2013 energy statistics give pause for thought

The SEAI has recently published ‘Energy in Ireland 1990 – 2013’ one of the more comprehensive guides to what is happening in the Irish energy sector.  Jam-packed with statistics, it gives plenty of interesting news angles for those writing on energy.  It also helps to frame the discussion currently taking place in relation to the government’s Green Paper on Energy.

So, what are the main findings? In brief, we are using slightly less energy than last year and our electricity consumption is static.  We are still massively dependent on imported fossil fuels, particularly oil which accounts for just under half of our energy mix.  The share of renewable energy is growing and stood at just under 7% at the end of 2013. 

Probing a little deeper, we see the impact of the recession.  Energy use in industry is currently running at 1999 levels.  This is partly due to energy efficiency, but the biggest impact is from the downturn in economic activity.  Transport, another key energy user, while experiencing growing demand, is still 25% below the peak of 2007.   

Looking to the future Ireland has some exacting EU targets to hit.  By 2020 40% of our electricity, 10% of our transport energy and 12% of our heating should come from renewable sources.  SEAI says we are roughly half way to reaching our targets, but we’ve no grounds for complacency.  The low-hanging fruit is gone in terms of renewable energy.  The uncontentious wind farm projects have been built.  From this point out, the level of planning objections will make it tougher to get projects permitted.  The 50% of the target that we have achieved in the last decade is the easier half of the job. 

On the transport front we have made progress including bio-fuels in our petrol and diesel mix, but beyond that it’s not clear where the savings will come from? Despite considerable investment and publicity, electric vehicles are yet to capture the public imagination. Perhaps we need to look at other options – hybrid solutions or gas based alternatives, which while not renewable are certainly cleaner and would help reduce emissions – the ultimate policy objective.  

The same is true of heating - if the current rate of deployment of renewable heating was continued we could miss our target by over 25%. 

Targets are not the be all and end all, but they are important and this report should give all those working in this policy area pause for thought.  Where we are failing to achieve targets,  we need to look for ways to either break the logjam or alternatively to change tack and look for new solutions.