In the past decade, Ireland has moved from late starter to leader status in renewable energy. This is should not be that surprising given that we have greater incentives to act than most. All the fossil fuels we consume are imported, meaning that our dependence on them is draining money out of the economy, creating risk and damaging the environment. This is not sustainable in any sense.
But our weakness of the past is our opportunity of the future. The global shift under way to clean, low carbon energy is an opportunity for us. We have rich resources of many kinds of clean energy and an innovative spirit that can make us an international leader in technologies of the future.
Our growing use of renewable energy has given us a lot of data and experience to learn from. This is allowing us to definitively answer some core questions about the costs and benefits – pros and cons – of using our indigenous renewable resources. And it means that we can answer such questions with real, Irish data, and not assume that experience or numbers from elsewhere can be applied here. And these numbers are confirming the core fact – renewable energy is good for Ireland. It is from this starting point that we must then debate our preferences and our strategic decisions.
We also have built up a lot of very valuable experience in the last decade. We have a cadre of skilled and proven companies and individuals operating in Ireland and internationally, and we have a track record among investors. Socially, the experience has been more positive than some of the debate might lead you to believe. The reality is that thousands of Irish people live very comfortably in the vicinity of wind farms and biomass plants, and the economic and environmental benefits of these developments are real, quantifiable, and very positive.
Our immediate focus is on the rest of this decade, with binding targets in place for 2020, and a pressing need to reduce our dependence on imported, polluting fuels. Our pathway to do this starts with doubling our use of renewable energy in the next five years. For electricity, wind is by far the cheapest clean energy available to us, and will remain central.
We will certainly see growth in the use of biomass and solar also, with costs coming down in both sectors. For the most part, biomass is best suited to heat generation, and we hope to see rapid growth in this sector. There are already some excellent projects with factories, hospitals and even towns converting from oil to biomass, and this is bringing significant local and national benefit.
Meeting our 2020 targets will involve a considerable focus on bioenergy, and in the process will create a very important local supply chain for fuel and technology, keeping money in local economies and create many jobs in rural communities.
Ireland faces significant energy challenges, which demand our exploitation of all appropriate technologies and energy sources available to us.
Undoubtedly, it has become a more contested issue than ever before, and it is important that we have a full and open debate on the choices me must make. And we must make choices – there is no magic fix to our energy issues. Each technology and energy source has its place, depending on factors such as cost, social and environmental impact, and the benefits they bring.
This island is rich in many kinds of clean, indigenous energy, all representing the energy of the future. I believe we should exploit them all.