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Wednesday 6 December 2023 Dublin: 8°C
tilting at windmills

There are some major holes in Ireland's renewable energy plans

And the country could have to pay penalties worth up to €400 million a year if things do go wrong.

IRELAND IS IN danger of coming up short on its renewable-energy targets and paying millions in penalties each year as the economic recovery drives up power consumption.

The country has agreed a target under the European Union’s 2020 rules that 16% of its total energy needs would come from renewable sources.

But in 2013 Ireland had met less than half requirement, according to the latest figures from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI).

That was despite energy consumption for transport, the biggest single contributor to demand, falling 27% between the start of the recession in 2008 and 2012.

Dr Rory Monaghan, from the National University of Ireland Galway, told there was still a “good chance” Ireland would meet its targets – but a neglect of key areas like energy efficiency meant there was a real risk of problems when energy demand increased again with the growing economy.

The only reason Ireland met its Kyoto (greenhouse gas) emissions targets was because of the recession,” he said.

Ireland had the biggest drop in overall energy consumption in the EU outside Estonia during the financial crisis, with the country’s primary energy needs down 16% between the boom year of 2005 and 2013.

Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 4.01.49 pm Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland

Off the track

A report last year from the European Environment Agency found the country was one of six member states that were not on track to meet their 2020 renewable energy targets.

It was also one of six member states considered off target for their greenhouse-gas emission requirements.

In 2013 then-energy minister Pat Rabbitte warned Ireland was running behind both targets for 2012 and it faced up to €400 million a year in fines and emissions-trading permits.

Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 4.07.18 pm Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland

Monaghan said there wasn’t time left for a major rethink of Ireland’s 2020 strategy and it would have to rely on its current approaches, which were to develop more wind energy and import extra biofuels for transport.

In energy terms, five years is basically tomorrow,” he said.

The government has set the goal that 40% of electricity generation should come from renewable sources and the vast majority of that share – over 80% in 2013 and rising – is expected to come from wind energy.

Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 4.18.48 pm Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland

Technical problems

However Monaghan warned there were significant “challenges” that came with such a heavy reliance on wind power that could also derail that progress.

He said with the forecast power-generation mix Ireland would move to an average penetration no other country had achieved.

We would be in the technological vanguard … what is not quite certain is how our electricity grid will stand up to that,” he said.

Other European countries like Denmark which generate a big share of their electricity from wind turbines are connected to much larger grids which provided the necessary base-load power to ensure supply when needed.

Ireland’s electricity grid is currently only connected to that of the UK, where an even lower share of power generation comes from renewable sources.

When recently asked if Ireland’s development of renewable resources would be enough to meet its EU target, Energy Minister Alex White said about 2,200 MW of onshore wind generation had been added to the grid – against an estimated target of up to 4,500 MW.

To date, onshore wind energy has been the most cost effective renewable technology in the Irish electricity market, contributing most towards the achievement of the 2020 target,” he said.

File Photo IN AN INTERVIEW with the Irish Independent newspaper today, Energy Minister Alex White said that nuclear power needs to be looked at as part of a debate about Irelands energy needs Sasko Lazarov / Photocall Ireland Energy Minister Alex White Sasko Lazarov / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

He identified underuse of renewable sources for heating as being the biggest obstacle for Ireland meeting its 2020 targets. That alone could mean the country would undershoot its total renewable energy share by between 1 and 2 percentage points.

“Any shortfall would need to be addressed by purchasing ‘renewable energy credits’ from another EU member state,” he said.

While the cost of such credits has yet to be established, the SEAI has estimated that it could be in the range of €100 million to €150 million per percentage point shortfall. There could also be penalties associated with any shortfall.”

First published 10.15am

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