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Out with the Old (Ireland) and in with the New (Ireland)

Posted on: 30th November 2010

New Ireland, (Niu Ailan, meaning New Island in Tok Pisin) Papua New Guinea is a paradise in the Pacific Ocean, considerably sunnier and warmer than its namesake. It is an eco-traveller’s delight. Waves to test the best surfers, corals shelter the hulls of the ships and aeroplanes of World War. Climbs of 2,000 metres to high plateaus lie within 10 kilometres of golden beaches. But, Papua New Guinea, thanks to geography and poverty, can only deliver electricity to 5.5% of its people. Terraintegra has been invited to prepare a Feasibility Study on a project to bring electrical energy to the Province of New Ireland and its 149 islands. The Province’s electrification can be quickly and relatively cheaply addressed by decentralised electrical generation. By installing electrical generation stations in villages and communities, we can avoid long distance electricity transportation costs. We can harness local rivers (there are many), the Sun (there is lots of it) and geothermal heat (New Ireland is close to a seismic zone but not itself seismically active). For the larger towns (Kavieng and Namatanai) we suggest biogas facilities. The islands are rich in biomass and urban areas have domestic, industrial and agricultural waste and slurries to dispose of. Better to neutralise the pathogens and toxins in a biogas fermentation process and achieve useful methane for electricity production, than let the biomass decay (releasing the methane to the atmosphere)’ the waste and slurry pour into landfills or worse, flow into the Bismarck Sea. So, we hope that our eco-villages will finally see sunlight among the idyll islands of New Ireland.

Old Ireland (Eire) offers a salutary tale about energy and electrification. It is an environmental fable about how not to do things. It all began with great promise. Early Irish independence witnessed extraordinary grand scale projects which captured the imagination of its people. The Shannon Scheme, Ardnacrusha (Ard na Croise) hydro-electricity project, built by Siemens, switched on in 1929 and provided 86% of Ireland’s electricity needs for some time. Shannon Airport emerged from the marshes of the Shannon River estuary in 1942 to become one of the World’s most renowned airports. Following WW2, Shannon Airport, strategically placed at the outer edge of Europe and for some years the furthest a European bound US flight could travel “on a tank”, became internationally recognised as the gateway between Europe and the Americas and for its famous hot coffee with whiskey and cream (aka Irish Coffee).

Ireland’s first public electricity supply system had been established in Dublin in 1880 by the Dublin Electric Light Company. By 1882 three coal fired generating stations, at Schoolhouse Lane, Liffey Street and Fade Street, fed about 114 arc street lamps. In 1882 the system was taken over by Dublin’s gas utility, the Alliance Gas Company, and operated by it until 1888 when Dublin’s electricity undertaking passed to Dublin Corporation. Provincial cities and towns followed a similar pattern. By 1922 about 160 electricity undertakings (effectively distributed electricity stations) operated in the Irish Free State employing a variety of technologies including hydro, coal, peat, gas and wind. This was a hit and miss affair and only one-third of the dwellings in Dublin and about 3% nationally had access to electricity by 1925. But, electricity deployment was evolving in a similar manner in England, Germany, the USA and elsewhere.

The population of the Irish Free state hovered at about 3 million (Dublin 500,000) throughout the 1920’s. By 1928 there were about 33,000 vehicles (26,327 cars, 6,496 commercial vehicles and 718 buses) travelling on 4,388 miles of Irish roads. About £3 million was spent on road improvement and repair in 1928. Passenger train miles totalled 9,150,000 in 1928 and trains carried 10.5 million passengers (averaging 27 miles per rail journey) on 2,705 miles of rail track. 718 Intercity buses carried 2,170,000 passengers. Dublin’s 330 electrified trams ran on 97kms of track. The Dublin tram system was internationally renowned for its technological innovation and remained profitable until eclipsed by the competing urban bus system in the 1930’s. Remarkably, 16% of all goods hauled were transported by Ireland’s internal waterways in 1928. Not calculable are the bicycle, horse, donkey and pedestrian journeys made. Ireland was unknowingly about to become a leading alternative energy producer and had one of the smallest per capita CO2 footprints among western economies.

For its own sense of self worth (“an experiment of great sociological value” De Valera) and to generate electricity for the new state, the Government initiated the innovative (and controversial at the time) “Shannon Scheme” electricity project. Work began in 1925 as the last acts of the civil war played out. In a country with big political and economic problems, the Shannon Scheme represented a vision of the future and more practically, work and pay for impoverished labourers. Thousands travelled to Parteen to apply for jobs. Locals fleeced the misfortunate. Lodgings cost upwards of two shillings, sometimes a pound, per week as local people cashed in on the boom and rented any type of shelter. The rip-off became international news. Papers printed anecdotal stories; of a man who earned a shilling an hour, slept with his wife on straw in a pigsty attached to a labourer’s cottage; 14 navvies occupied a stable. Those who failed to find work or were fired could be at risk of starvation. Co. Clare councillors had concerns of starvation, even death. They called on the Government to save people from living like “mere swine”. Labourers’ wages were set at 32 shillings (£1.12s.) a week for a 50 hour week and “free lodgings”. Siemens was prepared to pay more but the Government, concerned about cost over-runs, insisted. During the same period (1924 to 1929) craftsmen were paid about 180 pennies (15s) and unskilled labourers 138 pennies (11s 6d) per day in Southern England. National minimum wage in UK was £1 10s 1d for 51.0 hours work between Oct 1924 – Sep 1925. So, the Government controlled pay to effectively match the minimum UK wage.

During construction, 5,000 men were employed, more than 7.6 million cubic metres of earth and 1.2 million cubic metres of rock were moved, 65 miles of railway were built, four major bridges were constructed and nine rivers and four streams were diverted. The Shannon Scheme was officially opened at Parteen Weir on 22 July 1929. Its 86MW capacity initially supplied over 95% of the Free State’s power. At the time, it was the largest hydroelectric station in the World, (the Hoover Dam, completed in 1936, was to be bigger). It subsequently served as a model for large-scale electrification projects worldwide. On the 75th anniversary of the founding of the ESB, Ardnacrusha was presented with the International Milestone and Landmark awards, by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers and the American Society of Civil Engineers. Following Ardnacrusha, Ireland did continue for a while with hydro electric stations. Ardnacrusha itself had a Kaplan turbine commissioned in 1934. And, though 6 Francis turbines had originally been planned only 3 were installed. New hydro stations were built at Poulaphouca (30MW), Golden Falls (4MW), Leixlip (38MW), Clady (4MW), Cliff and Cathleen’s Fall County Donegal (65MW), Carrigadrohid (4.5kW) and Inniscarra (9kW), County Cork. All were completed by 1949. As the Free State morphed into a Republic, it abandoned its exploitation of local resources and began a massive importation of foreign fossil fuels (oil and coal) and exploitation of its own non renewable CO2 emitting fuels (peat and gas).

The Shannon Scheme did set in motion a new strategic approach to Ireland’s electrification, that of centralised generation. Diversified generation was abandoned and a single body, the Electricity Supply Board (ESB) established in 1927, took over responsibility for all of the State’s electricity supply including the building and maintaining of a centralised grid. New demand was to be met by the construction of the country’s two largest power stations. Poolbeg (oil and gas) in 1971 and Moneypoint (coal) in 1979. Poolbeg has a capacity of 1015MW and Moneypoint can produce 915 MW. In 2002 and 2003, new independent stations were constructed. Huntstown Power, Dublin (747MW) and Dublin Bay Power, Ringsend, Dublin (400MW). Common to all is a dependency on fossil fuels and imported technologies. Indigenous innovation (with few exceptions) was abandoned in relation to alternative energy as it was in relation to the manufacturing and service sectors. Ireland became an importer of fuels, technologies, skills and companies. It had also become an importer of culture. The term ‘manufacturing’ was often used to describe what was little more than wrapping and packaging services for US manufactured goods. Banks parked their “back office” departments in Dublin to avail of low corporate taxes and relaxed regulation. Call centres proliferated. Indigenous industry and enterprise was allowed to die. And, when the “good times” came to an inevitable (long predicted) end, Ireland was technologically, industrially and in its skills, bankrupt (banca rotta).

Ireland’s per capita CO2 emissions have risen from less than 1MT in the 1930’s, cruised through 3.94MT in 1960, accelerated to 11.61MT in 2001 and has throttled back to about 10.6MT today, due to some fudging of wind energy’s emission calculations. Ireland has become one of the World’s leading CO2 emitters. Fossil fuels provided 96% of Ireland’s energy by 2006. Electricity production comprises 22% of all emissions. In addition to CO2 emissions, by using coal, oil and gas to produce electricity the surrounding Irish environment is perfumed with heavy and toxic metals, volatile organic compounds, particulates, gases and other unhealthy elements. The pendulum had travelled to its fullest extent.

Alternative energy potential was largely ignored until the proliferation of wind farms after the year 2000. Ireland’s countryside is now home to about 1,000 wind mills on 146 wind farms in an “all eggs in one basket” approach to alternative energy. 500 more wind mills are under construction, the grid is being specially upgraded and extended to tolerate intermittent large scale wind generated electricity and a Government strategy sees Ireland’s electricity demand met by wind energy in 20 years. That would require more than 10,000 wind mills and a constant reliable south-westerly. Over 70% of Ireland’s wind farms are built on blanket bogs, betraying Government and enterprise ignorance of real environmental concerns and displaying recklessness about structural stability and safety.

Terraintegra has long argued that while wind energy has a role to play, it can only be a support player to other technologies with higher capacity factors. Ireland has not innovated or diversified to support diverse alternative energy technologies. An unfriendly regulatory environment which favours mega over micro, grid inadequacy and pervasive public ignorance about alternatives, stymie micro innovation and experimentation. Biogas, conservatively estimated to be capable of 530MW electricity and over 1,500MW of heat (a valuable energy in Ireland) and more importantly, the capacity to generate lasting jobs on Ireland’s farms and in its cities, has little support. Tidal and wave energy, conservatively thought to be capable of 300MW, are not seen as a solution. Smaller hydro-electrical (run of river and tidal stream) stations receive no regulatory and financial backing and no rights to grid access as is the German case.

Terraintegra argues that Ireland can still become an alternative energy leader by harnessing all of its natural resources. We do not add support to the mushrooming of wind mills on every hill but do advocate a diverse decentralised energy strategy which supports the generation and conservation of every watt that can be produced and saved by planet equilibrating means.
And so on to New Ireland’s new adventures, with one eye on the past.

2 Responses to Out with the Old (Ireland) and in with the New (Ireland)

  1. A says:

    “New hydro stations were built at Poulaphouca (30MW), Golden Falls (4MW), Leixlip (38MW)”?

    Leixlip had a capacity of 4MW, all the liffey stations only had a total installed capacity of 38MW

  2. Padraic says:

    Small hydro does recieve financial backing in the form of a REFIT Tarriff of EUR85.993 per MWh.
    Also the CER recently seperated small projects <5 MW from the standard Gate queue for grid connection and gives them an automatic license to generate.

    On the rush for wind, you can hardly blame a country for seeking to exploit its most abundant resource first. In doing so the industry is pushing the boundaries of what is possible for grid systems as can be seen in Eirgrids plans for up to 70% instaintaneous wind on the system. In a way we have come full circle from Ardnacrusha and are once again at the cutting edge of power technelogy.

    Padraic

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