Gas will be needed as the State decarbonises to ensure continuity of electricity supply and to avoid a failure of the Irish power system which would have "a catastrophic effect on normal economic life", an Irish Academy of Engineering (IAE) report has found.
In an evaluation on the challenge as the Republic attempts to have 70 per cent of the country’s electricity produced from renewable sources – mainly wind and solar – by 2030, it underlines the role of gas-fired power in providing a secure back up.
The report seeks to identify risks in the transition to renewable electricity and recommend prudent actions by policymakers to reduce risk, said Don Moore chair of the IAE Energy & Climate Action Committee.
It “accepts long-term decarbonisation of the planet’s energy systems requires a major shift to electricity as an energy vector” – especially as the Republic is planning to have 900,000 electric vehicles on the road as well as 600,000 heat pumps in buildings by the end of the decade.
Mr Moore added: "In this context, a failure of the power system would have a catastrophic effect on normal economic life ... To maintain necessary reliability standards while replacing coal, oil and peat generation, Ireland will require significant gas-fired generation for the next two decades."
Gas consumption will reduce as generating units will operate with lower load factors, but “peak gas demand for power generation will be significantly more than today”, the report finds.
“Power system reliability is therefore critically dependent on secure primary energy supplies (natural gas) to the Island of Ireland,” Mr Moore added.
By 2030, the island of Ireland would be almost totally dependent on Britain for its gas supply – the UK, in turn, would be importing up to 75 per cent of its gas due to declining North Sea production, Mr Moore said.
Developing a liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminal in Ireland "is highly advisable to ensure secure, diverse and cost-effective gas supplies", the report adds – the Minister for Climate Eamon Ryan, however, is due to issue a policy statement curbing fracked gas imports in coming weeks.
There are several major LNG exporting countries, such as Qatar, Algeria, Nigeria and Russia, which have enormous gas reserves, Mr Moore added. "Ireland is one of the very few maritime countries in Europe which does not have an LNG import facility."
The global LNG market was extremely competitive with more than 20 exporting countries and more than 40 importing countries, he noted.
Alternatives to gas-fired generation to support 70 per cent renewable electricity had been proposed, he said. This ranged across pumped hydro storage; compressed air storage, battery storage, carbon capture and storage, increased interconnection, hydrogen, biofuels, marine energy and nuclear power.
The IAE concludes, however, “none of these options can be implemented on a scale that would significantly reduce Ireland’s gas-fired generation by 2030”.