Delivering a decade of decarbonisation

Earlier this week, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) published its annual report tracking Ireland’s progress towards its 2020 renewable energy targets.

Just 11% of Ireland’s overall energy consumption came from renewable sources in 2018, still well short of the 16% target for 2020. The findings show that Ireland ranked second last out of the 27 EU member states, plus the UK. Only the Netherlands performed worse. 

The report examined energy consumption in 2018 under three headings: electricity, transport, and heat. Ireland fared comparatively well on the electricity front, generating 33% of our energy from renewable sources, thanks to a world-leading onshore wind industry. However, this is still behind the 40% target. 

The figures for both heat and transport are particularly poor, with 6.5% and 3% powered by renewables respectively. In fact, emissions actually went up in both sectors from 2017 to 2018.

All in all, the report is a stark reminder of what we already know - we will fall significantly short of our 2020 targets, and urgent action is needed to get back on track in the years ahead.

Of course, the overriding priority for SSE, and the wider industry, right now, is to provide the energy people need as the country continues to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. However, while carbon emissions may have temporarily fallen, for all the wrong reasons, we know the climate emergency hasn’t gone anywhere. 

With that in mind, it’s encouraging to see the Irish Government calling for the European Green Deal to be a central part of the EU’s economic recovery plan following the pandemic. Aside from the clear environmental consequences, climate action holds huge economic opportunities for Ireland, from avoiding significant fines, to stimulating billions in investment, to creating thousands of jobs across the country.

We’ve seen a lot of ambition in recent years, with the national Climate Action Plan published and many companies announcing major commitments to tackling climate change. While this is welcome, it’s time to put those plans into action. We need to make this a decade of decarbonisation to ensure we hit our targets for 2030, and beyond.

First and foremost, Ireland needs to build on its strengths, ensuring we reach the 70% target for renewable electricity set out in the Climate Action Plan. This will in turn drive decarbonisation in other sectors. We know the offshore wind industry is poised to invest billions of euro in Ireland, with SSE Renewables ready to lead the way, and it’s vital we see Government action to make that happen.

We will undoubtedly need flexible gas-fired generation to back up this renewable energy. It’s important, therefore, that we start to see progress on emerging solutions like carbon capture and hydrogen in Ireland, which have the potential to decarbonise this conventional generation.

The electrification of heating, combined with an increasing emphasis on energy efficiency, can help decarbonise our homes and businesses. Collaboration between utilities like SSE Airtricity, the SEAI, and local authorities, will be vital given the scale of energy savings required. 

We need citizens to be informed and engaged at all levels of energy policy as we move to a more decentralised system, from enabling microgeneration, to the roll-out of smart meters, to the delivery of infrastructure for electric vehicles. The SEAI’s report shows that just 1% of transport energy comes from renewable electricity, highlighting the scale of the challenge ahead if we’re to meet the Climate Action Plan’s target of 890,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2030.

As the economy and society emerges from the coronavirus crisis, it’s crucial that we’re ready to turn this potential into a reality and help Ireland build a better world of energy for tomorrow.

About the author

Stephen Wheeler Ireland Country Lead

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