Ireland met its targets for generating 15 per cent of electricity from renewable sources by 2010 in January, a conference in Dublin was told this morning.
Addressing the National Summit on Renewable Energy at Croke Park, Minister for Energy Eamon Ryan also revealed that Ireland is on schedule to overshoot its aim of achieving 40 per cent of the State's electricity needs from renewables by 2020.
Mr Ryan said he believed there are no longer any differences between political parties and industry on what needs to be done and the only issue left was the speed of the development of renewable energy.
The Minister also revealed his department was in talks with authorities in Britain on "about three" new electricity interconnectors across the Irish Sea.
He said a new study has got underway in recent days, in conjunction with authorities in Scotland, on the setting up of an undersea grid connection along the Irish Sea bed. This grid would connect wind energy installations in Wales, England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland.
The undersea connection would ultimately become part of a larger grid proposed by 10 states in northwestern Europe, which in turn is designed to link into a pan European grid which includes solar energy contributed by Mediterranean countries and Portugal.
Mr Ryan also said new measures would be introduced to coordinate various different incentives available for energy efficiency, such as grants for home and commercial building energy efficiency, with new "obligations" on industry to design and provide for more efficiency.
EirGrid chief executive Dermot Byrne said there were currently 1,260 megawatts of wind energy connected to the Irish grid. In addition, there are 1,300 megawatts under construction and a further 3,990 megawatts would be sanctioned under the next round of allocations.
This would give more than the required 40 per cent by 2020. Even allowing for the possibility that not all of the projects would be built, Mr Byrne said the likelihood was that Ireland's 40 per cent target would be achieved by 2017 or 2018.
He said the development of improvements to the grid, known as "Grid 25" was vital to the success of the plan and he asked conference attendees to support EirGrid's plans for an overhead 400kv North South interconnector on the island. Public consultation on this proposal ends on March 12th.
Mr Byrne said this was a vital piece of infrastructure and would be the largest project to come before An Bord Pleanala's strategic infrastructure arm.
Mr Byrne also announced that a €110 million grant for the East West Interconnector between Ireland and Britain was formally signed off by the European Commission yesterday.
The grant was made under a “stimulus package” approved by the commission last July, which was first announced by Mr Byrne last September
It is in addition to “soft loans” from the European Investment Bank which will see up to €300 million invested in the interconnector. A further allocation of up to €200 million has been approved by the bank for development of the ESB’s renewable energy businesses, principally wind farms.
Donal Murphy director of Global Project Finance with Bank of Ireland said there was a danger of a "dropping off" of applications for loans from developers of renewable energy. He said this was because of a perception that no loans were available, but he maintained that perception was mistaken.
Mr Murphy told the conference the bank had a fund of €800 million fior renewable energy and this was "certainly not a sector that was being ignored".