Third of Irish households could generate own electricity within 10 years

ESB chief executive predicts massive shift toward self-sufficiency in energy market

One third of Irish households will be generating their own electricity within 10 years, the ESB’s chief executive has predicted. Pat O’Doherty said that the company is witnessing a dramatic rise in the number of customers investing in new technologies to reduce their reliance on the national grid.

However he warned that this shift to self-sufficiency had the potential to create an "energy divide", with poorer households shouldering an unfair proportion of the grid's running costs. He was speaking at a Dublin conference on the future of energy, hosted by the ESB and the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA).

As the price of renewable energy equipment falls and the cost of energy supplied by power companies, such as the ESB, rises, the business model of the traditional energy utilities is breaking down.

“We’re at a point where traditional technology and market models won’t be capable of meeting future customer or societal needs,” Mr O’Doherty said, “and rapid technological innovation is enabling a raft of possible solutions that will transform the energy landscape.”

A key enabler of this change has been innovations in battery technology, with US tech giant Tesla Motors committing to a huge increase in battery production, a move that has already reduced the cost of energy storage by 50 per cent. The company's vice president of business development, Diarmuid O'Connell, told the conference that cheap battery storage would be as disruptive to the energy industry as the mobile phone had been to telecommunications.

Minister for Energy Alex White said Ireland was still on course to meet its 2020 renewable energy targets, which commit the State to sourcing 40 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources. Concerns had been raised that rising energy demand, linked to economic recovery, would see the State undershoot its targets.

“I don’t accept that there is a substantial risk to the meeting of targets,” Mr White said, adding that the State was already generating 20 per cent of its electricity from renewables.

He said Denmark, which generates 140 per cent of its energy needs through wind energy, had 5,000 turbines, compared with the Republic's 1,450, despite having half the land mass.

Maros Sefcovic, vice president of the European Commission in charge of energy union, also spoke about how the integration of Europe's energy markets, billed as the biggest transformation since the pooling of coal and steel production in the 1950s, had been accelerated by the West's increasingly fractious relationship with Russia, which supplies most of continent's natural gas.

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy

Eoin Burke-Kennedy is Economics Correspondent of The Irish Times