Ireland’s energy minster talks energy security and sustainability at EV summit

11 Jul 2012

Ireland's Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte, TD, has a seat in the new Volkswagen Golf electric car and chats with Pat O'Doherty, ESB chief executive

Opening an international electric vehicle summit in Dublin this morning, Ireland’s Energy Minister Pat Rabbitte, TD, discussed energy policy, security of supply, Ireland’s moves to de-carbonise its energy system, and taking in the country’s heavy reliance on fossil fuels.

The Fully Charged summit itself taking place today in Dublin is one of the first of its kind. Electric-vehicle experts from Europe, China and the US are in Dublin for the summit, which has been organised by ESB ecars on behalf of the Green eMotion EU electromobility project.

As part of his opening address, Rabbitte revealed that Ireland is to be the first country to trial an electric vehicle IT platform that will facilitate international roaming and seamless charging across Europe.

Kicking off proceedings, Rabbitte welcomed the international participants to the conference, which encompasses 260 delegates from 19 countries. In particular, he extended a welcome to Maria van der Hoeven, the executive director of the International Energy Agency.

Taking stock of energy policy

Rabbitte started off by pointing how the current economic backdrop, together with EU and international energy developments, will require Ireland to take stock of energy policy directions.

“Although some of the key drivers for energy policy have changed in the last five years, the overriding policy objectives remain the same – security of supply, competitiveness and sustainability will continue to be the pillars of energy policy,” he said.

He said Ireland is still too heavily reliant on fossil fuels for its energy needs, pointing to how the country currently imports circa €6bn worth of fossil fuels each year. He said fossil fuels used in transport account for around one-third of this requirement.

Said Rabbitte: “The ongoing economic turmoil and geo-political uncertainty only further underline the enormous exposure Ireland has to price shocks associated with such reliance on imported petrol.”

Energy security

He said this dependency underlines the “immediate and long-term imperatives” of enhancing energy security, reducing price volatility and ensuring energy sustainability at competitive prices for both individuals and businesses.

“The manner in which we face up to these challenges will be a critical determinant of our future economic prosperity and well-being. The de-carbonising of Ireland’s energy system is critical for the de-carbonising of the economy and will support growth and jobs,” said Rabbitte.

Drawing upon the EU’s 2009 Renewable Energy Directive, he said Ireland supports Europe’s renewable energy ambitions.

“The directive has set very ambitious renewable energy targets with the objective of achieving 20pc of all energy in the EU to be from renewable sources by 2020. Ireland’s target was set at 16pc of all energy consumption to be from renewable sources by 2020 and 10pc of the energy in the transport sector must be from renewable sources.”

Ireland’s energy future – heat and transport

Rabbitte went on to say that renewable energy is playing a “key” role in shaping Ireland’s long-term energy future.

“The Government is fully committed to delivering national energy efficiency and renewable energy objectives which are aimed at mitigating the economy’s reliance on imported, carbon-intensive fossil fuels.”

He said Ireland has made “some significant progress” to date in increasing the levels of renewables on the system. He said there was an almost tripling of their use between 2003 and 2011, largely as a result of wind energy.

However, Rabbitte pointed to how Ireland still needs to carry out “significant work” to achieve its renewable energy obligations under the directive, particularly in the context of heat and transport.

“The target for the transport sector will be a significant challenge for all countries but is one from which we cannot shy away,” he said.

To reduce Ireland’s reliance on oil, he said there was no silver bullet, adding that better spatial planning has a role to play, as well as greater energy efficiency in transport, along with biofuels to some degree.

“It has become increasingly clear, however, that a major opportunity exists for Ireland around the electrification of transport, not just in helping to reduce our reliance on oil, but also in terms of generating economic growth,” he said.

Rabbitte said Ireland will meet its transport obligations primarily through the deployment of biofuels, but he said electric and other ultra low-emissions vehicles will also have a critical role in meeting its target.

“Therefore, the Government intends to meet our 10pc target through a combination of biofuels and electric vehicles. We have set an ambitious initial target of 10pc of the car fleet or 230,000 cars to be electrified by 2020.”  

He said Ireland has an added benefit in that that electric vehicle take-up will displace imported oil products with electricity which he said can be produced from a much broader range of indigenous commodities, including gas and renewable electricity.

“Achieving this goal could reduce national CO2 emissions by 3.3m tonnes annually and help towards reducing Ireland’s dependence on imported fossil fuels by an estimated €700m.”

Why not wait for EV market to mature?

Positing the question about why isn’t waiting for the EV marketplace to mature, Rabbitte said electric vehicles present real opportunities for Ireland.

“We want to be at the vanguard of the sector’s development.

“Ireland’s small geographical scale and temperate climate, as well as a developed information communications technology sector, represent competitive advantages in this arena. My department and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland together with ESB Networks are working in positioning Ireland as an early mover in electric vehicles with all stakeholders,” said Rabbitte.

Here we have a video segment with Rabbitte at an international sustainability summit held in Galway last week.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic