Thursday 18 January 2018

Self-sufficient Ireland? Not when it comes to energy supply

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Gavin McLoughlin

Gavin McLoughlin

Most advocates of renewable energy focus primarily on limiting of carbon emissions, but another potential advantage for Ireland is help in reducing this country's energy dependence.

Figures from the European Union's official statistics body indicate that Ireland was one of the most dependent countries in the bloc in 2014, with 85.3pc of our energy imported.

Only Malta, Luxembourg, and Cyprus fared worse, with Estonia, Denmark, Romania and Poland the best performers.

Energy dependence is a problem not just because of the risk that an international shock could cut the supply off and propel Ireland back to the Stone Age, but also that it results in a lot of money leaving the country.

Some or all of that could remain here if a domestic and economical supply was developed.

Here's the take of Dr Eimear Cotter, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland's (SEAI) head of low-carbon technologies. "This is a lost opportunity in terms of keeping this money here in Ireland and further developing our abundant renewable resources," Dr Cotter said.

"The transport sector in particular relies almost entirely on imported oil. Options to reduce this dependency include reducing energy demand by being smarter about how we use transport and using clean fuels including bioenergy.

"Ireland's energy security is affected as oil and gas production in the EU declines and imports come from outside the EU such as from North Africa and the Middle East. Meanwhile, we have plentiful clean and renewable resources here in Ireland.

"Maximising these resources will reduce our dependence on costly imported energy and improve Ireland's standing as a sustainable and self-sufficient economy," she said.

Dr Cotter was speaking last month after the SEAI released a report entitled 'Energy Security in Ireland'. The SEAI says importing 85pc of our 2014 energy cost Ireland €5.7bn. Oil prices are much lower now, of course, but oil and gas production in the EU is on the way down, leaving the bloc's economies - and Ireland's - more reliant on more unstable parts of the world.

The Government's recent Energy White Paper said oil accounted for 57pc of Ireland's energy consumption in 2014, with all of that imported. The paper says the Government holds 90 days of oil "as a strategic reserve to be used in the event of a supply disruption", which doesn't sound very reassuring.

The advent of the Corrib gas field - which has just started producing - is a positive though.

The SEAI report says 96pc of Ireland's gas was imported in 2014 - well above the EU average of 65pc. All of that came from the UK, which fares far better on energy dependence with less than half of its energy imported.

The SEAI says the field is expected to meet more than three-quarters of Ireland's demand for gas in its first full year of production, but warns that in the long term we're probably going to be largely dependent on imported natural gas.

Corrib took 30 years to come to fruition and the current global environment has surely pushed back the next version, if there ever is one.

Energy Minister Alex White wants Ireland to be a carbon-free economy by 2100, and on the assumption that future Governments continue that theme it will be to renewables that Ireland looks to bring its energy dependence down.

Total independence might prove uneconomical but expect to see plenty more spats about windfarms, solar farms, and emissions from run-of-the-mill farms in the coming years.

Irish Independent

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