plan recognises that there is still some way to go if Ireland is to meet its 2020 targets under the EU Renewable Energy Directive, which include 40 percent of electricity generation through renewables.
In order to meet that target a further 880 MW of new generation is required, which the draft Plan notes will need "an increased rate of installation". It would be expected that the majority of this generation will be met by onshore wind, but biomass and, in particular, solar should be expected to play a part.
This would require new subsidies to be implemented, and the draft Plan states that clarity on the next subsidy phase beyond the current REFIT 3 will be provided at some point in 2017.
What this scheme will look like and which technologies it will support remains speculation at this point but some form of auction/contract for difference rather than a straight subsidy seems the more likely option.
The draft Plan also refers to the support mechanism "enhancing the role of communities", so expect some element that encourages community renewables projects. Whilst it seems likely that solar will form part of this new subsidy, the only certainty at this point seems to be that the amount of solar generation to be supported will be substantially less than the 4.5 GW currently under land options or already in the planning system. The Minister has already stated that there will be no solar "gold rush".
But, significant opportunities remain, albeit the window of opportunity may be short and sharp; so positioning at this time in preparation for that window is key.
Looking further ahead the draft Plan recognises that offshore wind and tidal generation can make a significant contribution to Ireland's longer term renewable energy mix along with solar and bioenergy. The 2014 Offshore Renewable Energy Development Plan identified the potential for up to 4.5GW of wind and 1.5GW of tidal. The draft Plan also notes that how the plan may develop in the medium term will be influenced by future EU targets.
The draft Plan consultation closes on April 26 2017 and no doubt has generated a large volume of responses from those with an interest in the Irish renewables market. The fact that Ireland sees the potential for encouraging further renewable generation and diversifying the technology base is encouraging and is to be welcomed, but clear signals to shape future investment decisions are needed sooner rather than later.
Perhaps notable by its absence in the draft Plan is any reference to energy storage. This seems unusual given the rapid development of storage technologies and the significant role it can play at various scales. We look forward to the final Plan with interest; watch this space.