In a welcome development for Ireland’s growing renewable energy sector, Climate Minister Eamon Ryan this week announced the development of a new micro-generation support scheme (MSS) that will allow individuals, farmers and private businesses to sell renewable energy into the national grid.
From a farming perspective, this new scheme could finally pave the way for farmers and agri-businesses to participate in Ireland’s energy market by selling electricity from renewable sources such as solar or wind into the national grid.
Given the sheer number of sheds on Irish farms all over the country, these have long been viewed as an ideal space for solar panels.
And while there are already grant supports available to farmers through TAMS and SEAI to help them install their own solar panels on the farm, there has never been an option to sell any excess electricity on to the national grid.
Farm groups have long argued that there was significant potential in Irish agriculture to diversify into renewable energy production, be that from solar or small-scale wind turbines.
And while the new MSS is welcome, there are two major hurdles the Government will need to address if it is to be a success.
Firstly, the cost of connecting to the national grid is prohibitive for most micro-generators of renewable energy.
This connection cost will need to be addressed in order to facility the expansion of Ireland’s renewable energy sector to small-scale producers.
Secondly, the Government will need to legislate for a feed-in tariff for renewable electricity, which is essentially a support payment to increase the market price of electricity so the economics of micro-generation make sense for small scale producers.
At the minute, the current low price of electricity would not be high enough to justify the cost of investing in micro generation of renewable solar or wind power.
This new Government scheme to support micro-generation of renewable power is a step in the right direction, but the real test will be how the MSS addresses these two key challenges.