Title: Ireland’s Energy Challenge
The challenge posed by Climate Change is summed up in the Fifth Assessment Report provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC(1) “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal and it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century”. Evidence is emerging in Ireland of the impacts of climate change. Storms and floods which previously would have been considered “1 in 100 year” events are now occurring more frequently.
Addressing this challenge requires collective action and for this reason the topic of Energy Action should be considered at the Energy Symposium 2016.
On a positive note, action has already begun: At the Paris Climate Conference in December 2015, Ireland, along with 194 other countries, adopted the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate deal. The agreement sets out a global action plan to limit global warming to well below 2°C, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
Engineers Ireland highlighted the issue of Energy in our recent ‘State of Ireland’(2) Report. The report has placed a special emphasis on climate action, recognising that both policy and behavioral change are needed to protect our planet for future generations. The report acknowledges that Ireland’s energy infrastructure is fundamental to economic competitiveness. It puts forward the position that prudent choices and targeted investments in our energy system have the potential to boost growth, create jobs, improve equality of opportunity, and achieve balanced development.
Electricity Supply Sector: The transition to zero carbon in our electricity supply is underway, kick-started by the 2007 Energy White Paper(3). We are now above 25% with a real prospect of achieving the 40% (4) target by 2020. This progress was largely driven by collective action and investment by the electricity industry.
Progress must be maintained. In a decade or so it is likely that coal and peat-fired generation will cease, taking two very large carbon emitters out of the equation. So where will new generation sources come from? Costs of wind and solar power are coming down, and the technical challenges associated with lack of system inertia are being addressed. In the longer term there will be a need for a debate on the future for nuclear power.
Electricity supply represents only about 20% of the carbon emissions from the energy sector. Of greater importance at this stage are the heating and transport sectors – representing 21% and 26% of non-ETS GHG emissions respectively. Given their scale and the absence of any significant progress in recent years, it is essential that these sections are prioritised. So what are the prospects?
Heating Sector: We must increase energy efficiency. At the enterprise level, there are great examples of companies that are advancing on energy efficiency and carbon reduction. Engineers Ireland, in our ‘State of Ireland’ report, highlights one such company – Astellas Ireland Ltd. who have achieved a 92% reduction in carbon emissions through the installation of a biomass boiler, a wind turbine, and a solar water heating system – and critically in the process they have reduced overall manufacturing costs and increased its competitiveness. This success story needs to be replicated throughout the country.
Transport Sector: When it comes to heavy vehicles, using CNG offers a real opportunity to reduce emissions from diesel-fuelled trucks and buses. Importantly, the introduction of CNG to the heavy vehicles fleet is a gateway for the future introduction of renewable gas into the transport sector. Renewable gas in the form of biomethane is an upgraded form of biogas, and is produced through the anaerobic digestion of organic matter. It is now 10 years since the first hybrid bus appeared in London and the UK now has over 1400 hybrid busses on the road. Ireland has yet to see one. As a first step Engineers Ireland would like to see the government supply the €1 million in funding, previously refused, to allow Dublin Bus to trial three busses next year. This
should then be followed by a roll out gradually replacing all state agency car, van and bus fleets to electric, compressed natural gas (CNG) and hybrid modes respectively and thereby a helping to address emissions. Accelerate the purchase of Electric Vehicles (EVs) by Irish consumers through soft incentives such as the use of bus corridors, revisiting the registration tax and exploring other financial incentives will be essential if we are to move the Irish car owners from fossil fuel to clean energy technology.
When accessing the aforementioned dynamics of the energy transitions that must take place in the electricity supply, heating and transport sectors, are they occurring fast enough? and can they be accelerated? What actions can those involved in manufacturing undertake to support Energy Action?
As highlighted in the ‘State of Ireland’ Report- Ireland’s energy efficiency performance is inadequate and a significant change in how we consider and measure energy efficiency is required to ensure that it becomes part of long-term infrastructure planning in the future. The engineering profession is uniquely positioned to be able to foresee and understand the future impact of climate change and energy policy. As thought leaders in this area we must inform opinion and lead by our actions to ensure that how we generate, use and conserve energy becomes part of the fabric our societal thinking.
Energy transition is going to take time. Enablers to this change are
- availability of the enabling technology;
- a burning platform to change;
- clear consumer benefits;
- clear policy direction and implementation.
1 Fifth Assessment Report provided by the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in 2014
2 State of Ireland 2016 A review of infrastructure in Ireland Engineers Ireland 2016
3 2007 Energy White Paper Delivering a Sustainable Energy Future for Ireland.
4 The setting of a target for renewables, initially 33% but subsequently increased to 40% of total electricity supply
About Caroline Spillane:
Caroline Spillane is Director General of Engineers Ireland. Prior to undertaking this role Caroline was the Chief Executive Officer of the Medical Council of Ireland. Caroline has held senior roles in organisations including Assistant National Director with the HSE, and Chief Executive of the CPA.
Caroline is an economics graduate of University College Cork, and also holds an MA from the Dublin Institute of Technology.