A rise in the amount of fuel imported into Ireland last year has been attributed to "stockpiling" in advance of the introduction of a carbon tax and a prolonged spell of cold weather.
In a report on energy usage in the State last year, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland found that Ireland depended on imports for 89 per cent of its energy. The imports cost some €6.7 billion with the spend largely going on fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas.
The report says the increase “may have been in part due to a certain amount of stockpiling ahead of the introduction of carbon tax on solid fuels” with anecdotal evidence from suppliers of higher than usual sales in the first half of 2013 and lower than usual sales in the second half of the year and into this year.
The rate of carbon tax, which came into effect in May 2013, is based on a charge of €10 per tonne of carbon dioxide emitted by the fuel concerned.
The report found that coal usage increased by 13 per cent last year, a figure attributed to “the extended cold spell during the first half of the year”.
“During this time, oil and gas prices were high and there may have been some fuel switching to coal and other fuels purchased on a week-to-week basis to supplement central heating systems,” says the report.
Authority chief executive Brian Motherway said there was "much to gain" if Ireland could reduce the exposure of the State's energy system to imported fossil fuels which came in "at prices largely outside our control, and with their associated environmental and security implications".
He said about one-fifth of Irish electricity came from renewable sources such as wind and that this had cut fossil fuel imports by some €300 million.
Dr Motherway said Ireland was half way to meeting a target to generate from renewable sources 16 per cent of all energy consumed in the State by 2020.
The authority said renewable energy last year accounted for 21 per cent of the amount used in the electricity sector, 5.7 per cent of the amount used for heat and 4.9 per cent of that used in transport.
In total in 2013, Irish energy use declined by 1.2 per cent and carbon dioxide emissions fell by 3.4 per cent despite an increase in gross domestic product. Mr Motherway said these were “good indicators” of progress towards greater energy sustainability.
The amount of energy used in Irish homes has decreased by 32 per cent since 1990 despite a 50 per cent increase in the average floor area of residential properties, sayd the report.