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As a net importer of energy and a country under pressure to either reduce its carbon footprint or face large fines, where Ireland sources its energy from can be a point of contention. We analyse the history of supply and the present-day situation of energy in Ireland.
Firstly, let’s consider where Ireland gets its electricity from. The latest official fuel mix figures for Ireland were released in 2019. They show that across the island, energy was generated in the following percentages for the following energy sources:
While renewable energy sources are pulling ahead, as technically renewable energy is several sources grouped under one umbrella term, gas is actually Ireland’s one main source of energy. Now that we can see what energy sources are driving Irish electricity production, let’s go a step further and see where exactly these energy sources are coming from.
Amazingly, electricity has existed in Ireland from the late 1800s. Initially, private companies generated and supplied electricity in and around Dublin, with production then spreading across the island. It was during the first world war when coal was rationed, that hydroelectric production was examined.
This eventually led to the construction of the Ardnacrusha hydroelectric plant in the 1920s, on the River Shannon, which provided all the electricity Ireland needed at that time. Ironically, the issue of renewable electricity, which we struggle with so much today, was not an issue then with the entire island being powered by 100% renewable hydroelectric power.
The table below includes all current electricity suppliers in Ireland, along with their cheapest electricity offer.
|Supplier||Best offer||Price per year|
|Electric Ireland||5.5% Discount
|BE Energy||28% off unit rate
20% off standing charge
|Bord Gáis Energy||32% Discount||€832.11|
|SSE Airtricity||10% Discount
Calculations based on average consumption figures for an urban home with a 24-hour meter. All discounts and cashback have been applied. Last updated: November 2020
Gas has been used in Ireland much longer than electricity. It became available in 1764 when “distillation” - a process used to manufacture gas from coal - came about. Initially, and until the widespread introduction of electricity, gas was mainly used for public lighting. With time, its use spread to homes and businesses.
As gas prices fluctuated, and under increasing competition from oil and electricity, it seemed that gas use in Ireland might die out in the mid-late19th century. The discovery of gas reserves off the Irish coast near Kinsale changed that, making gas the top heating and power generation choice in Ireland.
96% of Ireland’s gas supply used to be met by imports, but thankfully nowadays that figure has been reduced to 42%. The gas fields at Corrib and Kinsale currently supply 58% oft he gas needed. The remainder needed is imported from Great Britain via sub-sea pipelines that connect Moffat (in Scotland) to Ireland.
The high percentage of imported gas, for both domestic heating use via the gas network, as well as electricity production, is a key factor in driving up Irish gas prices. This because we are not only paying UK prices for the gas we purchase from there, but also the costs of transporting it.
The effect of Brexit on Irish gas prices is also a mounting concern. It is becoming clearer and clearer that Ireland needs to transition to a much higher degree of renewable energy in order to decrease dependence on imported fuels such as gas.
Ireland’s known coal deposits were mined until 1994. Falling levels of coal in deposits, and laws passed banning the sale and use of smoky coal in urban areas meant that the Irish government began to import coal to be used in energy production.
The vast majority (90%) of the coal used for electricity generation in Ireland comes from Colombia today, and around 75% of all coal is used in Moneypoint, an electricitycgeneration plant.
2020 is D-Day for Ireland and its Paris agreement commitments, but unfortunately, we are set to miss our carbon emission reduction targets. With Brexit and the end of the transition period looming on the horizon as well as the repercussions that could arise from decoupling the Irish and UK energy markets, sustainable and renewable energy is even more important for Ireland than ever before.
In 2020, Irish citizens can increase their involvement in meeting energy commitments by:
The bottom line is that by limiting our energy expenditure and increasing the effectiveness of the energy units we do use, we’ll not only contribute to lowering carbon emissions, we’ll also save money. You can also help by making sure that you choose a provider that has a higher percentag of renewable energy. You can see the percentage for each of the main providers below:
|Bord Gáis Energy||31.1%|
Percentages based on the latest CRU report from November 2020.
*The fuel mix from Bright Energy and Community Power have yet to be verified by the CRU.
Windpower is responsible for producing roughly a quarter of Ireland’s renewable energy. Solar energy uptake in Ireland is very low, the second-lowest in the EU, perhaps owing to the misconception that Ireland doesn't have enough sunlight for solar panels to be feasible.
Biomass, biogas and biofuels (such as bioethanol) account for the remaining renewable energy sources.
Peat is what is known as a “slow” renewable. Mainly “slow” because as it takes so long to be produced, it is not a feasible renewable source while consumption outstrips production.
What is peat?Peat (also known as turf), resembles a slice of compacted brown earth and is formed by partly decomposed vegetable matter in the acidic environments of bogs. It is cut and used as fuel in Ireland.
Although currently used to fuel generation of almost 5% of Ireland’s electricity needs, peat production and harvesting is being wound down in Ireland. The reason for this is that the process of harvesting peat emits greenhouse gases. Peatlands aid the atmosphere by storing carbon - burning peat then releases those gases.
In fact, burning peat is considered to be more damaging to the environment than coal. Peat harvesting at 17 bogs was shut down last year, and turf-cutting at the remaining 45 bogs (all based in Ireland) will be phased out within seven years.
Although Ireland is connected to the UK electricity network via the east-west interconnector, in fact, the majority of Irish electricity is produced and consumed domestically. However decoupling from the UK’s system post-Brexit will unfortunately also mean Ireland will be disconnected for the European grid, a key player in trying to reduce carbon emissions.
Luckily, within a few years, the Celtic Interconnector should be up and running and will grant us more permanent access to the market.
With all indications pointing towards Ireland missing the Paris agreement 2020 targets for greenhouse gas reduction, it’s time to seriously consider how Ireland is going to meet its future targets.
Brexit has only underscored the importance of both being more independent when it comes to producing our own energy from indigenous sources, and at the same time being better connected to mainland Europe in order to overcome shortfalls or crises.
The infrastructure for wind-power in Ireland must become more developed - not only is it one of our greatest renewable energy sources, but the planned construction of the Celtic Interconnector also indicates that Europe considers it important as well. BioLPG is also a source of interest, given the entrenched use of LPG in Ireland.
Anaerobic digestion plants, where organic waste is used to produce electricity, could also be od increasing importance in the struggle to move away from fossil-fuel-based energy production. Energia will shortly begin producing electricity from the latest biofuel plant in Huntstown, which cost €50 million to build and will be supplied waste by Panda.
The government also needs to take a long hard look at the cattle and dairy sector, and what heating systems are permitted to be installed in new houses.
The residential energy market in Ireland has been completely transformed since the gas and electricity sectors were deregulated. The purpose of deregulating the market was to invite more competitive pricing and innovative offers for electricity and gas customers, but did it have the desired effect?
Electricity and gas jargon, VAT and no VAT, offers, discounts, cashback...it can be pretty difficult to get to the bottom of how much the tariff you are on or are checking out will actually end up costing you. Check out how we compare energy providers, or read on to find out more about getting cheaper electricity and gas bills.
Electricity and gas providers in Ireland are somewhat at the mercy of Ireland’s expensive energy and the volatility of the market. If you are on a variable contract, chances are you could face up to three price increases per year as suppliers increase their tariffs in response to shifting market expenses.
The issue is that providers change their tariffs at different times, hoping to convince customers that their offer is the cheapest, only to increase tariffs a month or two later.
To calculate the real cost of a tariff, you’ll need to carry out any discounts against the unit rate (discounts never apply to the whole bill) and add standing charges and levies, as well as adding VAT at 13.5% to get a sense of what it’s going to cost you. With cashback offers, you simply do the math and subtract the cashback.
However, it is still worth doing your homework to see when was the last time that supplier increased their tariffs - if it’s coming up to six months than chances are they’ll be increasing them soon after you’ve already locked yourself into the tariff.
The only way to be sure that you are saving hundreds of Euros a year on your energy bills is to switch electricity or gas provider every 12 months. Apart from the longer-term electricity plans offered by Glowpower, most discounts only run for the first 12 months of a contract as a new customer.
After that, if you don’t switch to a new provider or negotiate a new rate with your current provider, you’ll be moved on to the standard tariff, which can in some cases cost you up to €300 extra a year.
Try and also keep in mind what you would like from your supplier - excellent customer service, renewable energy tariffs, prepaid or long term contracts, free or subsidized smart thermostats etc. Sometimes it is worth paying a few quid more for a supplier to ticks all your boxes.
If you’re building your dream house and have no idea how to get electricity or gas connected in a new build, check out our guide. The main point to keep in mind is that you do NOT have to accept the default supplier, usually Electric Ireland.
If you are renting or moving from a house you already own, make sure to take photos with a newspaper from that day in them, of the current gas and electricity meter readings so that you can send them to your supplier and receive a final bill.
Similarly, when moving into a new home, take similar photos so you can check if you are being billed correctly or are being charged for energy expenditure caused by the previous inhabitant.
Note that in the case of buying a new home, you are responsible for any billing amounts accrued from after the date of legal possession, not necessarily the date you move in.