Each country has to face up to the fact that climate change is a real challenge and this is one of the main drivers of Ireland’s renewable energy development, according to Alex White-T.D-Irish Minister for Communications, Energy, and Natural Resources, who spoke at Low Carbon Scotland.
He recognizes that not only is it good for the environment, renewables also offers countries a real economic opportunity. By developing a sustainable renewable energy industry, jobs are created, new export markets are established and it will attract new inward investment.
However, a failure to meet European Union renewables goals could be a major obstacle to attaining this prosperity.
Ireland falls behind energy goals
Penalties alone, as a result of not reaching renewable energy targets, could cost the country dearly. The current estimate is €400 million a year and the situation will worsen as economic recovery drives up power consumption levels.
Ireland’s government 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 met less than half that requirement, according to the latest figures from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI). A 2014 report released by the European Environment Agency reveals that Ireland 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 millions of euros a year in fines and emissions trading permits.
Ireland’s energy plans blow in the wind
The Irish government has set the goal that 40% of electricity generation should come from renewable sources by 2020 and the vast majority of that share is expected to come from wind energy.
But there are reservations whether that will work.
Dr Rory Monaghan, from the National University of Ireland Galway, explains that there are significant “challenges” that came with such a heavy reliance on wind power. He said with the forecast power-generation mix Ireland would move to an average penetration no other country had achieved.
Other European countries like Denmark which generate a big share of their electricity from wind turbines are connected to much larger grids which provide the necessary base-load power to ensure supply when needed.
Currently, about 2,200MW of onshore wind generation has been added to the grid – against an estimated target of up to 4,500MW.
White remains upbeat and announced at the event that this year, the government will be finalizing their “big energy statement.”
He explains: “We will be putting together definitive power policies for the future including renewable power projects relating to the development of wind, offshore wind, biomass, solar and all the different sources of energy that are important in a modern economy. The statement will give us future direction in our bid to create sustainability. This is what everyone should be striving for now.”
Ireland and Scotland could develop renewables together
White points out that there is a great deal that Ireland and Scotland can do together to further develop renewables in their own countries.
He explains, “We are both geographically peripheral to the continent of Europe, we have similar histories, a culture affinity and a similar scale in population so there is a huge amount that we can do together. We can share information at the very minimum.”
He points out that Scotland is a great leader in the development of renewables and that Ireland’s government is keen to follow what Scotland is doing and eventually becoming a renewables leader themselves.
Scotland certainly has a decent track record- by 2012, Scotland was already generating 40% of its electricity from renewables and their aim now is to generate 100% by 2020. It is therefore no surprise that Ireland wants to form close ties.
“Our two countries can work together very closely, in partnership at the official level and also commercial sectors. Our message is that Ireland is definitely open for business with our colleagues in Scotland both the in private and public sector,” says White.