As the world grapples with the necessity of transitioning to renewable energy, Ireland is no exception. While the need to mitigate the effects of climate change is increasingly prioritized, the opportunity to create new jobs and expand economic development is also a tantalizing prospect.
Current state of affairs
In 2018, electricity contributed ~16.2% of Ireland’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Between 2005 and 2018, emissions were reduced by a third, while in that same period, electricity generated from renewable sources increased from 7.2% to 33.7%. Though these are promising trends, more action is needed to ensure that Ireland reaches its net zero goal by 2050. Large scale renewable generation is required, using a diverse array of technologies for security and stability.
Ireland’s Climate Action Plan
Shortly after the Paris Climate Accord was adopted in 2015, Ireland committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 at the latest. In order to meet this goal, interim targets have been identified and set, with a major focus on wind and offshore electricity generation; indeed, Ireland seeks to increase renewable energy from 30% to 80% by the end of the decade. However, the demand for electricity is expected to double by 2030, mainly due to growth of data centers and the electrification of industry.
These targets, and more, are included in the Irish Climate Action Plan published in 2021. This plan also recognizes that certain sectors and regions will be more negatively impacted by the transition to renewable energy, especially as peat extraction ceases. For this reason, a Just Transition Commission is intended to be established, which will include input from the National Dialogue on Climate Action and the National Economic and Social Council.
The plan will be updated annually, to reflect previous work and amend targets as new technology and information is made available. It should be noted that before the Climate Action Plan was published, the EPA projected that, by 2030, Ireland’s GHG emissions would decrease by 19% from 2020 levels. With the Plan now in place, it is expected that the reduction in GHG emissions will be even greater.
No man (or woman) is an island
Currently, there is only one electricity interconnector between Ireland and the UK, the East West Interconnector, or EWIC. The Celtic Interconnector to France and the Greenlink Interconnector to Wales are in development. These interconnectors will allow Ireland to share and trade excess energy, helping all involved countries reach their renewable energy targets and reduce curtailment losses.
Nuclear energy (or lack thereof) in Ireland
Irish renewable energy is dominated by onshore (and in future offshore) wind farms, with some solar photovoltaics (solar PV). With over 250 wind farms in operation today, there is a total installed capacity of 3,700 MW, with plans to increase capacity by at least 250 MW per year through new builds. However, some organizations want to reconsider the use of nuclear energy. The generation of nuclear energy is banned under the 1999 Electricity Regulation Act. But several groups and individuals have urged the government to reconsider the ban. At their annual conference in October, Engineers Ireland president John Power said ‘Innovative approaches like the use of small modular nuclear reactors need to be given real consideration if we are serious about mitigating the real prospect of energy shortages in the years ahead,’ as was reported by the Irish Times.
In response to this call, Eamon Ryan, the current Minister for Climate and Energy, said that, while he was open to the discussion of nuclear energy, ‘I don’t see nuclear playing a role. I’ve never as Energy Minister had a single person come to me saying I think we should invest in nuclear.’
Supporting the jobs of the future
As the country advances to meet the demands of a greener energy future, the jobs, and skills necessary to complete them, will continue to evolve. It is estimated that 22,000 to 27,000 new roles in engineering, built environment, the physical sciences, and investment analysis (to name a few) will be created by 2030. As new roles emerge, the face of the labor market will change.
Painting a full picture
The transition to renewable energy comes amidst another challenge: protecting the environment and promoting biodiversity in Irish ecosystems. Thus, as renewable energy in the form of wind farms (both onshore and offshore) for example, becomes more prevalent, the effects on flora and fauna must be understood and mitigated. And renewable energy doesn’t stop at wind farms. Wave and tidal energy can also be harnessed to generate electricity, as well as more solar PV.
All of this, of course, takes place in a world already facing the consequences of climate change. As sea level and storm surges rise and the frequency of heatwaves and extreme weather events increases, Irish infrastructure must be able to withstand them. The Climate Action Plan is a positive step, but more action must follow the legislation.
A snapshot of renewable energy
In order to better plan energy intensive activities, consider using EnergyElephant’s smart Energy Traffic Light, which forecasts when energy is coming from renewable sources to help reduce carbon emissions (only available for a number of countries currently).
Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications. (2023, February 20). Renewable Energy. DECC.
Government of Ireland. (2022, May 17). Climate Action Plan 2021. DECC, Government of Ireland.
O’Sullivan, K. and Horgan-Jones, J. (2022, October 19). Government urged to reconsider Ireland’s nuclear power ban. The Irish Times.