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Fossil Fuels

Energy consumption and emissions make post-pandemic jump

As restrictions lifted in 2021, energy use and related emissions moved in the opposite direction of climate goals.

IRELAND’S ENERGY USE grew by 4.3% in 2021, increasing again after a fall due to Covid-19 restrictions the previous year.

Energy-related emissions increased by 6.3%, growing faster than energy use because of the type of fuels used, particularly to generate electricity.

In 2020, consumption had fallen by 9% while emissions dropped 11.5%, which was the most significant annual reduction since the recession in 2009.

However, as restrictions lifted in 2021, energy use and related emissions rose again, moving in the opposite direction of the change needed to battle the climate crisis.

The figures showcase the need to move from fossil fuels to renewable sources to ensure a “clean and secure” energy supply, according to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI).

The SEAI’s Interim Energy Balance 2021, published today, outlines that fossil fuels accounted for 86.2% of Ireland’s energy supply in 2021, a slight increase from 85.7% in 2020.

The share of coal as an energy source doubled to 7.1%, while peat dropped from 3.1% to 1.9%.

Oil and natural gas made up 45.8% and 31.4% of energy supply respectively, while 11.8% of energy came from renewable sources.

Burning fossil fuels like oil and gas is a key driver of climate change, releasing large volumes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and triggering rises in global temperatures. 

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded this year that greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced by 40% to 70% by 2050 if the right policies, infrastructure and technology are in place.  

Its most recent report outlined that reducing emissions in the energy sector requires major transitions, including a substantial reduction in fossil fuels.

The threats of inaction include extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and the destruction of plant and animal life. A recent Climate Action Plan detailed the steps Ireland intends to take to reduce emissions by 51% between 2018 and 2030. 

SEAI Director of Research and Policy Insights Margie McCarthy said that last year’s emissions are “clear signals” of the need to deliver on the national Climate Action Plan “without delay”.

“We need to make the shift away from fossil fuels to renewables much quicker to ensure a clean and secure supply of energy,” McCarthy said.

“The reasons to reduce fossil fuel dependency are clear and will help insulate us from large-scale increases in gas and oil prices.

We need to both increase our generation of renewable electricity, and switch to technologies driven by this clean energy. The most secure unit of energy is the one we either don’t use, or that we source from Irish renewables.

McCarthy said that the scale of the climate crisis can seem overwhelming but the benefits of moving away from fossil fuels would create a better country.

She said the transition would bring “improved air quality, more comfortable homes, more vibrant communities and an economy built on sustainable industries and jobs”.

Including international aviation, Ireland emitted 35.2Mt of energy-related CO2 in 2021, a 6.3% from 33.2Mt in 2020. (Excluding international aviation, there was a 6.1% increase from 32.0Mt to 33.9Mt.)

The SEAI attributed the increase to more oil consumption after pandemic travel restrictions were lifted and a growth in the use of fossil fuels for electricity generation – CO2 emissions from electricity generation increased by 16.9% in 2021.

Meanwhile, the share of renewable energy in electricity generation fell to 35% compared to 42% in 2020 and 11.8% of Ireland’s energy supply came from renewable energy, down from 13.3%.

“A combination of low-wind periods in 2021 and less rain for hydro-generation meant that less of our electricity came from renewable sources,” the SEAI said in a statement.

“Coupled with temporary closures on some gas-fired generation stations, this led to a tripling of coal and oil use for electricity generation, both extremely carbon-intensive fuels.”

“The implementation of national plans to increase the renewable electricity share to 80% by 2030 involves generating energy from onshore and offshore wind and solar PV. These plans include the development of increased renewable energy storage to mitigate variability in renewables into the future.”

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