The Republic of Ireland’s ambitions for solar energy production are opening up a new market, with VINCI Energies in on the ground floor. Omexom RE Solar and Omexom Ireland will be connecting the first solar power plants to the supply network.

Ireland has set itself an ambitious goal: to reach 70% renewables in its energy mix by 2030, with a gradual phase-out of coal from 2025 onward.

Having previously prioritised wind power, especially onshore, the Republic of Ireland has now decided to extend its focus to solar as well, promising the creation of a whole new industry and sector.

To help achieve this, the authorities have launched a huge programme in support of renewable electricity: the RESS (Renewable Electricity Support Scheme). With a €12.5 billion budget until 2025, this national plan began in spring 2020 with the tendering process for construction of the first solar power plants, 63 in all, with total capacity of 767.32 GWh.  

Two VINCI Energies business units, Omexom RE Solar and Omexom Ireland, won three of these projects for Neoen, the French solar project developer and operator, in association with its Irish counterpart BNRG. The three projects, totalling more than 58 MWp, are located in Hilltown, Millvale and Hortland, towns to the north, south & west of Dublin.

“With the country under strict lockdown since the start of the year, the work initially due to start in January 2021 was postponed until April, with delivery now due in late 2021 or early 2022,” says Emmanuel Musy, project manager at Omexom.

“The major challenge is the anticipation and communication between the operator and the Omexom firms needed to make a success of this, a first for Ireland”

Omexom RE Solar is responsible for design, purchasing, and construction of the plants, with Omexom Ireland handling connection to the Irish electrical supply network. As Ken Collins, project manager at Omexom Ireland explains, Omexom enjoys a “long-established working relationship with the Irish Distribution Network supplier Operator ESB (Electricity Supply Board) on a variety of electrical infrastructure ranging from 10 kV medium voltage to 400 kV high voltage in the distribution and transmission networks. This enables us to collaborate more quickly, right from the design phase, on each of the projects’ different elements.”

Reciprocity and agility at the core of the project

The reciprocity between the two organisations is essential to the novel task of connecting Ireland’s first solar power plants to its supply grid. Omexom Ireland will handle the civil engineering to allow connection of the solar plants’ substations to the ESB source substation. “The major challenge is the anticipation and communication between the operator and ourselves needed to make this ground-breaking project a success,” says Emmanuel Musy.  

Though these projects are not especially challenging from a technical point of view, the VINCI Energies business units did have to demonstrate their agility, beginning with the issue of coordination between their teams. Emmanuel Musy explains that “To facilitate dialogue between us, we set up inter-cultural training in March 2021, with one day allocated to people from Omexom RE Solar, another to people from Omexom Ireland, and a final joint day for both teams.”

He adds that the pandemic required the project team to show adaptability, with all contact being distanced. “And on top of that, postponing the project completely disrupted the schedule, with all the challenges that brought in terms of rescheduling works and redefining workloads.” Omexom also showed its agility on these three projects, subcontracting some of its Irish subsidiary’s design phase tasks to their Czech colleagues for workload management purposes.

This synergy will take shape throughout the second phase of the project, namely the 20-year contracts to operate and maintain the plants also secured by Omexom. As project lead for this phase, the Irish subsidiary will receive support from the Omexom brand’s France-based team to boost its expertise in this area.

This knowledge transfer should prove useful with the prospect of regular calls for tender in the Irish market between now and 2025. Ken Collins believes that “The experience acquired through these projects will set us apart from our competitors, as we will be the first company in Ireland to deliver comprehensive EPC [engineering, procurement and construction] contracts at this level, which sets us up well with large-scale developers in the future.”