State’s reliance on coal boosts electricity emissions, says report

Imported green certs account for high proportion of renewable fuel

Moneypoint power station. The ESB-owned generator uses coal to produce electricity. Photograph: Liam Burke/Press 22

Greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation grew last year as reliance on coal to produce power increased, new figures show.

The latest all-Ireland Fuel Mix Disclosure from the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities (CRU) shows that coal accounted for 6.8 per cent of electricity supplied across the island last year.

As a result, average carbon dioxide emissions from power generation rose to 258 grammes (g) for every kilowatt hour (KWh) electricity used here last year from 236g in 2020, an increase of 9.3 per cent.

The average Irish house uses about 11.5KWh of electricity every day, or about 4,200KWh a year, meaning that supplying each home with power produced about one tonne of carbon in 2021.

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According to a CRU statement, increased reliance on coal to generate power and lower than usual wind speeds, which meant less renewable electricity, increased the system’s emissions.

The shutdown of two gas-fired electricity plants through most of last year contributed to the increased dependence on coal.

The ESB-owned Moneypoint in Co Clare and Kilroot in Co Antrim, owned by EP Investments UK, are the main Irish coal-burning plants.

The regulators’ report also says growing demand combined with these factors to boost carbon emissions from electricity generation last year.

These trends threaten Government plans to cut carbon emissions from the Republic’s electricity system by 81 per cent before 2030, regulators say.

Hitting the emissions target “without an unprecedented ramp-up of renewable generation, or a reduction in total demand, will be extremely challenging for Ireland”, the report states.

Figures in the document show that renewables, including wind, solar and hydropower, accounted for 55.9 per cent of electricity used here in 2021. Natural gas was 33.6 per cent, oil 2.7 per cent and other fuel 1 per cent, the report says.

The report shows that among the leading players, ESB subsidiary Electric Ireland’s fuel mix was 2.4 per cent coal, 31 per cent gas, 65.3 per cent renewables with oil and other sources accounting for the rest.

Bord Gáis Energy’s figures were 11.5 per cent coal, 41.1 per cent each gas and renewables, with oil and other fuel making up the balance. Energia, SSE Airtricity and Flogas Natural Gas, say they were 100 per cent renewable last year.

Companies’ use of credits, called guarantee of origin certificates (GOs), for trading renewable electricity generated and used elsewhere in the EU, contributed significantly to the overall renewables figure.

EU rules allow suppliers to count the GOs as part of their individual fuel mix in the information they provide to customers.

The CRU concedes that a high proportion of renewables in the fuel-mix report were imported guarantee of origin certs.

The regulator argued on Tuesday that the system supports the construction of new green electricity plants across the EU.

“However, the CRU recognises that this approach is slightly difficult for electricity consumers in Ireland to understand,” the commission said. “As such, the CRU will be proposing some changes to the approach for the 2022 fuel mix disclosure in order to provide greater transparency regarding GOs for Irish electricity consumers,” the regulator added.

Irish suppliers imported 17.3 million GO certs last year, each representing one mega watt hour of electricity, enough to supply 1,000 homes for an hour. That was a 6 per cent increase on 2020, according to the fuel-mix report.

Renewables generated about 35 per cent of the electricity consumed in the Republic last year, according to most official calculations.

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O'Halloran

Barry O’Halloran covers energy, construction, insolvency, and gaming and betting, among other areas