Renewable Energy: Facts, Stats & Best Green Tariffs
Over the last decade or so, the energy sector in Ireland has undergone an incredible transformation concerning renewable energy. Read on to learn where we are making progress, where we are falling short, and which companies offer the best deals to help reach energy targets in Ireland.
What are the Renewable Energy Companies in Ireland?
There are currently 12 domestic electricity suppliers in Ireland. There are now eight of these suppliers that provide 100% renewable electricity:
- Community Power*
- Panda Power
- SSE Airtricity
*Community Power, Ecopower, and Waterpower also claim to provide 100% renewable energy; however, this has yet to be verified by the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU).
In the table below, you'll find a list of the best electricity offers from domestic suppliers that currently provide 100% renewable electricity.
|Supplier||Best offer||Price per year|
|Bright Energy**||Has stopped trading||No longer available|
|Iberdrola||Has stopped trading||No longer available|
|Panda Power||45% Discount||€1,236.67|
|SSE Airtricity||33% Discount||€1,214.28|
|Compare Renewable Energy Prices||Call 01 903 6528 Ad||Mon - Fri: 9 am - 6 pm|
*Figures are for illustrative purposes only. Calculations based on average consumption figures for an urban home with a 24-hour standard meter. All discounts and cashback have been applied. Last updated: July 2022
**The fuel mix from Bright Energy, Ecopower, Waterpower, and Community Power have yet to be verified by the CRU.
Signing up for a renewable tariff helps ensure demand for renewable energy and drives funding towards its production. If you prefer, you can always look at offsetting your carbon footprint instead.
What is renewable energy?
Renewable energy is defined as energy from a source that is not depleted when used. It is often confused with green energy or clean energy. All green energy is renewable, but not all renewable energy is green — green energy comes from natural sources only, such as:
Renewable energy comes in many forms, such as the following energy sources:
Electrically powered heat pumps can also be considered somewhat renewable, as even though they do require units of electricity to operate, they produce up to four times more energy than used.
What is non-renewable energy?
On the contrary, non-renewable energy is one that will deplete and will not replenish. Some non-renewable energy examples are:
- Oil (or fossil fuels, fracking)
- Natural gas
As seen in the all-island mix below, Ireland still depends greatly on non-renewable sources to satisfy the energy demand. Although the quantity of renewable sources is increasing, so is the energy demand. As we are gradually moving towards hybrid and electric cars rather than fossil fuels, this is significantly increasing the need for energy at the same time.
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Is nuclear energy renewable?
Many experts can debate this question at large. Today, there is no doubt that nuclear energy is the most efficient source we have. Its waste is relatively small for the amount of power it generates.
The issue is that although the amount of waste is relatively minimal, we have no idea how long it will take for this waste to disintegrate and maintenance for these thousands of years is highly dangerous and toxic.
However, one cannot deny that it does not contribute to carbon emissions, which is the goal of the Paris Agreement. Making the discussion around the use or not of nuclear power a very 'sensitive' topic.
What is the Paris Agreement? In 2015, 186 countries agreed to reduce gas emissions by specific amounts by 2050. Recognized as a monumental occasion with the fight against Global Warming.
What are the advantages of renewable energy?
Here are but a few points as to why relying on renewable energy sources is important:
- Advantages of Renewable Energy Sources
- Reduction of gas emissions, helping with the fight against climate change.
- Decrease dependence on fossil fuels coming from external countries.
- Creates new jobs locally in installation, maintenance, etc.
- Are a reliable, constant source of energy.
- Improves air quality and consequently public health.
What are the disadvantages of renewable energy?
There are still some drawbacks to renewable energy sources, here are but a few of these items:
- Disadvantages of Renewable Energy Sources
- Energy output is still quite low for all technology types (solar, wind, tidal, etc.).
- Requires an important upfront capital investment.
- Is not on-demand like other fossil fuels. Meaning, the energy produced either needs to be used immediately or stored in batteries. Otherwise, its energy production is lost.
- Occupies a large quantity of land.
- Its energy may be clean, but the machinery required and its construction may still pollute. For example, solar panel cells need replacing over time, wind turbines as well, etc.
How much of Ireland's energy is renewable?
According to the latest fuel mix disclosure published by the CRU, 57.9% of the electricity supplied by Irish energy providers came from renewable energy sources. This is an increase from 54% the previous year. Since 2008, the overall share of renewable energy sources in Ireland has increased by nearly fivefold from 11% to 57.9%. You can see what percentage of Ireland's energy is renewable in the chart below.
It's important to understand that this share of renewable sources does not necessarily represent the actual amount of renewable energy that was generated in Ireland. This is because energy suppliers can claim renewable generation by purchasing Guarantees of Origin (GO) certificates.
These certificates prove that a given share of electricity was produced from renewable energy sources. However, this doesn't mean the energy was produced in Ireland — it just means it was produced in Europe. Therefore, the renewable percentage displayed on your bill is often higher than what was generated in Ireland.
You can see the percentage of fuel that each Irish provider gets from renewable energy sources in the following table.
|Bord Gáis Energy||31.1%|
|Find the Best Renewable Energy Offer||Call 01 903 6528 Ad|
Percentages based on the latest CRU report from November 2020.
*The fuel mix from Bright Energy, Ecopower, Waterpower, and Community Power have yet to be verified by the CRU.
Which renewable energy sources are used in Ireland?
In Ireland, the types of renewable energy sources include biofuels, biomass, geothermal, hydro, solar, tidal, water, wave, waste, wind, and wood. Let's have a more in-depth look at these clean energy sources below.
Biofuels are made by converting biomass into liquid energy. The two most common forms are ethanol and biodiesel. Ethanol is an alcohol which can be added to fuels to cut down on emissions, or some new cars can also run mainly on it but do require some petrol (at least 15%). Biodiesel is made by combining alcohol with fat and can also be added to fuels, or used as the main fuel source instead of diesel.
In Ireland, there is a Biofuels Obligation Scheme (BOS) in place, which from January 2019 requires 11.11% of all motor fuels on the market to be mixed with or produced from ethanol or biodiesel. Some critics of biofuel point out that Ireland imports the majority of the materials needed to make it, and as such, it is not a sustainable option geared towards making Ireland more energy-independent.
Biomass is fuel developed from organic materials, such as scrap wood, crops, manure, and some types of waste residues. It is viewed as green energy, as its sources are grown using energy from the sun, and is also an additional more sustainable way to deal with waste.
Waste residues will always exist, so why not take advantage of them? In addition, waste residues and organic material can be sourced close to home, rather than being imported. Biomass is also carbon-neutral, as many of the materials used to make it would otherwise have ended up in landfills.
For industrial use, biomass can be used to burn material in a power plant and generate steam. The steam can in turn run turbines to generate electricity. The first combined heat and power plant using wood waste was constructed in Cork in 2004 at a sawmill (Grainger Sawmills)
Scrap wood can be used for home heating or to run boilers at home. In particular, wood pellet stoves and boilers have seen a rise in popularity in Ireland, with stylish sleek modern models that add value to many a home.
Geothermal energy use in Ireland is mainly provided through heat pumps, which draw thermal energy from the ground to meet up to 75% of home heating and hot water energy requirements. You may be thinking that Ireland is too cold to extract much thermal energy from the ground, but a meter below the surface temperatures tend to remain a constant 10 degrees year-round. There are grants for installing geothermal systems in homes, and once installed, a household’s energy requirements can drop to a quarter of previous levels. An underfloor heating system is a great use of geothermal energy.
Did you know? Despite the SEAI estimating that 32% of the energy used is for heating, there are currently no Geothermal projects in Ireland.
Flowing water contains energy that can be captured and converted to hydroelectric energy. This is normally achieved by creating a dam or channelling water through a turbine. Ireland has been using hydroelectric energy for quite a while, with the opening of the Ardnacrusha hydroelectric power station on the River Shannon in 1929.
Ardnacrusha currently provides around 2% of Ireland’s electricity needs. Smaller stations can also be built to serve individual homes or communities and can benefit from the government's REFIT (Renewable Energy Feed-In Tariff) where excess electricity generated can be fed into the national grid and paid for by the government.
Some benefits of hydroelectric power are that it’s clean, renewable, and is a local energy source, but care does need to be taken to minimise the environmental impact of hydroelectric station sites.
5. Solar energy
Solar energy is one of the cleanest renewable energy sources there is, and new ways of harnessing it are continuously evolving. The most common source of extracting solar energy in Ireland is through solar panels. It is a commonly held misconception that Ireland doesn’t get enough sunlight to justify the use of solar panels.
However, even during a particularly dull year Ireland still receives 70% of the sunlight that other sunnier places get, for example, Madrid. Solar panels are suitable for both home and business use and benefit from government subsidies, such as the SEAI better energy home grants.
Photovoltaic panels work by using photovoltaic cells to convert sunlight into electricity while thermal solar panels work by directly transferring heat energy to water (which is warmed in the panel’s pipes), thus supplying hot water and eliminating the need for energy to be used to heat water. Solar PV panels are one of the world’s fastest-growing renewable electricity generation technologies, but uptake in Ireland has, until now, been relatively limited.
Tidal power is a form of hydroelectric power that draws energy from the tides and requires significant tidal differences (at least five metres difference between low-tide water levels and high-tide levels). Tidal barrages are one manner of extracting tidal power where water approaching the shoreline at high tide is stored in dams and released via sluices to generate energy during low tide.
Tidal fences and tidal turbines are less common in Ireland, as they are less efficient than tidal barrages, but are also used to generate electricity from tidal power. Currently, the only tidal power station on the island of Ireland is in Northern Ireland (Strangford Lough Tidal Turbine), although two larger tidal energy stations have been slated for construction off the coast of Antrim. Due to Ireland’s geographic location, it is ideally located to take advantage of tidal energy, and a 2014 government report proposed that up to 1500MW could be generated in this manner without damaging the environment.
Wave energy involves harnessing energy from the contact of wind with ocean surfaces. It is not as reliable or predictable as tidal energy but can provide a steady stream of electricity when harnessed efficiently. Wave energy converters are currently in use off the west coast of Ireland (OE Buoy.)
Apart from hydroelectric, tidal, and wave energy (which all rely on water movement), thermal energy can also be extracted from water. This is the principle behind some heat pumps. One drawback with this form of renewable energy is that the buildings using this to generate electricity and hot water need to be near a body of water.
Apart from the use of certain waste residues for biofuel or biomass energy production, there is also energy generated from incinerating waste. One example of a power plant using such energy is the Covanta station in Poolbeg Dublin.
Although not strictly “clean”, this process does reduce the volume of non-recyclable materials by 90%. It is also technically carbon-neutral as it is using waste that has already been produced.
There is also the possibility of extracting methane gas from landfill sites to generate electricity, which companies such as Bioverda in Ireland specialise in doing. Bioverda belongs to the Beauparc group, as does Panda Power.
9. Wind power
There are 226 wind farms in the Republic of Ireland and in 2020 they generated a record 43% of the electricity needed. The development of wind farms in Ireland is subsidized by the EU and the PSO (public service obligation) levy that everyone pays on their electricity bills. Wind power is difficult to predict and fluctuates between being able to provide nearly nothing, and up to 32.3% of the electricity requirements of Ireland.
Government has committed to the building of approximately 7-10 off-shore wind farms by 2030 to counter this problem. Off-shore winds are more reliable, consistent, and less of an eye-soarer than along the countryside!
Did you know? According to the IEA, in 2018, Ireland had the highest share of wind-powered electricity amongst member countries.
Is Ireland meeting its Renewable Energy Targets for 2030?
According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), Ireland fell well short of meeting its 2020 target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20%. The Nation only managed to reduce emissions by 3.6% by the end of the year, which is nowhere near the EU target.
Per Capita, Ireland is the second-largest producer of greenhouse gases, behind only Luxembourg. See the chart below to compare how Ireland ranks in gas emissions compared to the rest of Europe.
Source: EEA data viewer
Thankfully, Ireland did increase its production of renewable sources. During the first six months of 2020, onshore wind provided almost 37% of Ireland's electricity and reached 43% renewable electricity sub-target by the end of 2020.
Be sure to peruse all of our environmental guides to learn more about what you can do to help protect our future.
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What is the Future of Renewable Energy in Ireland?
The recent report card from COP26 pushed the Irish Government to make a few quick announcements for the Nation to meet its future targets. Some of the recent announcements are:
These measures are on top of others to curb the constant increase in the cost of living due to the continual rise of energy prices. We look in detail at a few other ongoing projects to help Ireland meet its renewable energy targets below.
RESS (Renewable Electricity Support Scheme)
In July 2018 the RESS was given the green light by the Irish government. The scheme is designed to incentivise the development of renewable energy in Ireland and to encourage community participation in renewable projects. Auctions will be held throughout the lifetime of the scheme to secure the most favourable electricity prices for consumers.
Auctions began in 2019, with the intention to close the gap as much and as quickly as possible between the current renewable setup and our EU 2030 renewable targets. The aim of holding several auctions, rather than assigning projects in one auction, is to leave the possibility of taking advantage of falling technology costs.
The Celtic Interconnector
Amid worries of electricity supply in the looming shadow of Brexit, there is one, star contender, for solving supply issues, and that is the Celtic Interconnector. The proposal would see Ireland directly linked to the French electricity grid and allow Ireland to both import and export enough energy to potentially supply 450,000 homes.
Part of the goal for this project is a reduction of electricity prices for Irish consumers, who already pay some of the highest rates in Europe. Construction has started and we can expect to be linked to France by 2026.