What can Ireland do to make energy consumption more efficient?

30 Sep 2022

Image: © Arthon/Stock.adobe.com

Chris Collins of Schneider Electric Ireland says the country has the tech to help cut emissions, it just needs to rethink its approach to energy use.

The rapid rise of energy costs in tandem with the cost-of-living crisis was certainly a focus of Budget 2023. But what about Ireland’s climate targets?

Understandably, many people were looking for help with high energy bills – a problem that will hopefully be only temporary. What is not temporary, however, is the climate crisis. And Ireland has legally binding targets to cut emissions by 51pc by 2030.

With these ambitious targets in mind, the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications was allocated more than €1bn in Budget 2023.

A €337m chunk of this will go towards grants for energy efficiency. According to Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath, TD, this represents the “highest funding ever” committed to energy efficiency.

Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications and Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan, TD, added that a key priority over the coming months is “to scale up and speed up our transition to renewable energy systems”. This, he said, would “a real lasting solution” to the fossil fuel crisis that is causing so much hardship for people.

But is this action enough to respond the climate crisis? In general, Ireland’s progress on reaching its emissions targets leaves a lot to be desired.

A report published recently by the Sustainable Energy Authority Ireland (SEAI) showed that Ireland’s energy-related emissions increased by 5.4pc in 2021, following a brief reduction at the beginning of the pandemic.

Additionally, the Environmental Protection Agency warned that “urgent” measures are needed for Ireland to meet its climate targets, based on greenhouse gas emissions projections for the period 2021 to 2040. So what should be done?

‘We have a lot of catching up to do’

According to Chris Collins, Ireland country president for Schneider Electric, “we have a lot of catching up to do” and we will need “more than significant cuts to stay within the legal limits”.

This is something most of us already know. Indeed, Collins made a very similar statement in August when Eurostat published estimates indicating that emissions had risen across the whole of Europe in the first quarter of this year – with Ireland experiencing the third highest increase in the EU.

Following on from those earlier comments, Collins told SiliconRepublic.com that there are a number of things the Irish Government should focus on immediately to see results.

“The most immediate thing we can do to drive our sustainability agenda is to focus on reduction, using existing technology to cut out the inefficiencies in our existing infrastructure,” he said, adding that a lot of energy consumed in buildings is wasted.

Chris Collins Schneider Electric headshot.

Chris Collins. Image: Schneider Electric

“We can attack this waste through digital technologies that help our homes, commercial buildings and factories make better decisions on how they use their energy.

“Government-led legislation and support in the form of energy incentives and rewards are valuable ways to cement this progress made by businesses and create a more cohesive strategy for Ireland.”

Ireland needs to invest in digitisation as “a sustainability enabler” so homes as well as businesses can minimise energy waste through tech such as smart thermostats.

“Energy efficiency might sound like an outworn concept but it’s one of the fastest-growing ways to cut carbon emissions and save the planet,” said Collins.

Technology will be an incredibly useful asset for sustainability overall, he added. “The good news is we do not have to wait for this technology to get developed, it’s already here.”

Ireland needs the ‘courage to think differently’

However, Collins said that leveraging tech’s potential regarding sustainability would require “courage to think differently about how we digitise at all stages of planning, construction and operation”.

“There is plenty of technology available to help, from electric fleet vehicles to digital technologies that make electricity usage more visible, connected, controlled and smart – cutting waste.”

Besides using tech to track and cut energy waste, what other suggestions does Collins have for Ireland? He reckons that one of the biggest obstacles to Ireland’s transition to clean, renewable energy is providing capital investors and developers certainty during the planning and reviewing process.

“It is taking too long for projects to be reviewed and [enter] into production, worsened by the current global supply chain challenges. Once approval is given, components still need to be built, prolonging the wait even further.”

He also recommended that the State start thinking about building grid resilience and creating micro grids around some of the larger cities.

“Data centre operators also need to start thinking about investing in their own renewable energy generation assets on site to power themselves and use battery storage and smart grid solutions to feed excess power back into the national power grid,” he added.

‘Ireland as a nation is behind on its climate goals, but the ambition and opportunity are there’

For its part, Schneider Electric is working with customers in Ireland such as Interxion by Digital Realty, Eirgrid and University College Dublin to help improve their energy management and efficiency. Other partners and customers in Ireland include windfarms, tech multinationals and life sciences manufacturers.

“We are working with a major pharmaceutical manufacturer in Ireland to deploy digital assets that measure and monitor their electrical infrastructure and help them make operating decisions that reduce their consumption and maximise the life and efficiency of their assets,” said Collins, citing one example.

As for Schneider Electric’s own internal operations, Collins said the company has “measured and published sustainability targets for over 15 years” and has committed to becoming fully carbon neutral on its end-to-end footprint by 2040.

“Here in Ireland, we are moving to a new net-zero building in Galway from November. The building will have electrified heating and hot water, electric vehicle power stations, and we are also looking into the prospect of having onsite renewable energy generation including solar and wind power coupled with local energy storage.”

Despite the fact that Ireland has a lot of work to do in meeting its climate goals, Collins is relatively optimistic about embracing the challenge that lies ahead and becoming “a leader in the green energy revolution”.

“Ireland as a nation is behind on its climate goals, but the ambition and opportunity are there, and businesses are leading the way. The Covid pandemic highlighted the need to digitise.

“The fact that carbon emissions reduced significantly during the lockdown can inspire us to rethink energy use and our approach to consumption – efficiency, smart usage – as well as generation – offshore wind and solar – particularly as the world faces the ongoing energy crisis.”

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Blathnaid O’Dea was a Careers reporter at Silicon Republic until 2024.