Thanks largely to European energy and environmental law, Ireland is currently labouring under a number of challenging targets in renewable energy production, energy conservation and greenhouse gas elimination.  As the 2020 deadline draws ever closer, we review fresh analysis of Ireland’s progress towards these targets.

Ireland is currently labouring under a number of demanding targets in relation to energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions, including:

  1. A 20% reduction, relative to average demand over the period 2000 – 2005, in energy demand by 2020 through energy efficiency measures – in response to the EU Energy Efficiency Directive (2012/27/EU).
  2. 16% of Irish energy consumption must come from renewable sources by 2020, according to the Renewable Energy Directive (2009/28/EC), which Ireland has broken down into three sectoral sub-targets: transport (10%), heat (12%), and electricity (40%).  These targets were formalised by their incorporation into Ireland’s National Renewable Energy Action Plan (“NREAP”) in 2010.
  3. A 20% reduction, relative to emissions in 2005, in Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions attributable to the residential, industrial, agricultural and waste sectors by 2020. This target was required by the EU Effort Sharing Decision [1], and was set by Ireland in 2013.

As each of these targets has existed for some time, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (“SEAI”) – a national advisory body with a mandate to promote sustainable energy – recently reported on progress by way of a publication entitled “Ireland’s Energy Target: Progress, Ambitions & Impacts”, which can be downloaded here.

We now review the SEAI’s findings.

Energy Efficiency

The SEAI concludes that by 2014, roughly half of the energy efficiency target of 20% reduction had been achieved as a result of improved building regulations, energy management in the Industrial sector, and the retrofitting of existing buildings.

The SEAI estimates that in order for the target to be met, approximately 75,000 homes and businesses will need to be upgraded for improved energy efficiency every year between now and 2020.  This represents an approximate doubling, from the current level, of the number of houses that have been upgraded.

Renewable Energy

By 2014, 8.6% of Ireland’s overall energy demand was derived from renewable sources, as against the 16% 2020 target.  In terms of Ireland’s sub-sectoral targets:

Electricity

The aim is that by 2020, 40% of Ireland’s electricity consumption will be served by renewable energy sources. In 2014, this rate stood at 22.7%.  

Despite increased industry interest in the development of photovoltaic solar energy projects in Ireland, it is generally accepted that if this target is to be achieved, it will be largely through the continued construction of onshore wind farms.

The SEAI estimates that to meet the target, between 200 MW and 250 MW of additional wind generation capacity must be installed in Ireland every year up to 2020. This compares with an average rate of capacity installation over the past 5 years of 177 MW per year, and a degree of fluctuation in the construction rate over the recent past - approximately 270 MW of wind capacity was installed in 2014, and approximately 220 MW in 2015.

Transport

At present, transport fuel in Ireland contains approximately 3.1% biofuel, which suggests that more aggressive procurement measures will be necessary in order to increase this fraction to the 10% target. More glaringly, 20% of all cars in Ireland, estimated to represent around 50,000 vehicles, are required to be electrically powered by 2020, yet as at September 2015 only approximately 1,000 electric vehicles were understood to be using Irish roads.

Heat

By 2020, it is hoped that 12% of Irish heat demand will be extracted from renewable sources. The SEAI estimates that in 2014 the percentage was 6.6%. Currently, more than 40,000 homes and 550 businesses in Ireland procure their heat from renewable sources. In order to achieve the 12% target, the SEAI estimates that this would need to be expanded by conversions equivalent to 300,000 homes, 3,000 public sector buildings, or 200 large industrial sites.

Energy Emissions

A rare positive side-effect of Ireland’s post-2008 economic recession has been that the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions have reduced in lockstep with its real economic indicators.  However, the SEAI notes that due to predictions of renewed economic growth, additional policies and measures detailed in the National Energy Efficiency Action Plan (“NEEAP”) and the NREAP will need to be implemented in order to meet the 20% reduction target. 

Comment

The SEAI summarises Ireland’s position as follows:

Significant progress has been made, but to realise Ireland’s 2020 targets and reap the associated economic benefits requires an acceleration of effort.

While the installation of wind generation capacity is broadly on track, it seems that the renewable energy targets in relation to transport and heat are proving more problematic – possibly because it is these targets that require behavioural change by the largest number of actors.

Failure to achieve adequate progress in relation to these targets raises the eventual possibility of infringement proceedings being taken against Ireland by the European Commission. 

One would hope, however, that the Commission’s attitude is informed by the fact that these targets are each somewhat arbitrary, and that they are best viewed as means to a far more important end: the adoption of sustainable patterns of resource use and the mitigation of anthropogenic climate change.