Mapping Ireland’s Solar Potential
Powered by geographic information systems (GIS), SEAI’s new ‘Solar Atlas’ helps map out the ‘hot topic’ of Ireland’s solar energy potential
GIS mapping tools help visualise distributions and patterns in complex data, making things easier to understand. By mapping data like ‘solar energy potential’ in a GIS Atlas, and showing its distribution across our counties, towns, and homes, it can really help connect people to what’s happening.
For example, the 2023 Climate Action Plan (CAP) includes a national target of 8GW of solar energy by 2030, but where exactly is all that solar power going to be generated?
That’s where SEAI’s newest GIS tool – the Solar Atlas – comes in. Not only does the new Solar Atlas show where Ireland’s current grid-connected solar farms are located, it also shows where future solar farms are planned to be connected. While you might have assumed that the majority will be based in the ‘sunny southeast’, the Solar Atlas shows a much wider distribution across the country, as each county works to ‘do their bit’ for renewable electricity generation. The Solar Atlas also maps out the key technical parameter of “Global Horizontal Irradiance” (which is an indicator for how much electricity a solar panel will generate). It shows that this varies by only about 15% from Rosslare to Letterkenny – there’s almost as much sun shining in Donegal as in Wexford! Want to see how your hometown compares?
Utility-scale solar projects are projected to grow in order to facilitate 8GW by 2030, with each project requiring careful planning to maximise its energy output and minimise its environmental impact. GIS can be a great resource in facilitating these goals.
The Solar Atlas also acts to keep a running total of the export capacity of connected and planned solar farms, so it can act as a useful provisional scorecard against that Climate Action Plan (CAP) target of 8GW. As of March 2023, when latest data was provided to SEAI by EirGrid and ESB Networks, there was 1.9GW of solar farm capacity planned for grid-connection (with 34MW of that already connected).
While 1.9GW of planned solar farm capacity is a great start and is further supplemented by the “embedded” solar panels on the rooftops of our homes, businesses, and farms, it still leaves a significant gap to the CAP 2030 target of 8GW. GIS will play a key role in helping to plan and optimise the locations of these future solar farms.
GIS mapping will let solar farm planners quickly overlay multiple layers of relevant data:
- NPWS – Avoiding building on natural heritage areas, special areas of conservation, etc.
- Solar Flux – How much light will hit the panels in the solar farm
- Topography – Avoiding slopes and inclines, especially to the north
- Overshadowing – Avoiding wooded and forested that can cast shadows on the panels
- Physical Access – Site access to the solar farm, and proximity to houses, businesses, and farms
- Grid Access – Proximity to sub-stations and transmission lines
GIS will not only help facilitate the technical decisions on choosing the best locations, it will also accelerate the planning decisions on those sites. Getting good decisions made quickly is essential to meeting our 2030 targets, which are only six and half years away. GIS will help us make those decisions, not only for solar farms, but for other renewable energy investments, too.