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Ireland not on track to meet renewable energy targets – SEAI report

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) has recently published its Renewable Energy in Ireland 2020 update report. The report, which is based on 2018 data, finds that renewable energy sources supplied 11 percent of overall energy use in 2018 suggesting that the country is not on track to meet its binding EU target of 16 percent of energy to come from renewable sources by 2020. 

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) has recently published its “Renewable Energy in Ireland 2020 update report. The report, which is based on 2018 data, finds that renewable energy sources supplied 11 percent of overall energy use in 2018 suggesting that the country is not on track to meet its binding EU target of 16 percent of energy to come from renewable sources by 2020 (graphic courtesy SEAI).

Launched on April 19, 2020, the “Renewable Energy in Ireland 2020 update” report provides a detailed analysis of Ireland’s progress towards the 2020 renewable energy targets based on 2018 data. Renewable energy sources supplied 11 percent of overall energy use in 2018 with the remainder coming from carbon-intensive fossil fuels.

Renewable energy displaced 2.0 Mtoe of fossil fuel consumption and avoided 4.9 MtCO2 of greenhouse gas (GHG )emissions in 2018. This was equivalent to 13 percent of total energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions

This data suggests that Ireland is not on track to meet its binding EU target of 16 percent of energy to come from renewable sources by 2020.

This report is based on 2018 data which pre-dates the Climate Action Plan. The findings underline the importance and urgency of the work set out in that Plan. I am convinced that all of the government approach underpinned by new Climate legislation is the way forward. However, getting back on track for our 2030 target is only the first step. We now need to identify how we can increase that ambition and set new targets for 2030 and 2050. As we design a Recovery Plan from this present COVID-19 crisis, we need to do everything possible to rebuild on a sustainable foundation, consistent with confronting the Climate Emergency, said Richard Bruton T.D., Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

Wind both boom and bane

Energy is commonly split into three uses: electricity, transport, and heat. While there is no binding EU target for renewable electricity, Ireland set a target of 40 percent of electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020. Renewable electricity makes the largest contribution to Ireland’s overall renewable energy sources (RES) target.

The SEAI “Renewable Energy in Ireland 2020 updatefinds that normalised wind accounted for 85 percent of renewable electricity generated in 2018, and 55 percent of all renewable energy. Wind-generated 28 percent of all electricity in 2018, second only to natural gas (graphic courtesy SEAI).

In 2018, 33.3 percent of electricity was generated from renewable sources when wind and hydro are normalised. Normalisation is where the output of wind and hydroelectricity generators is averaged over a number of years to even out the effect of varying wind and rainfall conditions in any one year.

The report finds that normalised wind accounted for 85 percent of renewable electricity generated in 2018, and 55 percent of all renewable energy. Wind-generated 28 percent of all electricity in 2018, second only to natural gas. Ireland had the second-largest share of wind-generated electricity in the EU-28 after Denmark in 2018.

However, the report points out that incorporating such a large share of non-synchronous wind-generated electricity on a small, poorly interconnected electricity grid such as Ireland’s, is a major challenge for the stable operation of the grid. Achieving this has required the Irish grid operator, EirGrid, to become a world leader in this area.

Diesel heavy transport

The report finds that the stories for transport and heat are different. Transport represents the single largest sector of energy use but has the lowest share of renewables. The mandatory EU target is 10 percent renewable in transport (RES-T) by 2020 – in 2018, 97 percent of Ireland’s transport energy was from fossil-based products.

The mandatory EU target is 10 percent renewable in transport (RES-T) by 2020 – in 2018, 97 percent of Ireland’s transport energy was from fossil-based products (graphic courtesy SEAI).

The vast majority of renewable energy in transport came from biofuels, bioethanol, and biodiesel blended with regular petrol (gasoline) and diesel respectively for sale in Ireland. Although the Biofuels Obligation Scheme requires 8 percent biofuels blending, Ireland currently has only two grades of motor fuels, regular unleaded petrol with 5 percent ethanol and diesel with up to 7 percent biodiesel by volume.

Without considering multiplier factors (aka double counting) for waste-derived and advanced biofuels, biodiesel made up almost 82 percent of renewable transport energy use in 2018 while bioethanol accounted for close to 18 percent. This partly due to the higher use of diesel than petrol and that E10, petrol with 10 percent ethanol by volume blend has yet to be implemented.

While renewable electricity also counts towards the RES-T target, it accounted for just 1.4 percent of Irish renewable transport energy use in 2018. The DART and Luas rail services are the largest users of electricity for transport, while the number of electric vehicles (EVs) on the roads is increasing, albeit from a low base.

Renewable heat still on the backburner

The report finds that Ireland is also underperforming in renewable heat and the country ranked 27th of the 28 EU countries in 2018. Ireland has set a national target of 12 percent of heat to come from renewable sources by 2020. The share of renewable heat was 6.5 percent in 2018 thus over 93 percent of the energy for heat still comes from fossil fuel sources.

Ireland has set a national target of 12 percent of heat to come from renewable sources by 2020. The share of renewable heat was 6.5 percent in 2018 dominated by biomass (graphic courtesy SEAI).

Renewable heat is dominated by the use of solid biomass in the industry sector. SEAI highlights that there is a wide range of Government supports available through SEAI from grants for home energy upgrades, to energy advice and training for businesses to decarbonise.

There has been a large increase in the use of renewable heat in the residential sector, due mostly to the growing adoption of air-source heat pumps. According to SEAI, Ireland’s low share of RES-H is the biggest reason for its poor progress.

This report demonstrates the challenges we face in transitioning away from fossil fuels. Most of the energy we use to generate electricity, to heat our homes and business and for transport comes from burning fossil fuels like gas, coal, peat, and oil. We need to eliminate energy waste and transition to using more renewable sources of energy like wind, solar, heat pumps, and bioenergy as quickly as we can. The Government’s Climate Action Plan sets out an ambitious course of action that could help us to kick our fossil fuel habit and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As citizens, we can play our part by considering how we can reduce fossil fuel use in our homes and how we travel, commented Jim Scheer, Head of Data and Insights at SEAI.

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