The Programme for Government commits to a Revolution in Renewables. The development of renewable energy sources, to deliver on EU targets of at least 70 per cent renewable electricity by 2030, is a cornerstone of this Government’s approach to climate action.
While the Government’s attention has largely been absorbed by crisis management as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolds and the United Kingdom, Ireland’s closest neighbour, decouples from the European Union – Ireland’s energy landscape is changing rapidly as Ireland strives to shift gears from climate laggard to leader.
Government and industry are united in optimism that Ireland can emerge as a global leader in renewable energy. The development of Ireland’s renewable energy industries can play a critical role not only in realising Ireland’s climate action ambitions but in supporting the creation of sustainable, high-quality jobs as the country recovers from the economic impact of COVID-19. To achieve this ambition, however, the next months will be critical.
Ireland has made significant progress in developing its onshore wind capacity in recent years. In Q1 2020, wind energy was, for the first time, the leading source of electricity in Ireland. Over the course of 2020, only Denmark had a higher share of electricity provided by wind.
However, until now, other potential sources of energy have remained underdeveloped.
The Government has recognised the major potential of offshore wind energy. The Marine Planning and Development Management Bill has undergone pre-legislative scrutiny and is expected to be published before the end of the current Dáil term. This will facilitate the hosting of the first Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS) auction specifically for offshore wind later this year.
Similarly, solar energy outperformed expectations in last year’s RESS auction. Combined with the Green Party in government’s prioritisation of community energy provision, solar is positioned to play a leading role in Ireland’s renewables revolution.
However, for these sectors to realise their potential and for Ireland to meet its 2030 targets, much work remains to be done.
To this end, today’s publication by Eirgrid of its consultation on “Shaping our Electricity Future” is timely. The consultation, seeking to gather insights from stakeholders to develop a pathway to 70 per cent renewables by 2030 outlines some of the key decisions that will need to be made in the coming months.
As recognised in Eirgrid’s DS3 Programme (Delivering a Secure Sustainable Electricity System), Ireland’s national grid is not currently sufficient to facilitate the onboarding of sufficient new renewable energy sources to meet climate objectives.
Ireland’s population and economic activity is highly concentrated in Dublin and the Greater Dublin Area. With the city’s population expected to grow by 20-25 per cent by 2040, its energy consumption will only increase. At the same time, development costs and the Government’s regional development priorities will continue to encourage the concentration of new, onshore, renewable energy sources in the midlands and the west of the country. Energy transmission west to east will require significant investment in new transmission infrastructure (the development of which often requires extensive engagement to assuage local concerns).
While offshore wind can be developed without the same investment in energy transmission infrastructure, significant investment in Ireland’s ports will be required if the country is to fully benefit. At present, Ireland does not have a port with the capacity to directly support the construction of offshore wind sites. It has been estimated that investment of €50-100 million is required in at least one of Ireland’s ports to enable Ireland to fully benefit from its offshore wind potential and create over 3,000 jobs.
Q2 2021 will be critical in the development of Ireland’s approach to renewable energy, and there’s pressure on the Green Party to deliver. Over the coming months, the EirGrid consultation process will engage stakeholders from across society and the Government will prepare its new Climate Action Bill. Both will significantly impact whether Ireland can reach its renewable energy potential and deliver a true Revolution in Renewables.
As these policies develop and policymakers weigh significant decisions as to the direction Ireland’s energy future will take, now is the time to engage and shape policy to ensure that Ireland realises its renewable energy potential.