Review of Ireland’s energy policies supports country’s push for a low-carbon economy

Despite a severe economic downturn, Ireland has held to its ambitious energy targets to move itself towards a low-carbon economy. But to reach its goals and break its heavy use of imported fossil fuels, Ireland must invest even more in renewable technologies, expand grid integration and improve energy efficiency, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said today in a review of Irish energy policies.   

“At a time when many governments are shying away from their commitments to clean energy, Ireland has courageously resisted the temptation to scale back its own,” IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven said today in Dublin as she released the new study, Energy Policies of IEA Countries – Ireland 2012. “A lot has been achieved, yet there is more to do. Now is not the time for complacency.”

Ireland, whose location gives it some of the best wind and ocean energy resources in Europe, plans to produce 40% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, one of the highest targets in the world.

The second pillar of Ireland’s decarbonisation strategy relies on the development and optimisation of energy efficiency and research and development into “demand-side management” technologies. The National Energy Efficiency Action Plan outlines 90 measures and actions to be implemented in order to achieve 20% energy savings as of 2020. 

Funding of energy-focused research and development is strong, despite Ireland’s recent economic downturn, and the country has become a world leader for smart grid deployment, a key means to reaching ambitious targets in the deployment of clean generation and end-use technologies, such as variable renewable energies and electric vehicles.

Ireland is highly dependent on imported oil and gas. While the push to develop renewable energies is commendable, the report warns, it will result in an increased reliance on natural gas, as gas-fired power plants will be required to provide flexibility in electricity supply when wind power is unavailable. Two-thirds of Ireland’s electricity already comes from gas-fired generation, which adds to energy security concerns, particularly as 93% of its gas supplies come from a single transit point in Scotland. The country must successfully develop a range of gas and electricity infrastructure projects and market solutions while continuing to integrate its energy markets with regional neighbours.

Regional integration is an ongoing development, in line with the European Union’s target model.  Ireland has successfully implemented the all-island Single Electricity Market (SEM) with Northern Ireland, fostering genuine competition among suppliers. Increased interconnection with the island of Great Britain is underway.  In the gas market, the governments of Ireland and Northern Ireland are developing a Common Arrangements for Gas (CAG) framework. 

Energy Policies of IEA Countries – Ireland 2012 is available for free download here

Photo: Pat Rabbitte, Irish Minister for Communications, Energy & Natural Resources, with IEA Executive Director, Maria van der Hoeven. Copyright: OECD/IEA, 2012.