The island of Ireland is recognised as having some of the best renewable energy sources in Europe, mainly in wind but also in wave, tidal and biomass.
Under the 2009 Renewable Energy Directive, the EU intends to source 20 per cent of all energy (total final consumption) from renewable energy sources by 2020. The Directive gives the Republic of Ireland a target of 16 per cent gross final consumption, with renewable energy providing the following shares:
• 40 per cent of electricity;
• 12 per cent of thermal energy; and
• 10 per cent of transport energy.
The Strategic Energy Authority of Ireland’s ‘Energy in Ireland’ report states that renewables accounted for 6 per cent of Ireland’s total primary energy requirement in 2011. The following shares were recorded in the sub-sectors of energy use:
• 18 per cent of electricity;
• 4.8 per cent of thermal energy; and
• 2.6 per cent in transport energy.
The Irish Government published its ‘Strategy for Renewable Energy’ in May 2012 which sets out five strategic goals:
1. progressively more renewable electricity from onshore and offshore wind power for the domestic and export markets;
2. a sustainable bioenergy sector supporting renewable heat, transport and power generation;
3. green growth through research and development of renewable technologies including the preparation for market of ocean technologies;
4. increasing sustainable energy use in the transport sector through biofuels and electrification; and
5. an intelligent, robust and cost-fficient energy networks system.
Other relevant policy documents include the Integrated Marine Plan for Ireland (July 2012), the Bioenergy Action Plan (March 2007) and the forthcoming offshore renewable energy development plan, bioenergy strategy and revised energy white paper.
Northern Ireland was initially covered by the UK’s Renewable Energy Directive target: 15 per cent of final consumption by 2020. This would be constituted by sourcing 31 per cent of electricity, 12 per cent of thermal energy and 10 per cent of transport energy from renewables.
The Northern Ireland Executive has adopted its own targets through the 2010 Strategic Energy Framework, which are aligned with the Republic’s policy. The renewable electricity target is higher than the UK-wide target (40 per cent) but the thermal energy target is slightly lower
(10 per cent). As the framework contained no specific target on renewable energy in transport, Northern Ireland is bound by the UK’s 10 per cent target.
In August 2013, 14.9 per cent of electricity generated in the province came from renewable energy sources. No figure is available for current renewable heat consumption but the baseline figure in 2010 was 1.7 per cent. Overall renewable energy use has not been recorded.
The use of renewable transport in Northern Ireland is currently negligible although the infrastructure is being rolled out in anticipation of future growth. A total of 120 charge points were installed between October 2012 and March 2013.
The Executive’s 2010 Strategic Energy Framework sets out the following priorities for renewables in its sustainable energy section:
• support the development of a range of renewable technologies to ensure the most cost-effective and reliable mix of generation;
• work with the Utility Regulator to encourage investment in an appropriate level of conventional power generation to support higher levels of renewable electricity generation;
• work with the Utility Regulator, Northern Ireland Electricity and System Operator Northern Ireland to explore the need for provision of up to 300MW of biomass power generation.
The framework is supplemented by the Envisioning the Future forecast for 2050 (July 2013), the Sustainable Energy Action Plan (May 2012) and the Offshore Renewable Electricity Action Plan (March 2012). A similar action plan for onshore renewable energy is being prepared.
Interconnection facilitates the distribution of renewable energy and increases security of supply. The 500MW North/South interconnector (Armagh-Louth) is due to be matched by a larger, second interconnector (Tyrone-Meath). The latter project is currently in the planning process.
The 500MW east-west interconnector across the Irish Sea (County Dublin-North Wales) was officially opened in September 2012 and is accompanied by the existing 500MW Moyle interconnector (Antrim-Ayrshire).
Policy responsibility for energy rests with the Department of Energy, Communications and Natural Resources in the Irish Government and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment in the Northern Ireland Executive.
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Sources: SEAI and UK Department of Energy and Climate Change