Where does Ireland get its energy from?

A blue and yellow banner with a flame in the middle surrounded by question marks

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.

When did electricity come to Ireland?

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.

When did gas come to Ireland?

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.

What is Ireland's main source of energy?

Firstly, let’s consider where Ireland gets its electricity from. The latest official fuel mix figures for Ireland are, unfortunately, quite dated now, released by the CRU for 2017, and we will have to wait until later on in 2019 for 2018’s figures. 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.

Where does Ireland import coal from?

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.

Where does Ireland get gas from?

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.

Peat - is it renewable?

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.

Renewable energy produced in Ireland

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.

Does Ireland import electricity from the UK?

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.

Future energy sources for Ireland

a yellow and orange calendar

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.

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