Friday 18 August 2017

Another fine Mass isn't the answer for Father Ted, or us

We must look beyond just wind energy for a cleaner future, writes Paul Deane

SOLVED: Fr Ted
SOLVED: Fr Ted

Paul Deane

Remember the episode of Father Ted where Dougal gets stuck on the milk float? Ted has to devise a plan to save him from certain doom. His first idea is to say a Mass, but when it doesn't work, a bigger concept is called for. Ted's intrepid group brainstorm and at the end of the session their best solution? "Is there anything to be said for saying another Mass, Ted?"

Ireland is one of the most energy-dependent countries in Europe, importing 85pc of our energy at a cost of €6bn a year. This leaves us exposed to turbulent geopolitics. Developing our own renewable energy is a good thing. It reduces the fuel we need to import and also contributes to employment and reduces harmful emissions, but when it comes to addressing the problem, we suffer from the same cyclical thinking as Ted and his group.

Ireland's development of renewable energy is painstakingly slow. Renewable energy comes in many forms but conversations in Ireland generally revolve around wind energy. Ireland is a world leader in wind energy. Last year, one quarter of our annual electricity was generated by wind; this is good and more should be encouraged. However, electricity is only one fifth of the total energy we use (the rest is mainly oil for transport and heat). Ireland's reliance on fossil fuels cannot be solved by wind energy alone; yet when it comes to discussing other ideas, we resort to the Father Ted approach and wonder: "Is there anything to be said for building more wind?"

Ireland has many resources and options that can be used with wind energy to reduce our fossil fuel reliance. Using less energy makes it easier to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy. Ireland has one of the largest dependencies for oil in home heating in Europe. Improving our homes so they use less energy is a good way to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. The poor quality of our housing stock and the difficulties in keeping homes warm adds to the hardship of fuel poverty. Making homes cosier and draught resistant reduces emissions, creates local employment and will also bring health benefits.

Ireland's ecosystem offers unique opportunities for businesses or cooperatives producing indigenous energy fuels such as renewable gas from waste or grass and wood from forestry. The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland suggests that future domestic bioenergy production, if used sensibly, would be equivalent to 30pc of today's energy needs.

Transport represents 40pc of the energy we use. While electric vehicles will play a big role, we also need to reduce our consumption of fossil fuel in transport through car-pooling, improved public transport and more efficient driving. Trucks, vans and planes can't be electrified and last week saw the announcement that a gas filling station for trucks will open in Dublin Port. Gas that can be produced from renewable sources in the future.

None of these ideas on their own will solve Ireland's reliance on fossil fuels.

The search for a silver bullet to our reliance on fossil fuels is futile and underestimates the challenge. Focusing on a single solution is about as helpful as saying another Mass, Ted.

Paul Deane is a research fellow at MaREI, Environmental Research Institute in UCC

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