The development of solar in the Republic of Ireland will benefit from the late introduction of a support scheme compared to other markets and improve public opinion of renewables, according to leading figures in the sector speaking at last week’s Solar PV Ireland event.
While some have been frustrated at the slow legislative process in Ireland to bring a support scheme forward, David Maguire, chairman of the Irish Solar Energy Association (ISEA), claimed the country will be able to learn lessons from other markets while taking advantage of the rapid decline in costs.
Speaking to a packed room of almost 300 at the event, Maguire said: “We're coming to [solar] late and that's really positive. Being the last EU member state to get a support mechanism for solar is actually a good thing because we've seen those costs fall dramatically, we can also learn from the mistakes of other EU member states and territories around the world.
“It's exciting as this is ground zero for Ireland.”
The technology is also being viewed as a way to improve public perceptions of renewable energy after popular support for onshore wind plummeted in Ireland.
Jim Gannon, chief executive of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, said: “Ireland needs to decarbonise and we've reached our first saturation point with regard to wind so we need to start looking at alternatives.
“Solar has an opportunity not only to approach this in a different way but to heal some of the perceived wounds of the past with regards to societal acceptance.”
The need for Ireland to decarbonise further towards 2020 and beyond has also been felt by the Irish government according to Eamon Ryan, leader of Green Party in Ireland and former minister for energy, who gave a keynote address on the opening day.
“On solar there's political agreement within the Dáil that actually now is the time for us to turn to solar as the next big step in movement towards this renewable future,” he said.
Ryan also pointed out the country will need to learn from the wave of public opinion against wind by getting communities involved and building new support for solar.
He added: “The instinct of how we get community involved is very strong in the parliament. I wouldn't underestimate how that trumps other interests because politicians are not stupid – they rely on public support so whatever we do should really involve as much community ownership as possible.”
He went on to suggest that Ireland needed to replicate the strength of the German solar market, which draws a lot of its renewable energy from sites owned by small farmers or cooperative and community schemes.
Ryan argued that rooftop support for both domestic and commercial properties would be key in winning over public support.