Thursday 18 January 2018

We alone can't save the world's climate

Our worthy efforts to reduce carbon emissions are futile unless a cohesive global policy can be negotiated, writes Colm McCarthy

The expected growth in electricity demand has not materialised
The expected growth in electricity demand has not materialised
Colm McCarthy

Colm McCarthy

The main planks of Irish energy policy were laid down during the bubble years and reflected the expectation that energy demand would continue to grow strongly. There was also an acceptance of European Union requirements regarding renewable energy targets, particularly for wind energy. Current controversies about pylons, new wind-farms and onshore gas exploration need to be seen against this background.

The expected growth in electricity demand has not materialised. There is now a wide and growing margin of generation capacity over demand. A new gas-fired plant was commissioned last year and another one is due to come on stream towards the end of 2014. The construction of new wind-farms continues apace. While some of the older stations are coming to the end of their useful lives, none are on their last legs. If Ireland was left to its own devices, there would be no urgency about adding more generation capacity for many years to come. However, the Government is required to comply with EU energy policy and this explains much of what is going on.

The European Commission last week tabled proposals scaling back, albeit in somewhat confused fashion, its ambitious targets for renewables and there have been anticipatory domestic policy shifts in several countries, including reduced subsidies for wind energy. At a practical level the only mature and readily available renewable technology is wind, so ambitious targets for renewables translate into a requirement for more wind-farms.

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