Offshore wind is an “efficient and realistic way” to help Ireland meet its 2020 renewable energy targets, according to SSE.

SSE Ireland managing director Stephen Wheeler told the Oireachtas joint committee on communications, climate action and environment that the country has a “window of opportunity” to transform the way it generates power.

He said offshore wind is now a “scalable, proven and maturing technology” that offers considerable benefits to consumers and society. 

Wheeler added: “We believe that offshore wind can play a key part in bridging the gap to Ireland’s 2020 targets and beyond.

“Offshore wind energy can deliver large volumes of renewable electricity in the short term and also set us on the right trajectory for more ambitious 2030 targets.”

He said the company is progressing plans to fully develop the Arklow Bank wind farm to deliver a minimum of 520MW of capacity.  

Wheeler said the project could be delivered in a “timescale from construction through to commercial operation that will qualify towards Ireland’s 2020 targets – offsetting and potentially eliminating any fines”.

But delivery will only be achieved if the “right market conditions are in place for the energy industry to respond”, he added.

The technology neutral approach in the government’s support scheme auctions “will not give offshore wind projects investment clarity in the timeframe that we need, or enable a local supply chain to develop”, he said.  

SSE backs a separate support mechanism for the offshore sector.

SSE co-developed Ireland’s first and only operational offshore wind farm in 2004 – the seven-turbine, 25MW first phase of the Arklow Bank project.

Meanwhile, SSE has awarded Martek Aviation a two-year contract to inspect 683 wind turbines across 47 sites in the UK and Ireland using unmanned aerial systems.

The contract, which will start next month, will cover the inspection of a variety of hardware from different manufacturers.

The work will be conducted using a specially-designed Octocopter for offshore projects, paired with software designed for data collection and analysis.

Martek Group chief executive Paul Luen said: “This is the third major framework contract we now hold which confirms our position at the forefront of UAS service provision. 2018 will deliver massive growth in our business.”

Image: Ireland's Arklow Bank wind park (NREL)