Is Ireland set to meet its 2020 targets for renewable electricity?
04 October 2016
Developing renewable energy is an integral part of Ireland’s sustainable-energy objectives and climate-change strategy. Renewable energy contributes to meeting all three energy policy goals, namely: energy security, cost competitiveness and protection of the environment through the reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions.
Renewable electricity increased significantly in 2015, contributing a quarter of all electricity used and avoiding three million tonnes of fossil fuel-related CO2 emissions in Ireland. The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) report, ‘Renewable Electricity in Ireland 2015’, shows that renewables contributed the second-largest source of electricity last year, behind gas and ahead of coal.
Over 80% of renewable electricity generated in Ireland came from wind power, accounting for three quarters of the avoided CO2 emissions. The remaining renewable electricity came from a range of technologies, including hydropower, biomass, waste and landfill gas.
The European Renewable Energy Directive 2009/28/EC sets a mandatory target for Ireland of 16% of gross final energy consumption to come from renewable energy sources by 2020. In response, Ireland’s National Renewable Energy Action Plan set out targets of 40%, 12% and 10% for the contributions of renewable energy to electricity generation, heating and transport respectively.
The 2015 Government White Paper on Energy, ‘Ireland’s Transition to a Low Carbon Energy Future’, details a vision for a low-carbon future. It includes generating our electricity from renewable sources, of which we have a plentiful indigenous supply.
To ensure that the progressive renewable-electricity targets for 2020 and then 2030 are achieved, the Irish Government has set a number of goals. These are detailed in the White Paper, including the introduction of a new renewable-electricity support scheme for a range of renewable electricity (RES-E) technologies.
Fuel inputs to electricity generation
Fuel inputs to electricity generation are responsible for approximately one third of the total primary energy demand in Ireland (4.5 Mtoe in 2015 out of a total of 13.9 Mtoe). The upstream energy use and related emissions from electricity use in the residential, industry and services sectors are significant in terms of understanding sectoral primary energy use and CO2 emissions in Ireland.
The Sankey diagram for electricity generation in 2015 (Fig 1) shows the shares of primary energy inputs to electricity generation by fuel type as well as the shares of gross electricity consumption generated by each fuel type.
The difference between the two sides is due to the different conversion efficiencies for different fuel types. The scale of transformation losses from the conversion of combustible fuels to electricity accounted for 46% of the primary energy input.
Some key insights related to electricity generation in 2015 are:
- In 2015, 4,500 ktoe of energy was used to generate electricity, some 3.1% more than in 2014 and 14% lower than peak levels in 2001;
- The fuel inputs to electricity generation were almost one third of the total primary energy requirement in 2015;
- Coal use increased by 20%, accounting for one quarter of the total electricity fuel mix;
- Oil used increased by 45% but only accounted for 1.9% of the total fuel inputs;
- Having peaked at a 61% share of electricity generation in 2010, natural gas remains the dominant fuel with a share of 42%, with use falling by 3.7% in 2015 to 1,899 ktoe;
- Use of renewables in electricity generation increased by 19%, with a total share of energy inputs of 17%. The largest increase was in wind, with an increase of 28%, accounting approximately one eighth of the energy input to electricity generation;
- Electricity imports fell by 39% while exports grew by 53% resulting in a decrease in net imports of 69%. Net electricity imports were 58 ktoe, a share of 1.3% of the electricity generation fuel mix.
Gross final consumption
The trend in gross final consumption (GFC) of electricity for Ireland over the period 1990-2015 is shown in Figure 2. The doubling of gross electricity consumption over the period 1990 to 2008 is striking, as is the growth in gas-generated electricity.
Even though final demand for electricity continued to increase between 2001 and 2008, the inputs to electricity generation decreased. This is the result of higher efficiency electricity generation from natural gas combined-cycle gas turbines (CCGT) and the increasing contribution from renewables.
A further factor in this decoupling of fuel input and demand is the development of increased interconnection between the Irish and UK electricity grids. The 500 MW Moyle Interconnector between Scotland and Northern Ireland became operational in 2002. In addition, the 500 MW East West Interconnector between Wales and the Republic of Ireland became operational in late 2012.
Due to the impact of the economic recession, there was a 9.2% reduction in gross electricity consumption between 2008 and 2012. Gross electricity consumption has grown since then, with 2015 levels 4.4% above 2012. As detailed in Figure 3, the share of gas generation was 43% in 2015, down from a high of 63% in 2010. Gas-generated electricity grew by 214% over the period 1990 to 2015.
In contrast, oil-generated electricity has almost been eliminated, falling from a 10% share of all generation in 1990 to 1.4% in 2015. GFC of electricity was 28.8 TWh in 2015. These changes provide a context against which the growth in RES-E can be assessed.
Electricity from renewable-energy sources more than quadrupled its share of gross electricity generation since 1990 to 27% (non-normalised) in 2015. During this time, the absolute amount of electricity from renewables increased eleven-fold from 697 GWh to 7,857 GWh.
Renewable energy was the second-largest source of electricity produced in 2015. Indeed, wind on its own was the second-largest share of electricity generated in 2015 at 22.8% (non-normalised) behind gas at 43% and ahead of coal at 16.9%.
Contribution of renewable electricity sources
The contribution of all renewables as a percentage of gross consumption, with wind and hydro normalised as per Directive 2009/29/EC are shown in Figure 4. Up until 2003, hydro was the largest contributor to renewable electricity in Ireland.
While the contribution from hydro has declined in percentage terms since 1990, electricity production from wind energy has increased to the point where it accounted for 84% of the renewable electricity generated in 2015. Normalised wind and hydro energy in 2015 accounted for 21% and 2.5%, respectively, of Ireland’s gross electrical consumption.
In 2015, biomass and renewable waste, which includes a small contribution of solid biomass CHP since 2004, was responsible for 1.0% of renewable electricity. Landfill gas was responsible for 0.6% in 2015. Biogas accounted for 1.0% of Ireland’s gross electrical consumption and the remaining 0.01% was from solar.
Looking at the contribution of renewables in 2015, it can be seen that for both electricity generation (RES-E) and the overall renewables targets, Ireland is over half way towards meeting the 2020 targets.
Overall renewable energy contributed 9.1% of Gross Final Energy Consumption in 2015. This compares with a target of 16% to be reached by 2020. The share of electricity from renewable energy was 25.3% (normalised) in 2015, over half way to the RES-E target of 40% in 2020.
Electricity CO2 intensity and avoided emissions
Since 1990, the share of high carbon-content fuels, such as coal and oil, has been reducing with a corresponding rise in the relatively lower-carbon natural gas and zero-carbon renewables. Imported electricity is also considered zero carbon in terms of reporting national greenhouse gas emissions under IPCC and EU legal reporting obligations.
This resulted in the carbon intensity of electricity dropping by 49%, from 896 g CO2/kWh in 1990, to a new low of 456 g CO2/kWh in 2014. However, this increased by 2.5% in 2015 to 467.5 CO2/kWh mostly due to increased use of coal for electricity generation.
Renewable energy in electricity generation is estimated to have avoided over three million tonnes CO2 greenhouse gas emissions 2015 (see Energy in Ireland 2015). The emissions avoided from wind energy deployment have increased considerably since 2004.
It is estimated that in 2015, emissions avoided by wind energy was most significant at 2,436 ktCO2, followed by hydro at 323 ktCO2 and solid biomass at 203 ktCO2.
We know that renewables in electricity generation helps to lower CO2 emissions in Ireland, but we still have an electricity system that is heavily reliant on carbon emitting fossil fuels. With 2020 renewable electricity targets approaching, we need to intensify action to increase the contribution of all renewables in our electricity mix.
Martin Howley is manager of the Energy Policy Statistical Support Unit in SEAI.http://www.engineersjournal.ie/2016/10/04/irelands-renewable-electricity-increased-to-25-in-2015-seai-2/http://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/ThinkstockPhotos-498769592-1024x740.jpghttp://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/ThinkstockPhotos-498769592-300x300.jpgElecelectricity,energy,fossil fuel,renewables,SEAI