John McKiernan



Ireland’s Low Carbon Future


  1. Low Carbon Future

By 2020, 40% of Ireland’s electricity production will be zero carbon. By 2025 the majority of our electricity generation will be renewable. By 2050 the Irish electricity system will be net carbon neutral. If this is the plan, we should start the joined up thinking right now. It’s not rocket science to figure out how to decarbonise the economy without overburdening energy consumers, but we need to box clever when it comes to market interference. There are inherent advantages of greater adoption of renewable energy in terms of energy security and price stability, but getting our timing right is key to keeping electricity costs competitive both in the short and longer horizons.

  1. The Plan

The vast majority of renewable electricity will come from intermittent sources, so the new flexibility in the system will come from managing  consumption patterns to soak up energy during renewable production peaks and reduce needs at other times. This flexibility is commonly known as storage. Today it’s made available from a mix of pumps, refrigeration and standby gensets by specialists like Ireland’s Endeco who monetise this flexibility for industrial and commercial customers. In future we will see more dedicated storage units such as Tesla batteries to reduce peak demand also. Flexibility and storage will become increasingly available in both heat and transport sectors. To wean ourselves off fossil fuels and achieve mandatory emissions targets, we will inevitably adopt more zero emission vehicles and zero emission heating systems. Public health will also benefit from reduced pollutants.

  1. Inflection Point

The pivot point on Electric Vehicle sales will occur when the range anxiety is no longer an issue for motorists. Electric motors are inherently more efficient than the internal combustion engine. As soon as an equivalent range is available at the same price from the main vehicle manufacturers, the lower running costs will drive sales. Plug in hybrids are a transition-phase solution, with the engine becoming obsolete as the battery range stretches and costs reduce with scaling and technology improvements. V2G will become common where the onboard battery is providing online storage for the home, work & grid.

Similarly the economics of the super-efficient heat pumps from Glen Dimplex and others continue to improve and will eventually displace fossil fuelled boilers and take advantage of excess wind energy on the grid to soak up low cost surplus electricity to further reduce heating costs.

  1. Future is Sunny

As a Nobel laureate once explained, “solar energy is nuclear energy at a safe distance”.  Nobel musings aside, solar PV economics are already on a trajectory which indicates that every rooftop will in due course have an array for harvesting free energy from the sun  …even in Ireland. Given the passive and benign nature of solar panels and the unused real estate on top of our homes and workplaces, it’s a “no brainer” to forecast the arrival of roof top panels across Ireland with or without subsidies.

ESB & Kingspan already have a “Funded Solar” solution for business owners who want the benefits of solar energy on their roof space without the performance risk or investment capital. Why roof top? Well because electrical energy is twice as valuable at the point of consumption (under your roof!) than in a remote field somewhere. It’s “tricky” to put a wind turbine on your roof, but solar PV is perfect & modular. The largest arrays are composed of large numbers of the same panels. So you can benefit from the mass production of panels even if you’re just putting a modest array on your roof. The continued reduction in the price of solar modules is clear. We know the Chinese are already selling them cheaper than we can buy them in Europe due to antidumping levies. These  levies will fall away in due course and the efficacy of the technology will continue to improve. Germany has installed over 40,000 MW of solar pv capacity over the past decade to pump prime the world market and drive huge future cost reductions for other countries. It’s their “gift to the world” according to one German power utility.

  1. Future Proof

Access to low cost, low carbon electricity is key to Ireland’s future economic competitiveness. ESB is collaborating both nationally and internationally to develop new customer solutions to take full advantage of the changing generation mix and emerging technology solutions. We are focused on innovations in energy efficiency, energy management and low carbon generation. ESB Innovation launched “Smart Energy Services” this year to partner with larger energy consumers to reduce energy costs and exposure to volatile international oil prices.

ESB is changing from a commodity provider to a tailored service provider to better address individual client energy requirements. We are collaborating with manufacturing industry leaders in Ireland and technology providers to pilot emerging solutions that will future proof our customers energy strategy for a win-win outcome.

Please come and talk to us about how we might assist you to achieve your energy goals!

About John McKiernan:

John McKiernan is Head of External Collaboration at ESB. John is responsible for identifying new ways to collaborate with new partners to unlock new revenue streams. John’s key objective is early adoption of emerging technologies & innovative business models to gain first mover & sustainable competitive advantage. John was previously Partner at Greencoat Capital – the adviser to ESB’s €200m Cleantech Investment Fund. John is a power sector investment specialist with over 20 years of international development experience including 8 years in Tokyo. John is currently Chairman of the Sustainability Skillnet & member of Ibec’s Innovation, Science and Technology Policy Committee.


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