Friday, May 8, 2009

How many years must a mountain exist before it is washed to the sea?

Ten years ago I gave English lessons to a German entrepreneur in Berlin, who had set up a successful wind energy company specialising in the supply and construction of wind turbines. The company was rapidly expanding throughout Europe. I remember asking her if she had plans to expand the business in Ireland. “If I we could promote this form of energy in Ireland” she told me “ we could almost double our business. Ireland is perfect for wind-energy production. But I don’t think your Government has really shown interest in this possibility” She was right. The Irish government was, as usual, doing its best to avoid the winds of change! Their chief interests included urban sprawl, environmental and heritage destruction and the sale of our national resources.

But in these morose times, it comes as a relief to find out that something positive and uniquely progressive could still happen in Ireland. A new think tank was set up six months ago called Spirit of Ireland to explore the potential of the Irish wind energy industry. On their website they confidently proclaim
Ireland has enormous advantages of geography and geology. Every day and every night, truly extraordinary wealth in terms of energy blows across our land. Our place on the corner of Europe tipping into the huge Atlantic Ocean, ensures an endless supply of energy on a massive scale and of enormous value. 98% of our Energy is imported at a cost of over €6.5 billion per year. Every year! Ireland has within its reach a truly enormous and inexhaustible source of Natural Energy and Wealth. By taking energy from the wind and by building large Hydro Energy Reservoirs we can make energy from the wind fully reliable and usable’

The growth of the wind-energy industry has always been hampered by the problem of fluctuations in wind intensity and the storage of the energy. What happens when there is little wind? The Spirit of Ireland project has come up with a compelling solution to this problem. The key here lies in Ireland’s unique geography. A Russian by the name of Igor Shvets, who is professor of physics in Trinity College Dublin, (who says the country doesn’t need immigrants!) has pointed out that Ireland abounds in impervious valleys which are contiguous to the ocean. If the Spirit of Ireland project is implemented, these valleys will be dammed and hydro- storage reservoirs will be built, thereby serving as natural lakes storing water which can be used for electricity generation when the wind is down. The project website states the solution thus:

Professor Igor Shvets has identified suitable valleys on the West Coast, which are ideally shaped. Basic rock dams in a few valleys, will provide Hydro Storage Reservoirs at modest cost. Positioned close to the sea, water volume is not an issue. Japan’s J-Power had built a successful sea water storage facility in Okinawa over 10 years ago. Senior executives and engineers from Japan visited Ireland and confirmed the validity of this approach. Filling the reservoirs with wind energy and using it when needed means that the intermittency of the wind problem is resolved. International Consultants from Canada, the US and Norway contributed to other aspects of the design.’

Ireland currently ranks 16th in the world for wind-energy production and 9th in the European Union. But according to the Spirit of Ireland project, Ireland’s unique geology, geography and marine environment has not been adequately exploited. Ireland could become a world leader in wind industry, exporting energy to other countries and saving billions in national energy expenditure every year.

The Spirit of Ireland project aims are to create tens of thousands of jobs, achieve energy independence in 5 years, as well as saving thirty billion by reducing the importation of fossil fuels, thereby effecting a radical reduction in the country’s carbon dioxide emissions. The project includes many financial experts who estimate that a fully developed national wind energy project would add 50 billion Euro to the economy! So, perhaps therein lies the solution to our soaring trade deficit which could yet reach 50 billion Euro. This is an innovative and progressive idea. But national progress requires intelligent governance. Ah, there’s the rub!

According to the European Wind Energy Association EWEA, wind energy accounted for over 43 percent of all new energy generating capacity in the EU last year. If the Government insists on introducing its silly blasphemy laws, perhaps they should consider giving a ‘special’ protection to old Aeolus, the Greek god of the wind, or Danu, the Celtic god of wind, wisdom and fertility!
Who knows, it could yet transpire that the solution to our economic despair lies in what we all breath though none of us see; the answer is blowin in the wind.

For a breath of fresh air (sorry, couldn’t resist) see:

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