Renewables and the environment – Irish trends

16 Dec 2010

The ESRI Energy and Environment Review 2010 anticipates that Ireland will have to import emission permits from other EU member states to meet its targets.

The latest ESRI energy and environment review looks at trends in energy use and emissions to the environment for the period 1990-2008. It examines power generation, private car use, landfilled waste, persistent organic pollutants and corporate expenditures on environmental protection.

While wind power is expected to account for two-fifths of power generation by 2020, in other sectors the use of renewable energy appears to have stalled, says the ESRI.

It predicts that it is therefore likely that Ireland will have to import renewable obligations in order to meet its targets.

The ESRI says a deceleration in renewables is likely due to sectoral shifts in the economy, less efficient power generation and the anticipated export of electricity to Great Britain.

While it says Ireland will probably meet its emission reduction obligations under the Kyoto Protocol because of the severe recession, the ESRI predicts that the EU target for 2020 seems to be out of Ireland’s reach.

This is because subsidies are more likely to fall than rise, and the announced carbon tax is insufficient for the emission reductions required, it says.

Prof Richard Tol, one of the researchers at the ESRI involved in compiling the Energy and Environment Review 2010, says there are three components to renewables.

“For electricity, wind is likely to expand as it’s the only area that’s getting planning permission at the moment.

“For transport, everything depends on the blending mandates for diesel and petrol, which at the moment is at about 3-4pc. There’s no technical reason why that could not go up to about 12pc. The issue is do we want to do this as biofuels are expensive and not very good for the environment, so that is purely a political decision.”

He also says the programme that has stalled at the moment is renewable heat for homes.

“The subsidies from the Government are still there, but the uptake of these subsidies has gone down considerably in 2010, simply because most households have decided that they are better off saving rather than investing in new installations.

Installations fell to 7,311 in 2009 and to 2,259 in the first nine months of 2010. Solar is the most popular technology (60pc), followed by heat pumps (20pc) and bioenergy (20pc), according to the report.

Other key findings of the ESRI report:

Companies and the environment

  • Firms in Ireland spend 0.3pc of their turnover on environmental protection and 0.7pc of their investment is directed towards environmental care.
  • More than three-quarters of firms spend no money at all on environmental care, but some firms spend up to 1.5pc of turnover or 7pc of investment.

“The expenditure itself by firms is not that low, but what is peculiar is that so few firms actually spend any money at all. With investment, 19 out of 20 firms do not invest at all,” says Tol.

Trends in renewables

  • Wind energy is anticipated to account for two-fifths of power generation by 2020, replacing coal and peat. After 2020, coal may well return to the fuel mix, with or without technically risky and expensive carbon capture and storage.
  • Carbon dioxide emissions in 2025 would be 2.6 million tonnes higher without carbon capture and storage.
  • A large share of electricity is expected to come from renewable energy. The use of biofuels in transport can be expanded but this may face economic and environmental objections.

The future of cars and electric vehicles

According to the ESRI, in the unlikely event that the Government meets the target that 10pc of all cars be all-electric vehicles, carbon dioxide emissions from transport and power generation would fall by only 1pc as all-electric cars primarily displace small cars driven over short distances.

Says Tol: “If you look at the profile of the electric vehicles at the moment – the ones that will come on the market next year – they are good for a second car for people who live in cities, so that is the likely displacement.

“Look at how far and often these all-electric vehicles are driven – they make up a very small component of fuel use. Even though we are talking about, say, 20pc or so of cars, we are talking about only 2pc or so of the fuel use. So, in essence, you displace a large amount of cars but only a small amount of fuel. Then you still have to generate the electricity to drive them.”

Because fast-chargers take half an hour to recharge EV batteries, Tol says this makes such vehicle types inefficient for long journeys.

“There are two forms of charging – slow and very slow. It’s simply not acceptable on a three-hour journey that you have to take half an hour to stop in the middle of it. Also, somebody could be ahead of you in the queue.

“There are very clear issues with electric vehicles at the moment – they are good in very niche markets. Unless new models come on the market.”

While, in 1990, diesel cars accounted for about 5pc of all private cars, this has grown to 20pc. The ESRI expect that this diesel-car trend to accelerate primarily because of the tax reforms of 2008.


Regarding incineration, the ESRI says it will help Ireland meet its landfill targets in the medium-term, but points to how reform of waste policy is needed in the long-term.

Weight-based charging and three-bin waste collection would be needed (in urban areas) to make the planned increase in the landfill levy effective, it says.

To download the full ESRI report, click here.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic