What Can Be Done?
In order to tackle climate change and the challenges that we face, we need to develop a mix of renewable energy on our electricity grid system. The various types of renewable technologies all have their advantages and disadvantages but together, coupled with energy storage facilities and grid stabilising services, it is possible to create a sustainable and green electricity system that would ultimately eliminate the requirement for fossil fuels.
We also need to look at how we as individuals can reduce our carbon footprint. Below we have set out some of the renewable options available to us along with some of the steps that individuals can take to reduce their carbon footprint
According to the Sustainable Energy Authority Ireland’s (SEAI) website, “wind energy is both Irelands largest and cheapest renewable electricity resource”. The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Change has stated that Ireland should be aiming to have 70% of our electricity generated from renewable sources by 2030.
SOURCES OF RENEWABLE ENERGY
Ireland, being situated on the edge of the Atlantic, has a world-class wind energy resource. Wind is a free and natural renewable resource and according to the Sustainable Energy Authority Ireland’s website, it is both the largest and cheapest renewable electricity resource available to us. In 2018 wind energy accounted for 30% of our total electricity demand and was the second largest source of electricity generation after natural gas. Unfortunately, the wind does not blow 100% of the time and cannot provide 100% of Ireland’s renewable energy requirements. It is also worth noting that our natural gas reserves upon which we rely significantly are finite and will run out.
The technology associated with solar energy has developed significantly in recent years and its costs have reduced. It is likely that Solar energy will have a role in providing renewable energy in the future. However, a limitation of solar energy is that sunlight hours are at their lowest during the winter months when the energy demand is at its greatest. Solar energy potential reduces as you move further away from the equator and at this latitude our solar resource is not comparable to that of wind.
Biomass is the planting and growing of a crop (such as Willow) for the purpose of harvesting and burning to generate electricity. A positive aspect of this is that the crops planted for biomass act as a carbon sink whilst growing, locking up carbon in the process. This carbon is then released upon burning with the new crop again sequestering carbon. A limitation of biomass is the area required to produce electricity at volumes of scale and the volumes of fossil fuels that are burned during the planting, harvesting and transportation of the crop.
Hydroelectricity plants such as Ardnacrusha and Poulaphouca are well known and have provided renewable electricity to the Irish grid for decades. Due to the constraints associated with new hydroelectricity projects, it is unlikely that new locations will be identified where appropriate projects with the potential for significant output will be identified.
Ireland, being an island nation has a great resource in terms of the tidal and wave energy that surrounds the country. Research and development has been carried out in this area for some time however the development of technology with the ability to reliably harness this energy has not yet proven possible. A major issue with developing this technology is the harsh marine environment that any equipment must operate in.
Offshore Wind Energy
Ireland has a good wind resource for offshore wind energy however building, maintaining and operating wind farms in the marine environment is more challenging and expensive than onshore. This said, advances have been made in this area and the cost of electricity from generated from offshore wind energy has reduced. It would be envisaged that Offshore Wind Energy will have a role to play in contributing to a suitable renewable energy mix.
Countries such as Iceland are well placed to harvest this natural resource however Ireland does not have a geothermal resource which is capable of being used for the purposes of electricity generation.
In certain circumstances, the gas which is emitted from landfill sites can be harnessed to create electricity. This form of renewable electricity currently provides electricity to the national grid and will likely form part of our renewables mix into the future. Despite the fact that electricity generated from landfill will be unlikely to supply a significant percentage of Ireland’s renewable electricity, it is a good example of how a positive approach can lead to inventive and creative outcomes.
Nuclear power although not a renewable resource does not require the burning of fossil fuels. Whilst England and some other European countries are considering or progressing nuclear programs as part of their transition to a low carbon society, Ireland is unlikely to venture down this path.
WHAT CAN INDIVIDUALS DO?
Use of energy efficient appliances and lighting
When replacing light bulbs and appliances choosing energy efficient models can reduce your energy usage.
Insulating your home
Reduce heat loss and the amount of energy it takes to heat your home through increased insulation and draught proofing.
Check your thermostat setting
18 degrees celsius is generally regarded as a comfortable home temperature. Even if you like it warmer, reducing your thermostat by 1 degree will reduce your energy usage.
Heat generated from a sustainable source such as firewood does not act to add to carbon emissions.
There are alternative home heating options available which do not require the burning of fossil fuels. These include Air to Water and Geothermal heat pumps. The cost of installation is a factor to consider when looking at these alternatives but they do have the benefit of minimizing the exposure of home heating costs from fluctuating oil prices.
Install energy efficient windows and doors
Modern windows are far more efficient at keeping the heat in and the cold out.