Subsidies for solar energy could help create 7,300 jobs and let 70,000 homes generate their own power, experts have claimed.
According to the Irish Solar Energy Association (ISEA) a study of the heatwave in early June found that Ireland could have produced 7% of its demand for electricity during the hot spell.
The lobby group also identified 400 live planning applications for solar farms and installations and said state backed incentives to get these up and running and kick-start the industry would initially add 19 euro to a household’s annual bill.
ISEA chairman David Maguire called on the Government to use the industry to meet Ireland’s commitment to 40% renewable energy by 2020.
“Despite the successful deployment of wind energy in Ireland, which enjoyed considerable state support, wind alone will not ensure that we reach that goal,” he said.
“However solar, which is a material part of the established solution for other countries in Europe, is still in its embryonic state here.”
The ISEA claimed an established solar energy sector in Ireland – about 2 GW capacity, enough power for about 1.4 million homes from solar farms to domestic and industrial rooftop installations – would also help avoid the potential 300 million euro a year in fines from Europe if renewable targets are not met in the next four years.
The association based its analysis on generation from a commercial rooftop installation in the south-east which turned out 16,000 units of renewable electricity in the near unbroken sunshine in the first two weeks of June.
In 2014 Ireland got just 23% of its electricity from renewables.
Other research showed that last month solar produced more electricity in the UK than coal for the first time ever.
Mr Maguire added that subsidies would eventually pay off for the state.
“Essentially, we are saying that for every one euro that is invested in the sector, we will return three euro to the economy,” he said.
The ISEA also claimed solar is the only renewable energy which does not qualify for a subsidy in Ireland and it claimed wind power is in line to get 334m euro in state money next year and the peat industry will be paid 138m euro out of taxpayers’ money.
The group also called on the Government to reform planning rules to make it easier to install solar panels on homes and businesses.
“Solar is a real, viable proposition. Our members are ready to go and have their applications in with local authorities right throughout the country.
“We can start employing people very quickly and begin producing power within a very short time frame. We don’t have to pay huge EU fines – the solution is available to us now,” Mr Maguire added.
Modern solar power technology uses panels which can absorb daylight right across the light spectrum, meaning direct sunlight is not necessary.
Planning applications for solar farms in Cork and Wexford have been successful and others are pending for other parts of the counties and in Tipperary, Kilkenny and Offaly.
The plants have a life-span of about 30 years with virtually zero running costs and panels are guaranteed by the manufacturer for 25 years.
Mr Maguire said it is inevitable that consumers will pay more for their power unless the Government drives the early stages of the industry with subsidies.
“Ultimately we will be paying a hell of a lot more in taxes if we don’t meet our 2020 targets for renewables,” he said.