We are facing into an uncertain future. There are, however, two global and overarching challenges which will define that future. The country that correctly identifies these challenges and plans its path in that knowledge will have the comparative advantage.
We know that we have to face up to and plan for climate change and the end of the era of cheap oil. We must stop runaway climate change for its adverse economic affects as well as the clear imperative of ultimate survival.
“The era of cheap oil is over”, so says the International Energy Agency. The geological certainty that global oil production will peak and eventually decline will make oil an ever dwindling and ever more expensive energy source.
The geopolitical ramifications of such developments are obvious and Ireland is particularly vulnerable.
Currently, we are over 95 per cent dependent on imported fossil fuels for our energy needs.
This remarkably high dependence has implications for the security of our energy supply, but equally so in terms of income foregone.
We are spending €6 billion every year importing these fuels. If we source our energy at home, we can vastly reduce this bill and even become net exporters of electricity into the future. Going green can be the centrepiece of our economic recovery.
As we work to reduce our carbon emissions to tackle climate change, we also reduce our dependence on foreign fossil fuels. It can be a win-win for our economy and the environment.
Having defined the challenges, my job as Energy Minister is to implement the solutions.
The overall solution is the decarbonisation of our economy. In energy terms, this means concentrating on renewable energy and energy efficiency. We have to change how we create and how we use our energy. This requires nothing less than a radical transformation of our previous patterns.
Ireland has some of the best natural renewable sources of energy in the world. Our wind and wave power is the envy of most countries. We have at our disposal the means to break our dangerous dependence while creating the jobs and investment of the future.
The green economy is a low-input, highoutput, high value economy. It positions Ireland as a world leader in clean and sustainable energy. New Energy Finance estimated that $155 billion was invested globally in the green energy sector in 2008. The market is recognising the reality and it behoves Ireland to attract a significant amount of this investment.
Our semi-state and private sectors have committed to over €30 billion in investment plans for sustainable energy. The ESB, Bord Gáis and Bord na Móna are switching to green power. We have set the target that 40 per cent of our electricity will come from renewable sources and are well on our way to achieving this target. I believe that such targets should be seen as the beginning and not the limit of our ambitions. We can and will go further.
Last week (1-2 August), 40 per cent of Ireland’s electricity was provided by wind power. This figure will continue to increase as more wind farms are connected to the national grid.
We have set new and internationally competitive government support prices for offshore wind, ocean and biomass CHP generation. This ‘kick-start’ for the renewables market allows us to harness the potential of our renewable energy resources in Ireland. It is nothing short of the transformation we require.
Large generators are one part of the equation; every single householder is another. Our microgeneration programme is bringing power to the people. We have changed the rules so that people can sell the excess electricity they generate at home back to the national grid. I envisage a future where on-site generation of electricity becomes more widespread, reducing electricity costs for these farmers and householders and possibly garnering them a cheque rather than a bill from their supply company.
EirGrid’s plans for an east-west electricity interconnector are well underway and this critical piece of infrastructure will be up and running in 2012. Interconnection is necessary for the security of our supply, supported by EU funds of €110 million. Ultimately, we want to sell our windgenerated electricity to the UK and beyond.
Saving energy saves money. Using our energy more efficiently means we reduce unnecessary wastage, lower costs and reduce carbon emissions.
The National Energy Efficiency Action Plan is our plan to achieve 20 per cent energy efficiency savings by 2020. By being smarter in our energy use, we can avoid €1.6 billion per annum in energy costs by that time.
Our new Home Energy Saving Scheme, which provides householders with significant grant assistance to retrofit their homes, is proving immensely popular. Householders who upgrade their homes find them warmer, more comfortable and cheaper to run.
Our suite of tax incentives for energy efficient equipment is also helping Irish businesses to reduce their overheads as well as their emissions.
The smart meters pilot is also continuing at pace. Thereafter, we plan to fit a smart meter in every Irish home, allowing every electricity customer to monitor and reduce their electricity consumption.
Our electric vehicle strategy aims to have 10 per cent of our motoring fleet electrified in the next decade. Our recently signed memorandum of understanding with Renault-Nissan and the ESB will see more of these vehicles delivered to the Irish market next year. We aim to have over 250,000 electric vehicles on Irish roads in this 10-year timeframe.
Our energy solutions lie in changing both our methods of creation and consumption.
Renewable energy is the ‘creative’ solution; energy efficiency changes our consumption patterns. We are making great strides in our twin aims, which are already reaping rewards for our energy companies, wider business community and householder alike.
The advent of greater competition in the Irish electricity supply business has brought significant reductions in cost to the Irish consumer. This year saw the entrance of Bord Gáis and Airtricity to the domestic supply sector, bringing with them a 10-14 per cent reduction in electricity prices. Further reductions in the regulated tariff meant an overall near 25 per cent reduction in the electricity bills of thousands of Irish people.
I will continue this policy of a secure, competitive and sustainable energy supply for Ireland. It will reduce costs in the short and long term, protecting jobs and investment throughout the country.
Our energy policy has the capability of creating thousands of ‘green collar’ jobs for our workforce. Already, the ESB has announced the creation of 3,700 jobs as it rolls out smart meters, electric vehicle charging points and wind energy projects.
Our Home Energy Saving Scheme is projected to create 2,000 jobs both directly and indirectly. Bord na Móna recently announced 300 jobs as it moves in a greener direction.
This year, in a three-month period from March to May, over 10,000 jobs were created in green energy and green technology sectors.
Opportunities exist for engineers, construction workers, lawyers, planners and more. These sustainable jobs will be indigenous to Ireland and support thousands more workers.
Our plans are ambitious but achievable. We will continue as we have started; government, the semi-state sector, the market and the people are coming together to guarantee our energy and, thereby our economic future.
The recovery will be green. We can be certain of that.
Article from eolas magazine issue 1 Sep/Oct 2009