Blog: Helping Ireland transition to a low-carbon energy system

Last week PwC launched a new report titled Transitioning to a low carbon energy systemlooking at opportunities to address the challenge of climate change cost effectively and in a way that offers benefits to society as a whole. Commissioned by the Electricity Association of Ireland (EAI), of which SSE is a member, the report demonstrates the stark transition Ireland needs to make if we are to arrive at the decarbonised 2050 that we all strive for. That transition underpins the commitment made by EU leaders to an 80-95% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions across the EU by 2050 compared to their 1990 levels.

As a scorecard of where we are now in achieving that transition, the PwC report confirms that emissions from electricity generation have approximately halved since 1990. In SSE, we’ve played a significant role in this transition through the delivery of 580MW of clean, green renewable energy at our 26 onshore windfarms as well as 464MW of cleaner thermal generation at our Great Island CCGT power station.

However what the PwC report very clearly outlines is the challenge that lies ahead. Ireland needs to achieve a drastic reduction in emissions across what are called the non-ETS sectors (namely Transport, Agriculture, Heat, Waste and smaller industry) which account for 70% of our emissions.

 

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The challenge is striking. The rural nature of our country and dispersed settlement patterns have created an inherent reliance on oil as a residential heating and transport solution. Ireland has proportionately the largest agricultural sector in the EU and doubts exist about its potential to decarbonise. The population and economy are set to grow and develop over the next 30 years which, while welcome, is intrinsically linked to increased emissions. Therefore the decoupling of emissions from economic and domestic activity will also be central to achieving a prosperous low carbon economy. 

This effectively means that efforts to decarbonise the other sectors in Ireland, predominantly heat and transport, must move more quickly than in other EU Member States. Changing this will not be easy but our performance to-date has also created one of the solutions.

The electricity sector has and will continue to decarbonise. By electrifying our heat and transport sectors we can use electricity as a workhorse to decarbonise the broader economy. Electric heat and transport technologies have additional benefits such as efficiency gains and, particularly in the case of urban areas, noise and local pollution reduction. Furthermore, the electrification of these sectors offers the potential to assist with renewables integration through demand side management, the Connected Home and system services.

All of this will require an increasingly decarbonising power sector, replacing high carbon generation with renewables and low carbon thermal generation, and presents an opportunity for SSE to play a continued role. We are building the 169MW Galway Wind Park in partnership with Coillte, which, when completed later this year, will become Ireland’s largest wind farm. We will continue to look at opportunities in onshore as Ireland’s most cost-effective form of renewable generation, but we also believe that offshore is now positioned to play a key role in the generation portfolio in Ireland. This is a technology where SSE is well placed to play a leadership role through the potential to deliver on our long-standing ambition to develop our Arklow Bank offshore wind farm project. 

We are also playing our role in electrifying the heat sector through our involvement in a Horizon 2020 project, ‘Real Value’, with a number of partners across the entire energy supply chain. The project commenced in June 2015 and involves installing Smart Electric Thermal Storage Systems (SETS) into 1,250 homes to meet householders’ space and water heating needs in a low-cost and energy-efficient manner, while also providing additional energy storage capacity.  We are also progressing an exciting Connected Home platform with Dixons Carphone to deliver a range of smart technologies to help consumers manage their energy consumption in real-time.

In the period to 2050, a key objective for policy makers will be to effectively balance the competing challenges of achieving the necessary transition to a low carbon energy system with affordability and security of supply – the energy trilemma. Achieving that balance will require policy makers to define a roadmap for that transition that is affordable for customers and businesses, whilst ensuring secure energy supplies and the policy environment certainty that investors, such as SSE, need in order to invest in low-carbon alternatives and smarter energy initiatives. 

In the last year alone, SSE generated 3,900GWh of electricity from our combined generation fleet of renewables and cleaner CCGT plant, helping to significantly decarbonise electricity production on the island. We’re proud of the difference that we have made so far towards powering our greener future. More importantly, we’re restless for a future in which SSE continues to play a leadership role in achieving our continued transition to a low carbon energy system, building on our proud experience and contributing significantly to the creation of a low carbon Ireland in 2050.

About the author

Stephen Wheeler Managing Director, SSE Ireland

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