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SEM Chart of the Week



The long and winding road: Ireland’s renewable energy target

Sam Holland
Sam Holland

The 12 and 13 September marked the 11th Citizens Energy Forum, held in Dublin. The forum is held annually and is playing an increasingly important role in the EU energy retail market. This year the spotlight was on the role of consumers in a clean energy transition, bringing into focus Ireland’s difficulties making progress against the EU’s 2020 Renewable Energy Directive goal, commonly referred to as “the overall renewable energy share (RES) target”.

This week’s SEM Chart of the Week looks at Ireland’s overall RES target, which states at least 16% of gross final consumption (GFC) must come from renewables by 2020. Figure 1 shows Ireland’s renewable energy share of total consumption for electricity (E), heat (H) and transport (T). It reveals the steep improvement which would be required by Ireland across the energy sector to meet 2020. It is widely acknowledged that Ireland is unlikely to make the summit.  Much of the recent energy policy focus in Ireland has been on 2030, for example the Government’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) and the National Energy and Climate Plan 2021-2030. With 2020 only three months into the future, it’s worth reflecting on the fast-approaching set of targets.

I’ve seen that road before

In 2017, Ireland placed 26th out of the EU-28 in progress towards its RES energy targets, with just over 10% of final consumption coming from renewables. RES-T was 2.6 percentage points (pp) below its binding EU target, whilst its RES-E and RES-H proportions were 10pp and 5pp off their targets respectively. By the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland’s (SEAI) own admission, Ireland is not on track to meet its goals.

Since 2017, however, the government has made a number of announcements which could close the RES gap. In May 2019, it announced its energy mix goal to have 70% of electricity generation from renewable sources by 2030. The target was announced as part of the government’s CAP, due for final submission to the EU at the end of 2019, which outlines future decarbonisation policies as part of its EU emissions targets. This follows the launch of Project Ireland 2040, which details plans to ensure Ireland’s development is climate friendly.

Action is also underway in the private sector, driven by the government’s target to generate 15% of renewable electricity through Corporate Power Purchase Agreements (CPPAs). A number of businesses are announcing plans to reduce their carbon impact, for example global food producer Total Produce will aim for a 40% reduction in carbon consumption in Ireland, whilst moving all Irish operations to 100% renewable electricity.


It always leads me here

Electricity has seen some improvements since the above SEAI figures were published; renewable electricity met 33% of demand in 2018 according to EirGrid and the level of renewable electricity output in the first seven months of 2019 is 12.8% higher than for the same period last year. But with EirGrid forecasting demand increases (as previously covered), the gap to 70% will require significant volumes of new renewable electricity generation.

Reinforcing that likely demand pattern will be government policy. Elements of the CAP point towards a move to displace energy demand from heat and transport intro electricity, for example, provisions for electric vehicles and heat pumps. However, if heat and transport are to have more of a renewables-oriented future, they will require concerted effort in their own right.

This policy action in 2019, paired with new activity in the private sector, will look to bridge the gap to Ireland’s 2030 targets. However, without urgency in the areas of heat and transport, the road ahead may be challenging.


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