We’ve had a lot of discussuons at meetings, in print and on air about new energy potential in Ireland – be it through wind, wave and solar power, and it’s a topic we’ve written extensively about over the past two years.
Passions have run high when it comes to wind power, as we noticed recently with regard to the withdrawn project in Kilmacthomas, the development at Aglish in West Waterford and the ongoing prospect of an additional turbine near Portlaw and a wind park near Carrick-on-Suir.
But we can’t heat our homes with fossil fuels forever, which means, in time, additional wind turbines and the development of solar parks across the country represent an inevitability.
As this newspaper heard at a sustainable energy summit held in Dublin, there are other alternatives and they must considered – the future of energy has to be green.
Speaking to The Munster Express, Per Stahl, who works for green energy company Solar 21, said that smaller systems by which wind and water energy can be harnessed ought to embraced in Ireland, as opposed to evokoing automatic fear.
Mr Stahl (from Sweden) said that smaller wind turbines in rural locations came with benefits and that part-community ownership of such windparks could yield to a local financial dividend.
“Having seen how the different countries in Europe has addressed their own path to complying with the (European Commission’s) 2020 targets, it is clear to me that the countries which has succeeded have either worked on it since the 1960s (Scandinavia), who have had to reorganise their domestic energy supply urgently (the Baltic states) or has provided a clear, concise and predictable programme for those who wish to get involved, where Italy is a good example,” he said.
“The programme provided the basis for all levels of renewable energy production to be included and allowed for an organic evolution of localised renewable energy producers, combined with utility scale developments on the other end of the scale.”
Mr Stahl said that the ESB, and other major power providers should be made to acquire “small amounts of electricity from private users.
“I believe it is important that a company or organisation is designated and responsible for the purchase and distribution of the renewable energy produced by different energy sources around the country, rather than having a fragmented system,” he added.
“The economic reality of the turbine/system installed may vary very much – thus I cannot say that all would make economic sense.”
Mr Stahl supports the development of hyrdo power plants which could operate on small rivers – sales of energy from such smaller sources to major energy providers could make such smaller operations economically viable.
Government incentives over a lengthy period – 20 years – are required to encourage investment and to foster the development of ‘cottage’ energy industries; Mr Stahl referred to Italy, Germany and Norway, stating that Ireland should boost investment in renewable energy.
“Ireland has a great opportunity, I feel,” he added. “But a special framework may be required to make that a reality.”
Planning issues in relation to the development of renewable energy projects can be problematic in this State, and a greater level of consistency is required when it comes to adjudicating on individual decisions.
And one of the major problems that stymies potential development is establishing a grid connection, an altogether more difficult challenge for a smaller energy provider. So one suspects that establishing such a connection shall have to be brought about sooner rather than later.
To get smaller, locally-owned operations off the ground, this would require both a significant change in Irish energy policy and a need for the big energy providers to get on board and buy in electricity from such sources in the years ahead.
Per Stahl continued: “You must allow people, entrepreneurs and companies access to the grid.”
However, we cannot look at the UK for what Per considers best practice on this front due to the
Feed In Tarriff (FIT) cut implememented by David Cameron’s government.
In recent years, the British Government has changed its system considerably, experimenting with both a FIT, combined with different market price based certificates, which has made it complicated to pursue smaller projects of this nature, as suggested previously.
Permitting farmers or rural householders with access to the grid to sell small amounts of electricity would be a big step forward, Per feels.
“Communities could create their own energy for themselves and sell a seasonable surplus to the grid,” he added.
“This is quite common in Europe but of course each country should have its own solution. Technology is advancing quickly when it comes to the development of solar, wind and water energy…and the Irish Government should take a lead on this front and do more to improve Irish energy policy.”
Mr Stahl mentioned the development of Ireland’s first solar energy park on a 26-acre site in Ballycullane, near Campile, which received planning permission from Wexford County Council in January.
Mr Stahl said the Irish Government could drive the process forward in meaningful way by creating tax incentives, for example.
“There is a potential gain to be made for the country if the correct measures are put in place – one can look at how the Norwegian Government is heavily engaged in the renewable energy sector as a good example,” said Mr Stahl.
Profits made from energy might be used a way of reducing water charges or Local Property taxes and could flow into the coffers of local authorities, the sustainable energy summit heard, a move which would be likely to win public support.
Social interaction is also very important, according to Mr Stahl, citing successes in South Africa.
A country with many rural communities that remain in exteme poverty, the South African authorities are big on social empowerment through which locals have become part owners in soalr farms, with schools and homes being constructed by the energy company to aid the local community.
This shows that there are a range of solutions and ideals which have already been tried and tested elsewhere, and can be adapted to suit the Irish requirement between now and 2020.
By 2020, the EU aims to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20%, increase the share of renewable energy to at least 20% of consumption, and achieve energy savings of 20% or more. All EU countries must also achieve a 10% share of renewable energy in their transport sector.
Through the attainment of these targets, the EU can help combat climate change and air pollution, decrease its dependence on foreign fossil fuels, and keep energy affordable for consumers and businesses.
In order to meet the targets, the 2020 Energy Strategy sets out five priorities:
* Making Europe more energy efficient by accelerating investment into efficient buildings, products, and transport. This includes measures such as energy labelling schemes, renovation of public buildings, and Eco-design requirements for energy intensive products
* Building a pan-European energy market by constructing the necessary transmission lines, pipelines, LNG terminals, and other infrastructure. Financial schemes may be provided to projects which have trouble obtaining public funding. By 2015, no EU country should be isolated from the internal market
* Protecting consumer rights and achieving high safety standards in the energy sector. This includes allowing consumers to easily switch energy suppliers, monitor energy usage, and speedily resolve complaints
* Implementing the Strategic Energy Technology Plan – the EU’s strategy to accelerate the development and deployment of low carbon technologies such as solar power, smart grids, and carbon capture and storage
* Pursuing good relations with the EU’s external suppliers of energy and energy transit countries. Through the Energy Community, the EU also works to integrate neighbouring countries into its internal energy market. (Source: European Commission)
THE 22% FACTOR
In 2014, renewable power capacity expanded at its fastest pace yet, reaching nearly 22 per cent of the global mix.
Up from 21 per cent in 2012 and 18 per cent in 2007, that puts renewable electricity generation – from wind, solar, and hydro- on par with that of natural gas.
But with uncertainty over policy support, the expansion of renewable energy will slow over the next five years, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency.
Renewable energy could make up over a quarter of global electricity generation by 2020, according to the agency, but annual growth is expected to slow and stabilize after 2014 – putting renewables at risk of falling short of global climate change goals.
“Renewables are a necessary part of energy security. However, just when they are becoming a cost-competitive option in an increasing number of cases, policy and regulatory uncertainty is rising in some key markets. This stems from concerns about the costs of deploying renewables,” states the IEA’s Maria van der Hoeven.
“Governments must distinguish more clearly between the past, present and future, as costs are falling over time.”
The report also provided a renewable power investment outlook. Through 2020, investment in new renewable power could average over $230 billion a year—though that’s lower than the $250 billion invested around the world in 2013. The decline is because unit costs are expected to fall, but also due to expectations that global capacity growth will slow.
However, with the focus on electricity and transportation sectors, the contribution of renewables to heating and cooling remains underdeveloped.
Although renewable energy sources are expected to grow by almost 25 percent in 2020, their share in energy use for heat rises to only 9 percent – up from 8 percent in 2013.