The latest report from the IPCC is “damning,” according to UN Secretary General “we are on a fast track to climate disaster.” What are three ways in which Ireland can take action to slam on the brakes, or even alter course?
1. Change how we use energy: Improve Efficiency
The most sustainable unit of energy is the one not used.
According to Energy Efficiency expert Amory Lovins, energy efficiency “is the largest, cheapest, safest, cleanest, and fastest way to address (the energy crisis)”. Alas, it has also been “a bit of an ugly sister, rather dull compared with a massive transition to renewables and other new technologies”
Energy efficiency has the capacity to make a huge difference to the amount of energy we use. In many cases there are low hanging fruit opportunities that are easy to implement and have immediate effect.
If we take the example of heat in the EU: “Adjusting the thermostat for buildings heating by one degree could save as much as 10 bcm (billion cubic metre) of annual gas demand, equivalent to the annual gas demand of Austria.” (International Energy Agency Efficiency Report)
When combined with energy efficient design like increased insulation, heat pumps and digital thermostats, the heating can be turned down to achieve these kinds of energy savings while people in the buildings can remain nice and warm.
Sometimes energy efficient design can be very simple yet render big results. Lovins explains for example that by designing pipes for pumping heat (or cold) appropriately, a lot of energy can be saved. “In our house we save 97% of the pumping energy by properly laying out some pipes. Well, if everyone in the world did that to their pipes and ducts, you would save about a fifth of the world’s electricity, or half the coal-fired electricity. And you get your money back instantly in new-build or in under a year typically in retrofits in buildings and industry.”
Heating buildings isn’t the only area with scope for efficiency improvements. Through proper planning and “integrative, or whole system design” principles, Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute have calculated that 2/3 to 3/4 of all fossil fuel-generated energy could be profitably saved in most industrialised countries, and even more in developing countries. The International Energy Agency predicts that efficiencies could cut total energy use by a third by 2050.
2. Change our Source of Energy: More Renewables, especially Wind
The Ukrainian Crisis and corresponding European Energy Crisis has thrust how we source Energy into the limelight. As if there weren’t already enough reasons to be producing more of our own clean, renewable energy and moving away from importing dirty fossil fuels, we now have one or two more.
According to SEAI figures the three largest primary sources for Ireland’s energy in 2020 were:
1) Oil (45%),
2) Gas (34%)
3) Renewables (13%)
Considering Ireland’s abundant renewable wind resources, we need to be pushing renewables into the top spot.
One of the areas (or ‘modes’) with the most potential for renewables is electricity. In 2020 electricity accounted for 22% of Irelands final energy use (energy that is directly consumed by an end-user). The main other modes of energy use are Transport and Heat. As we see electrical technologies improving in these areas (EVs, Heat Pumps etc.) electricity is set to become an ever-larger part of energy use in Ireland. It is also something we can start taking action on immediately – the technology for renewable electricity generation is already there, we just need to scale it up.
Ireland’s target for 2030 is to have 80% of electricity coming from renewables.
In 2020 the figure was 42% with the majority of this coming from wind (36%).
This is a big step up from 2005 when wind was at 4% and renewables at 7%. However more needs to be done; Gas is still the leading source of electricity generation at 51% with the other fossil fuel sources bringing the figure up to 57% (2020 figures). Not only is fossil fuel electricity dirty and unsustainable, it is also inefficient to generate when compared with wind and other renewables. Only around half the fossil fuel energy used in generation gets turned into electricity, the rest is lost in the process. Wind meanwhile is close to 100%, meaning that to generate the same unit of electricity you would need to input almost twice the amount of fossil fuel energy as wind energy.
There are currently plans for 7 new offshore windfarms off the Irish coast with Minister Eamon Ryan commenting “Never has it been more vital that we use our vast offshore wind resource to create renewable energy and ensure the security of our own energy supply . . . This is the real opportunity for our country to switch away from fossil fuels and put it up to Mr Putin saying ‘we’re not going to use your gas in the future, we have our own supply’.”
These projects are supposedly being ‘fast tracked’- hopefully they will begin generating clean electricity as soon as possible and pave the way for a transformation in the way Ireland sources energy.
3. Engage all sectors of the economy: Scale up support for SMEs
Climate change is a global issue that affects every facet of our society. As such, effective action requires engagement of every sector of our economy. One sector that has been largely overlooked is that of Small/Medium Enterprises (SMEs).
SMEs make up 99% of EU businesses, employ 70% of the workforce and produce around 60% of turnover from manufacturing and services (SMEs and the Environment in the EU).
A report for the European Commission found that 60-70% of industrial pollution in the EU comes from this sector. Yet this sector is often overlooked when it comes to environmental policy and funding, with more attention going to big business.
In Ireland, there are some support schemes out there (EcoMerit is a leading provider of environmental support for micro businesses under the Green for Micro programme) but when we consider the combined impact these businesses have on the environment, it’s clear that more needs to be done. For example:
- Extending the Enterprise Ireland GreenStart funding to all enterprises, not just those that are export-oriented.
- For both GreenStart and Green for Micro, provide funding support (of say €1,000/ann per enterprise) over a 5-year period, to support the actual implementation of resource efficiency and climate action measures. This support would be conditional on continued implementation.
- Support a one-stop shop where enterprises can easily access key environmental support services (handholding), in addition to tools and training.
For more on how we can step up Climate Action through the engagement of the SME sector in Ireland see the CARE proposal (Climate Action through Resource Efficiency) a collaborative proposal by EcoMerit, Change by Degrees and Cork Technology Centre.