Can colocation help solve the renewable energy crisis?

Opinion: By co-locating renewable energy projects, we can achieve maximum efficiency through shared resources and infrastructure

Exporting renewable energy from Ireland could answer Europe’s renewable energy land crisis, but Ireland must first address land use issues and local opposition. One way to do this is through co-use (co-location). Co-location of renewable energy projects involves placing multiple renewable energy facilities in close proximity to each other to maximize efficiency and synergies through shared resources and infrastructure.

Fancy terms like carbon neutral, organic, zero waste, sustainable transportation, environmentally conscious, and others have entered mainstream usage and become an integral part of our daily choices. For example, these terms now play an important role when we make purchasing decisions, manage our energy and water consumption, and engage in recycling practices. Indeed, the broader picture goes beyond just recycling, and is intertwined with complex elements of time-bound goals and aspirations, including the pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement, and the ambitious pursuit of net-zero emissions by 2050.

Let’s stop for a moment and think about these things more carefully. The primary purpose behind all interventions and goals is to keep our planet habitable. In simpler terms, Earth was once a nice place to live, but due to some actions, it has deteriorated, and the situation continues to deteriorate. Therefore, our goal is to stop these harmful activities, and leave the Earth habitable for current and future generations.

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From RTÉ Radio 1 Nationwide, an EPA report on Ireland’s future land use has sparked controversy

As we seek to address the problem, our efforts appear to be intertwined with more and more aspects. The complexities surrounding these challenges will unravel as we move closer to achieving our sustainability and timeline goals.

Perhaps it is time to buckle up and prepare for the impending revolution in resource and land use. Our plans to make Earth a better place require extensive rewiring and re-plumbing to support increased renewable energy generation; Energy distribution, storage and stability; And other complementary and advanced technologies such as hydrogen electrolysis and carbon capture in the air. These spatial challenges arise during the development of the necessary infrastructure.

Land use sectors face the complex and challenging task of striking a delicate balance between ensuring an abundant supply of high-quality food, reducing emissions, enhancing carbon sequestration, protecting natural ecosystems, and maintaining soil, water and air quality. . All of this must be achieved in an already changing climate context.

The ultimate measure of a successful transition to net zero lies in its sustainability and effectiveness in mitigating the negative impacts of climate change. If land use changes aimed at enhancing carbon sequestration are only temporary, lasting for a few years or decades before reversing, the net positive impact on reducing climate change impacts may be small. Our sustainability goals, including those around a just energy transition, are all about people and implementation must remain the same. These development plans must not affect us as human beings, our heritage, and our cultural and religious identity. There is a need to humanize the transition to net zero, i.e. adopt an intergenerational perspective rather than arbitrary timelines such as 2030 or 2050.

Ireland is on track to produce more renewable energy than it needs as the country works to build capacity to capture onshore and offshore wind energy. However, renewable energy infrastructure does not have to operate in isolation. Integrating dual-use systems with onshore and offshore oil and gas fields, agriculture, and biodiversity projects is becoming increasingly common. The land requirements for generating, distributing, storing and stabilizing renewable energy are so huge that they provide an opportunity for co-location.

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From RTÉ Radio 1’s News At One programme, rural communities are struggling to find a renewable alternative to oil tanks and boilers

Planet Reimagined, a non-profit startup, defines colocation as follows in its recent report on Colocation for a Clean Energy Future: Colocation involves using a single unit of land for multiple productive purposes. Specifically, cross-sector energy land sharing refers to locating utility-scale wind and solar projects on land that is also used for oil and gas production. Moreover, it is in line with net-zero greenhouse gas emission targets, reduces the impact on working lands, and ensures sustainable energy supply to electricity consumers.

Ireland ranks 12th on the World Energy Council’s 2022 Global Energy Triad Index, a World Energy Council framework that measures the performance of national energy systems, with energy security, energy equality and environmental sustainability at three corners of the triad.

There is positive change underway, but it is not happening on the scale needed. But what exactly would a shift to net zero entail? It requires clarity, stability, communication and a rapid pace of change, all of which are crucial to achieving significant and more sustainable progress. Clarity in land use priorities, supported by stronger planning policies, can enable local authorities to achieve net zero and benefit communities. However, they should be supported by expert guidance and funding from investors to drive net zero trends.

Stability in regulations and policies is crucial for the renewable energy sector to scale up and meet challenges such as grid infrastructure modernization and competition for land use, enabling the development of a wide range of sites and reducing grid connection costs. The importance of connectivity extends beyond just network infrastructure; A connected collective voice among sector stakeholders is essential for developing comprehensive policies for a successful transition, enabling the adoption of newer technologies such as green hydrogen and attracting private sector investment in large demand centres.

The Irish National Hydrogen Strategy, published earlier this year, sets out the strategic vision for the role of hydrogen in Ireland’s energy system, emphasizing its importance as a critical component of a decarbonised economy in the long term. It also identifies the immediate actions required in the coming years to facilitate the growth of the hydrogen sector in Ireland. The pace of change represents major challenges in various aspects. However, industry leaders need to take responsibility and drive transformation by demanding and driving change collaboratively rather than waiting for a perfect environment to be created.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ


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