Blog: Renewable Energy Ireland – Full Green Ahead

12 Nov 2019

Marie Donnelly is chairperson of Renewables Energy Ireland and was appointed in January 2019 for a two-year term.

She is a former Director for Renewables, Energy Efficiency and Innovation at the Directorate General for Energy of the European Commission.

We hear a lot about climate change, its causes and consequences. The challenge it presents is enormous, and like any big undertaking we can only tackle it in bite sized pieces. This means we need to be clear on the causes and how we can mitigate them.

Energy contributes almost 80% of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change (the % in Ireland is a little lower because the balance of emissions tend to come mainly from agriculture and in Ireland agriculture is a higher share of the economy than in many other countries). But energy is essential in our lives – providing heat (40% of energy used), mobility (40% of energy used) and power (20% of energy used). Our challenge is to decarbonise the energy in these sectors – firstly through energy efficiency (less is better!) and if when do use energy, to make sure it is renewable.

The challenge cannot be met by one sector, one technology, one part of society. It can only be achieved by collective and collaborative effort: consumers, industry and government. That is why Renewable Energy Ireland was set up – to bring all actors together, each with their own skills, technology and contribution, working in combination to deliver the most cost effective and efficient energy transition in Ireland. All associations are welcome, and all voices have equal value. REI does not set policy, nor lobby for one or other sector. Rather it brings industry expertise together, presents it coherently and collaborates with Government and its Agencies to remove obstacles, devise efficient mechanisms and deliver speedy results.

The ambition in the Government’s Climate Action Plan is designed to propel Ireland into a leadership role in tackling climate change: By 2030, we will have 5 times the amount of renewables on our grid that we have today (requiring capacity to peak at 95% electricity generation from renewable sources). 33% of the cars on our road will be fully electric or hybrids. No new car purchased from that year on will be fuelled by fossils, compared to 98% that are purchased today. 30% of our homes will be warm thanks to renewable heat vs 2% today .

With over 198 actions, assigned to named government departments, against clear deadlines, the momentum is palpable. But Government and its Agencies cannot do it alone. Industry has a pivotal role to play – through innovation, investment and operation of efficient systems all of which include citizens and consumers in a participative way. Cross sectoral collaboration is also key. As the 1.1 million homes in Ireland change their heating from oil to heat pumps, cooperation is essential between the construction sector (including skilled areas such as plumbing, ventilation and electrics) and the electricity sector (particularly in generation, transmission/distribution, demand response). Equally for the transition to electric vehicles the interplay of cost effective pricing for charging times, along with ‘vehicle to grid’ batteries supporting and balancing the grid will be essential to the success of Ireland achieving its 70% target for renewable electricity.

Ireland can achieve the ambitions of the Plan, not only because of the entrepreneurial spirit and determination of a nation (that stopped plastic bags enthusiastically, that cancelled smoking in public places overnight, that rebounded from the biggest financial crash in living memory) but because it is blessed with an abundant supply of clean renewable energy sources: wind both onshore and offshore, solar, hydro, ocean. Situated on the windy west coast of Europe, Ireland has between three and four times as much wind as other Member States of the European Union.

For its part, the EU is leading the global fight against climate change. Ms von der Leyen, the incoming President of the European Commission, has identified the Green Deal as a top and urgent priority - within the first 100 days in office to have a legally binding proposal for the first European Climate Law to enshrine the 2050 climate-neutrality target into legislation.

But success is impossible unless the entire population is mobilised. This needs to be based on understanding of the causes of emissions and practical, expertly supported information on what each and every one can do. Making our homes warm and draft-free with energy efficiency levels at least B1 BER rating; shifting to renewable energy for heating (heat pumps, biomass); eliminating pollution from our mobility (i.e. no diesel or petrol) hence moving to electric vehicles including charging them at home, or at work during around midday. Availing of their RIGHT as a European citizen, to become active participants in the energy transition by producing electricity at home, using that electricity, storing it and selling the excess to the grid. Collaborating as communities in rolling out wind or solar farms as shareholders and owners. Being smart about energy usage, linking consumption to the lowest price (e.g) when there is lots of wind.

The challenge is enormous but the opportunities are equally great. We are on a journey together and by working together we CAN DO IT!