A massive investment is needed for the national grid to integrate increasing amounts of renewable energy and to meet a rising demand for electricity.

This comes as a scheme allowing individuals, community groups, business owners and farmers to sell electricity to the national grid - if they generate it from solar panels, wind turbines and other sustainable energy technologies - looks set to be in place this summer.

The plan is part of the Government's 'Microgeneration Support Scheme', which is set to begin in July and is presently in public consultation until mid-February.

Under the proposed scheme, micro-generators can sell 30% of the excess electricity they produce and export it back to the grid. The price that electricity will be sold at is being formulated during the consultation process.

"It's a scheme to get people generating power at home, and in their own business, and on the farm," Mr Ryan said, adding that the consultation would help deliver a "fair price".

"The real benefit in having your own power is not having to pay for the electricity you are using. I think that for most householders and most businesses the real saving will be in their own electricity bills," he said.

The CEO of 3CEA - the three County Energy Agency for Kilkenny, Carlow and Wexford – welcomed the 'Micro Generation Support Scheme' but said initial projections showed homeowners could spend 14 years recouping the cost of their solar panels.

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Paddy Phelan said price incentives needed to be good enough to attract people to invest in renewable energy technologies for their homes and businesses.

"I would see that the incentive would need to be greater to get people to change their behaviour," said Mr Phelan.

"Limiting export on a household or a business or a farm to 30% is a missed opportunity," Mr Phelan said.

He raised questions about the capacity of the electricity network to take electricity from many microgenerators.

"I think that it is borne out by the difficulties that we might see in terms of the age of our electricity network.

"The Government really needs to consider bolstering the supports to the network to allow it to be upgraded and to facilitate expanding the scheme to allow for more export from all the community buildings, farmer roof buildings and homes right across the country," he said.

Farmer Tommy O'Shea, of O'Shea Farms in Pilltown, Co Kilkenny runs part of his farm business on solar panels.

He said the 30% limit on the amount of electricity that can be sold by individuals, farmers, individuals and business owners is too small and he has the scope to generate more electricity.

Morning Ireland asked Minister Eamon Ryan if the existing network can take lots of microgenerators spilling excess electricity on to it.

"We do have a real challenge in our network – in our distribution network and transmission network to really scale it up to make it capable of availing of this really competitive fuel supply, this renewable supply we have," Minister Ryan said.

"Having significant microgeneration, in my mind, supports the grid and stabilises it", he said, adding that ESB Networks, as the distribution company, is already introducing a range of smart technologies to the electricity network.

He added ESB Networks, as the distribution company, is already introducing a range of smart technologies to the electricity network.

"I think it will require huge investment. It will require real engineering expertise from ESB Networks. I am confident it can and will do that," said the minister.

Morning Ireland also asked the minister whether the resources, systems and people are in place to allow every one access to the grid if they want to generate their own electricity.

The minister said: "It will take time and it is not a small investment. The Government approved the other day an increase in ESB's borrowing limits recognising that we will have to invest in the grid. It will take time." 

Today, a spokesperson for the minister clarified his comments to Morning Ireland and said they related to "the wider picture".

The spokesperson said there will be "massive investment needed in the transmission and distribution grid overall, to integrate an increasing proportion of renewables, and to meet rising demand for electricity as a result of the electrification of many sectors including heat and EVS, as well as population growth".

"There is little or no requirement for extra investment in the grid to support microgeneration. ESB Networks has published a report that assessed the impacts of increased penetration of micro-generators on their network. They have concluded that all electricity consumers could install up to 3kW in rural areas and 4kW in urban areas with little or no impact on the network," the spokesperson said.

Minister Ryan is inviting the public to take part in a consultation on how the scheme will operate. The consultation is part of a broader movement towards greater citizen involvement in energy policy, committed to in the 2020 Programme for Government.

Micro-generation is defined as micro-generation technologies, including micro-solar PV, micro-hydro, micro-wind and micro-renewable CHP with a maximum electrical output of 50kW, designed to primarily service the self-consumption needs of the property where it is installed.

The scheme is part of Ireland's transition to a net-zero carbon economy,  and is part of trying to achieve Ireland's 2030 targets for renewable energy.

New incentives planned for microgeneration