Clean tech debate sees hope for Ireland’s future

27 Feb 2014

Does green technology actually damage the environment? Four experts in the field of climate change and green technology debated the topic at the Science Gallery, Dublin, last night, and came to some interesting conclusions.

The panel consisted of Prof Pete Smith, science director of Scotland’s Climate XChange; Rory O’Donnell, of the National and Economic Social Council; Green Party leader Eamon Ryan; and Bob Ursem, scientific director of the Botanic Garden, Delft University of Technology, Netherlands.

As part of Ireland’s largest environmental conference, ENVIRON 2014, the estimated 300 people in attendance listened to how leaders in their fields raised serious issues regarding the pressure clean-technology companies and organisations have been facing from both fossil fuel lobby groups and European governments, but stressed they envisage a shift in the balance of power in favour of renewable energy as one of our main sources of energy and job creation.

Ryan spoke about Germany’s position as one of the world leaders in the roll out of clean technologies. The country started a trend that means renewable energies, such as solar and wind, are setting the pace and striking fear into the established fossil-fuel companies.

“There are major economic interests who do not like the way we are going. The truth of the matter is we are winning, renewables are winning,” said Ryan.

“We’re kicking the pants off the fossil-fuel companies who can’t invest because they know it is wind and solar in Germany that is setting the market price and that’s why they’re fighting in Brussels, because they know it’s a fight to the death.”

Cheaper renewable energy

Ursem spoke earlier about the growing efficiency of solar energy. As the continued cost of solar energy continues, and the hydrogen fuel-cell batteries that make the energy storable grows with it, the cheaper cost than fossil fuels will make it an economic no-brainer.

According to Ursem’s statistics, solar-cell efficiency stands at 12-15pc. By 2017, this is expected to reach 22-25pc and by 2020 this will rise to 32pc.

As the efficiency improves, solar energy would be expected to drop to a price of €0.03 per kw/h.

In terms of challenges however, the development of renewable technologies for transport appear to be the most difficult to attain.

Paul Butler of Enterprise Ireland chaired the debate, and he raised the issue that particularly in terms of commercial aircraft, little advancements in green technology have been implemented there.

Butler had previously been on the council of aerospace research in Europe and the issue of fuel efficiency had been raised.

“There really is nothing on the horizon [in terms of cleaner fuels] for aircraft, it’s fossil fuels all the way. In fact, the claim at the time was that the last drop of oil would burn in a fighter jet.”

Community action

One of the final points made at the debate was the potential of Ireland to develop its renewable-energy technology not on a national scale, but on a local community scale across the thousands of different rural areas dotted across the country and on the many islands that dot the west coast.

According to Ryan, Ireland has the potential to reach zero emissions given its availability of wind as it has already decarbonised its energy production from 950g per kw/h to 450g per kw/h.

Currently, a number of communities across the country have been developing a co-operative wind-energy system to power their towns, which would not only reduce their costs from the wider national grid, but would also make them energy self-sufficient.

Other key points:

  • Germany will be the first country in the coming years to go 50pc renewable, followed by China and the US state of California
  • The US has invested €280bn worth of funding into bringing ethanol into fuelling shipping and transporting in the country
  • The introduction of LED lighting has increased light efficiency 43,000 times over a candle, but our consumption has increased by 40,000
  • The cost of producing solar power has decreased by 75pc
  • Ireland spends €1,400 per person on energy importation, while the European average is only €600

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic