Renewable Energy in Ireland: Statistics & Providers
Over the last decade or so, the energy sector in Ireland has undergone an incredible transformation with regards to renewable energy. Read on to learn where we are making progress and where we are falling short when it comes to reaching renewable energy targets in Ireland.
As the death knell sounds for fossil fuels, fulfilling Irish and international energy needs by finding more sustainable means of producing energy has become a must. In order to achieve this, it has become increasingly apparent that renewable energy in Ireland will play a crucial role.
How large a role exactly has already been decided by the EU, which set minimum binding targets for 2020, 2030, and 2050. The targets below are based on reductions from 2000-2005 levels.
|2020||20% greenhouse gas reduction|
|2030||40% greenhouse gas reduction|
|2050||80-95% greenhouse gas reduction|
Unfortunately, Ireland is one of the few countries expected to miss its target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by the end of 2020.
According to projections made by the Environmental Projection Agency, the current measures in place will only reduce these emissions by 2% by the end of the year, which is nowhere near the EU target. Compared to the rest of Europe, Ireland is the third largest producer of greenhouse gases, just behind Estonia and Luxembourg.
Thankfully, Ireland has increased its production of renewable sources. During the first six months of 2020, onshore wind provided almost 37% of Ireland's electricity. This makes it likely for Ireland to reach its 40% renewable electricity sub-target for 2020.
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. All green energy is renewable, but not all renewable energy is green — green energy comes from natural sources only, such as wind, water, and wave energy.
Renewable energy comes in many forms, such as solar, hydroelectric and geothermal energy. 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 renewable energy is used in Ireland?
In Ireland, 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 renewable 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 a 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 a 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 and energy production, biomass can be used by burning material in power plant that then generate steam, that in turn runs 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)
At home, scrap wood can be used for home-heating or to run boilers. 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’s 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.
Flowing water contains energy which 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 service 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 sources of extracting solar energy in Ireland are through solar panels, both photovoltaic and thermal. 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 when harnessed efficiently, can provide a steady stream of electricity. 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% and is technically carbon-neutral as it is using waste which 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 2015 they generated a record 23% of the electricity needed. 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.
Who is the greenest electricity supplier in Ireland?
There are currently 13 domestic electricity suppliers in Ireland. Of these suppliers, only the following five provide 100% renewable electricity:
- Panda Power
- SSE Airtricity
Bright Energy and Community Power also claim to provide 100& renewable energy; however, this has yet to be verified by the CRU.
Note that even if your energy supplier says it provides 100% renewable energy, that doesn't mean that's what arrives to your house. Even though these suppliers have sourced and paid for renewable energy, all of the electricity generated goes into one big pot that is shared by all suppliers and consumers.
Don't let this discourage you from registering with a renewable energy supplier. Signing up for a renewable tariff still helps to ensure demand for renewable energy and drives funding towards its production.
In the table below, you'll find a list of the cheapest offers from domestic suppliers that currently provide 100% renewable electricity.
|Supplier||Best offer||Price per year|
|SSE Airtricity||10% Discount
|Find the best offer for your home with Selectra. Find the best offer for your home.|
*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: May 2021
*The fuel mix from Bright Energy and Community Power have yet to be verified by the CRU.
How much of Ireland's energy is renewable?
According to the latest fuel mix disclosure published by the CRU, 54% of the electricity supplied by Irish energy providers in 2019 came from renewable energy sources. This is an increase from 49% the previous year. Since 2008, the overall share of renewable energy sources in Ireland has increased by nearly fivefold from 11% to 54%. We can expect the share of renewable energy sources to continue to increase over the coming years.
It's important to understand that this share of renewable sources does not necessarity 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 a higher than what was actually generated in Ireland.
In the following table, you can see the percentage of fuel that each Irish provider gets from renewable energy sources.
|Bord Gáis Energy||31.1%|
|Find the best offer for your home. Find the best offer for your home.|
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.
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 set up and our EU 2020 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.
Such a scheme could also result in a reduction of electricity prices for Irish consumers, who already pay some of the highest rates in Europe. A decision on whether to go ahead with the project or not will be announced by 2021 latest. Should it go ahead, we could expect to be linked to France by 2025.