The European Green Deal: Future-Proofing Energy in Ireland

IIEA12th February 20216min
Minister Eamon Ryan examines the impact that the European Green Deal will have on Irish energy policy in the context of the transition to net-zero emissions.

Author: Luke O Callaghan-White

5 Key Takeaways

  1. Ireland’s net-zero future will require civil, social, and political buy-in over the next decades, if it is to meet its target of 100% renewable energy. Minister Ryan recognised that, for Ireland, the greatest potential renewable energy source lies in offshore wind generation.
  2. With respect to offshore wind, Ireland will not be starting from scratch. Technology costs will continue to decline, which is good for the Irish economy and indicates to financiers that this is a predictable investment.
  3. For offshore wind energy to work at that scale, generating 35GW, Minister Ryan said that Ireland must be part of an interconnected network – capable of shipping this energy to other countries. The Minister reiterated the Government’s wish to see a new interconnector between the Wexford Coast and North Wales and highlighted the critical importance of the Celtic Interconnector which connects Ireland and France.
  4. The Minister said that the development of a pan-European super grid will be central to Ireland’s energy future and is the most critical peace project of our time.
  5. Minister Ryan emphasised the need to place citizens at the heart of this energy transition. He said we have a duty to give individuals a sense of ownership of it so that Ireland’s transformation will be their transformation.

Summary of the Presentation

The sixth lecture in the 2020 ESB/IIEA Series: REthink Energy, charted Ireland’s course to a clean energy future. The event examined the impact that the European Green Deal will have on Irish energy policy in the context of the transition to net-zero emissions.

Pat O’Doherty, CEO of ESB gave introductory remarks, where he noted that the European Green Deal not only expresses the shared ambition of European Member States to transition to net zero by 2050, but sets out a roadmap and a policy agenda for delivering these key commitments.

He emphasised that electricity will inevitably take centre stage, in this transition, given its capacity to drive carbon reduction in other sectors of the economy, particularly in transport and in heat. Mr O’Doherty, who is also President of Eurelectric – the federation for the European electricity industry – noted that the support of European members to reduce carbon emissions by 55% by 2030 is a significant commitment, given that many Eurelectric members have high levels of coal in their energy mix. He remarked that over the past decade, the electricity sector has demonstrated an ability to innovate and to implement changes to reduce carbon emissions, while also maintaining a secure and affordable electricity supply.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr O’Doherty noted that two thirds of electricity generated across the EU in the first six months of 2020 was carbon free. He acknowledged that much more needs to be done and said that ESB is innovating across its businesses to meet the targets set out in the Programme for Government and in the Climate Action Plan, but that this requires broad stakeholder alignment across finance, regulation, technology and policy to ensure that the necessary investments are made in a timely way to maximize the use of clean electricity. Concluding, Mr O’Doherty stressed the importance of citizen engagement in this energy transformation. He remarked that it will be citizens’ willingness to make low carbon choices to adopt new technologies such as EVs, heat pumps, and smart meters to retrofit their homes, and that this will ultimately determine the pace of the change.

Minister Ryan began by stating that Ireland’s net-zero future will require civil, social, and political buy-in over the next decades if it is to meet its target of 100% renewable energy. He recognised that, for Ireland, the greatest potential renewable energy source lies in offshore wind generation. The Minister said that, as one of the windiest places on the planet, Ireland has a considerable comparative competitive advantage in offshore wind, especially as its sea area is 10 times its land size, and must harness this resource effectively during this energy transformation. He remarked that in the next twenty years or so, Ireland will build 35 GW of offshore wind. The Minister noted that the development of offshore wind technologies has progressed considerably in the last ten years. He highlighted that Ireland will not be starting from scratch and that the technology costs will continue to decline, which is good for the Irish economy and indicates to financiers that this is a predictable investment.

Minister Ryan said that it was critical to get the planning right, as the infrastructural development will be a huge capital investment for the State and that this will be helped by the Marine Planning Development Bill, which will be introduced by the Government in early 2021. The Government will continue to examine how to derive the maximum supply-chain benefits from offshore wind and must still determine the optimal deep-sea port options along the advantageous west coast of Ireland. The Minister acknowledged that it must still be determined how to store this energy – possibly in the form of hydrogen – and how to connect this energy to end-users, a challenge which he described as the industrial development question of this generation.

For offshore wind energy to work at that scale, generating 35GW, Minister Ryan said that Ireland must be part of an interconnected network – capable of shipping this energy to other countries. The Minister reiterated the Government’s wish to see a new interconnector between the Wexford Coast and North Wales and highlighted the critical importance of the Celtic Interconnector which connects Ireland and France.

The Minister said that the development of a pan-European super grid will be central to Ireland’s energy future and will provide: cheap solar power from the South of Europe, hydro power from the Alpine region, and wind from the North-West, into a balancing system between variable power and demand across Europe. Minister Ryan told participants that it will allow Europe the prospect of sharing energy in a new way, of distributing energy ownership and energy power across the region, so that the resource wars and the challenges we’ve seen in the 20th century are not repeated in the 21st century. The super grid, he said, is the most critical peace project of our time.

Minister Ryan emphasised the need to place citizens at the heart of this energy transition. He said we have a duty to give individuals a sense of ownership of it, so that Ireland’s transformation is their transformation. Our clean energy future, the Minister noted, includes everything from electrifying the heat in our homes, to building energy efficiency, to moving to electric vehicles, to having our suburban rail services run on electric batteries.

Concluding, the Minister declared that, in order to fully decarbonise the energy sector, Ireland will have to move to a system that is reliant on local power supply and away from long-distance supply chains. He emphasised that this will create a cleaner and better energy system for all. He remarked that the distribution system operators will increasingly rely on data management systems to ensure efficiency. This localised approach to the distribution of clean electricity, the Minister said, will ensure that energy is managed at the local level, and will better meet the needs of communities.