Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Spirit of Ireland seminar

We hosted a seminar by the Spirit of Ireland team this morming at Clyde Road. We had about 180 people, split over two conference rooms. We also had about 80 members following us live on our Webex-cast: playback will be available for our members at the usual Webex site. We also experimented with tweeting it live at #sptirl and displaying the tweet stream live to the audience.

Engineers Ireland neither supports nor condemns the specifics of the Spirit of Ireland proposal. Our objective this morning was to facilitate an open and honest debate amongst the professional engineering community in Ireland, and we would hope to continue and follow up this in due course.

There were numerous presenters on behalf of the Spirit of Ireland team, including in particular its two primary promoters, Graham O'Donnell and Igor Schvets. We also had presentations from the IWEA and Eirgrid on their assessments of some technical aspects of the proposal.

What I took away from the presentations are the following aspects of the proposal, but it is of course wiser to examine the Spirit of Ireland website and/or watch the presentations on webex:

⁃ The team intend to work with as many professionals as possible to derive a publicly reviewable proposal by the end of September next, which would be of sufficient depth and scope to attract potential international investors.

⁃ If the project does proceed, it would be governed by a PLC like structure, although not a publicly quoted company. It could have an investor mix of private individuals and members of the public; the State, on behalf of the citizens of Ireland; institutional investors; the European Investment Bank; and international sovereign funds. The Spirit of Ireland team do not expect to have any involvement in the governance structure, and view their work completed once the plan is accepted and being undertaken.

⁃ The project would not intend to replace or displace existing energy generation initiatives, in particular the current and planned development of wind farms across the country. Rather it is intended to be complementary.

⁃ The project proposes that new wind farms be built, with full support and endorsement and in fact leadership from local community groups. The balance sheet of the new PLC would be used to loan funds to, and/or co-invest in, communities to build these wind farms.

⁃ Like Denmark, there should be a once off national planning process, leading to a national energy atlas of wind farm sites. Once the atlas is in place, permits should be readily accessible (there be no further planning process required) to those sites in the atlas.

⁃ These new wind farms are themselves connected to a new, separate, medium scale grid. This grid would be completely separate from the current national grid. Once built, it would be operated by Eirgrid alongside the national grid.

⁃ The new grid would feed at least 2, and possibly more, large sea water reservoirs somewhere on the West coast. These would be pumped storage schemes, somewhat like Turlough Hill, but differing in important aspects: sea-water; above ground generating plant; linear rock dams (not circular structure), about 1km long each. The stored energy in each reservoir (I believe, and subject to correction) would be about 300GW hours.

⁃ The reversible hydro-electric turbines in the pumped storage schemes would then link to the current national grid (run by Eirgrid) by high voltage connections.

⁃ Some 50 alternative sites for the pumped storage schemes have been identified, and modelled in detail on a 10m by 10m by 10m grid for the west of Ireland. Several of these sites are eminently suitable.

⁃ The reservoirs may need in part, or total, sealing against sea water seepage: the costs of this are included.

⁃ Sea water based hydro electric schemes exist elsewhere. There is a pumped sea water based hydro scheme in Japan.

⁃ Depending on national strategy and national objectives, the proposal could be designed to export energy as needed (by the pumped storage scheme, not directly by the wind farms) to other jurisdictions via suitable interconnectors. It depends on what capacity of pumped storage we decide as a nation to build for our own strategic energy security, and whether or not also for the export market.

⁃ Some 10,000s of jobs would be created. Rural communities would see investment, and community profits from wind farms. Land owners over whose property the new grid was built would receive income for energy transmission. Ireland could develop its own manufacturing capability for aspects of the plant required, such as the wind turbines.

⁃ Spirit of Ireland are appealing to the professional engineering community to engage, and test and correct the proposal. Ultimately a national, apolitical, politically stable and socially endorsed effort is needed, with transparency and honesty.


  1. Thank you for your synopsis on today's event. Can you further elaborate on the fact that of the 50 potential sites, 'several of these sites are eminently suitable'. Is that to say these 2 'several' sites will require the least environmental disruption in their construction and life-cycle? Thanks again.

  2. Hi Joan,

    I can't speak for the Spirit of Ireland team, and I don't represent them.

    What I believe I heard, was that they have surveyed in detail over 50 west of ireland sites, and that they require as a minimum 2 substantial reservoirs. Apparently several of the 50 sites meet the requirements in terms of size and environmental impact. I didn't say this in the blog article, but I do recall them mentioning they are in early discussions with the County Managers for the specific sites concerned.

    They also mentioned that elsewhere (eg Wales) large reservoirs have become substantial tourist attractions, generating wealth for local communities.

    Overall my impression is that they wish to operate "bottom up" rather than "top down" -- have communities confirm that they really do want to get involved, rather than having it imposed on them by the government of the day in Dublin.

    I believe that their view of the Government's role in all this is one of being supportive, rather than having the Government lead the project...


  3. Thanks for that Chris, their 'bottom up' approach is a good one. As has been said elsewhere in this debate, local support is critical to SoI's success. I sincerely believe if a community is involved from the very outset, and is clearly going to directly benefit from the proposals, short & long term, it may garner the support it needs. I'm keen to hear more. Cheers.

  4. Joan,

    Thank you for your interest. We examined 50+ sites. As you would expect, some are more suitable than others either for reasons of geology, distance from the sea, or present use. Clearly locations with no or very low population density are more desirable. Some valleys are so remote that they are not accessible by road. Obviously nobody lives in these locations. We only need to use two.

    Our intention is to work most closely with those counties which have an interest in job creation based on power and tourism development. So far the response has been excellent and consultations will continue into the autumn.

    We will continue to post information as it becomes available on the website spiritofireland.org.

    Best regards,


  5. Hi Graham,

    Thanks for that feedback, so far everything that has been said from the SoI camp has been postive and in the right spirit (excuse the pun).

    I have not got the relevant technical training to dissect the precise nature of the proposals, but as an architect, I am certianly keen to lend my support in any way that I can.

    Lately I've had this feeling of discontent with how we are trained as architects, with zero regard for building towards sustainability. It eats away at me, and I want to finally take responsibility for the direction my career is taking.

    So it comforts me to see a group of professionals taking the reins on something as ambitious as SoI, and I wish you all the best with it.


  6. I reproduce below a comment from Bill Walsh posted today. For some mysterious reason, blogspot decided to reject this comment even though I had asked it (as the moderator) to publish it.

    Bill, I apologise, not sure what went wrong - Chris



    As a founder member of the IWEA in the earlyl days I looked around Europe to see what we might learn from other countries. At that time the leader in the field was Denmark. There they had calculated the cost of the energy used by an individual in a year and allowed any individual ao inclined to invest that amount in wind, tax free. In that way, although using brown energy, one could feel they were contributing to green energy and also getting a fair return for their investment.

    Would it not be a good idea to persuade Government to do something similar here to give as many people as possible a chance to become involved, especially those who judiciously used the SSIA system and still have that money invested at a very low return and attracting little or no tax obligation?

    Bill Walsh