EU energy ministers seek funding for super grid

14 May 2010

European energy ministers are working together to secure funding as part of an EU funding review that will allow them to build the interconnects and smart grids needed for the transmission of renewable energy across the EU, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Eamon Ryan TD told a Green Economy conference in Dublin this morning.

Addressing the Business & Leadership Green Economy conference today, Ryan said that over the next 40 years, Ireland will need to take 80pc of its carbon emissions out of the equation.

“We need a revolution in the green economy in the next 40 years to handle the energy challenge and face the climate change crisis we face,” Ryan told the conference.

Ryan pointed to the 1970s book Limits to Growth, which was commissioned by the Club of Rome, and warned that the economic growth and subsequent population growth across the world, allied with global warming, present enormous challenges in terms of resources and health. What we do now will determine our future for the next 60 years and beyond, he added.

“To stop the climate collapsing we know we need an 80pc reduction in carbon emissions by 2050,” he stressed.

Reductions in emissions

“In our emissions today – roughly 40pc comes from agriculture and 60pc from energy use in this country. The agriculture part is difficult and the most challenging, a lot of it is in the natural system through nitrates release emissions. The biggest shift you can make is a move away from dairy beef to a more arable system. We’re good at growing grass, which is a natural advantage, but you could also see wheat and barley as grasses and also grow energy crops.”

Ryan said that experts at the Department of Agriculture are studying the issue but that the enormity of the challenge would require a 100pc reduction in carbon in the remaining 80pc of the economy spanning industrial use, transport and personal-energy use emissions.

“In energy you have to think long term. (The year) 2050 is not that long away in terms of the smart grids we need to build and will be used then; the power plants that will be just in use. So it’s not actually that distant. To make that change in 2050 you have to start now.”

Wind energy is a viable option

In terms of the 60pc reduction in emissions that will need to come from energy use to allow Ireland to move to zero carbon emissions, Ryan said this was divided in three ways – industrial power, heating and transport.

“Is this viable? In power generation the answer is clearly yes, the ability is there – we’ve doubled our wind power so that 15pc of energy usage in Ireland today is coming from wind. Ireland is second in Europe in terms of wind integration after Denmark. There’s nothing to stop us getting to 40pc of electricity by renewables by 2020 – which would put us on the way to a zero-carbon energy system by 2050.

Ryan stressed that Ireland needs to align its renewable energy and smart grid investments with EU policy. “Some 10GW of wind power is being built in Europe, not just some addition or small element to energy mix. To get there by 2050, the real prospect for us is in our oceans. These are dense energy sources – wave density is much higher than wind if you get a device that catches it and transports it back to shore.

“I see the prospect matched with other resources to create a balanced zero-carbon load. Part of it will be balanced by an integrated European grid. Is it doable? Absolutely, I am certain in my mind we can do it. But the one thing we need to do it is a grid,” he said.

European grid not ‘pie in the sky’

Ryan added that having a grid was critical in terms of not only exporting power to other European countries, in particular north-west Europe, but also to import energy when Ireland needs it from other European countries. “To give us the modern electrical economy we need a modern grid, at home, and to connect north-western Europe.

“European energy ministers are working on this; it’s not pie in the sky. When I go to energy council ministers, we talk about how we could connect Britain to Norway, how we fund these, the timelines.

“We are setting out the plans and we’ll be going to Europe for a review of funding for 2014. The opportunity is to match funding arrangements for future smart grids with climate-change objectives and I think we’ll succeed. Airtricity’s Eddie O’Connor has been talking about this for years, everyone is taking this serious as one of main projects in Europe,” Ryan said.

The Green Economy – Conference Highlights

On Friday, 14 May, business leaders in Ireland attended the The Green Economy – A Business & Leadership Briefing to listen to leading experts discuss the green economy’s challenges and opportunities. To read reports and see video highlights from the conference, click here.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years