Emissions from Irish power generation and major industry drop 6%

Reduction did not match decrease of 11-12% across Europe in 2020, EPA finds

The most significant emissions increases occurred in  dairy   and pharma-chemical industries in Ireland. File photograph: iStock

The most significant emissions increases occurred in dairy and pharma-chemical industries in Ireland. File photograph: iStock


Emissions from Irish power generation and major industrial companies fell by 6.4 per cent in 2020 to their lowest level since the EU emissions trading system (ETS) was introduced in 2005, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

This resulted in a significant reduction of 0.9 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, but Ireland’s performance in reducing emissions associated with electricity generation, heavy industry and aviation did not match a decrease of 11-12 per cent across Europe, the EPA noted.

The Irish decrease in emissions was due to the impact of lower production in some industrial sectors during the pandemic, combined with a significant drop in power generation emissions, it confirmed. The EPA monitors Ireland’s emissions performance under the ETS.

In its preliminary analysis of 2020 ETS greenhouse gas emissions, it shows power generation emissions dropped by 8.4 per cent as a result of the strong presence of renewable energy – mainly wind – and less use of fossil fuels, such as peat, in Ireland’s energy mix.

In contrast, emissions from the ESB coal-fired plant at Moneypoint increased by almost 27 per cent, mainly due to increased demand and it being used to balance power on the national grid.

Aside from power generation, the decrease in industrial emissions collectively is 3.5 per cent, with cement industries recording a 5.7 per cent decrease.

The most significant increases occurred in the dairy processing industry (up 4 per cent) and pharma-chemical industries (up 10.9 per cent).

Aviation emissions from flights within the European Economic Area reported to Ireland decreased by 63 per cent compared to 2019, to 4.74 million tonnes of CO2.

Air freight

The only airline showing an increase in emissions in 2019 and 2020 specialises in air freight, the analysis confirms, but Covid-19 lockdowns are the main factor in this reduction. Seven aviation operators are included in the system including five Irish-licensed commercial airlines.

EPA senior manager Dr Maria Martin welcomed the overall decrease in emissions from large industry and power plants.

“An increase in the use of renewables in the power generation sector – coupled with the impact of Covid-19 – leads to less emissions. There are, nevertheless, many companies in the industrial sectors, such as dairy processing and pharmachem, where emissions are increasing year-on-year,” she added.

Last year, there was also an increase in the price on carbon, she said, which in effect penalises use of fossil fuels. “A positive development is the fact that the price of carbon in the EU ETS has continued to rise from just under €31 per tonne at the end of 2020 to €43 per tonne currently. It is not yet clear if this will be sufficient and stable enough to drive emissions reductions,” Dr Martin added.

Decline confirmed

In Ireland, 105 major industrial and institutional sites were required to report under the ETS their emissions for 2020 by the end of the first quarter 2021. These include sites operating in the power generation; cement, lime, and oil refining sectors. Also included are large companies in sectors such as food and drink, pharmaceuticals and making semi-conductors.

Overall Irish emissions which include transport, agriculture and heat emissions declined in 2020 by 5.9 per cent mainly due to Covid-19; the biggest annual fall since the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash, according to previously published analysis by the EPA and Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland.

The latest analysis confirms a marked decline in emissions from stationary installations in Ireland over the past 13 years, from 20.4 million tonnes in 2008 to 13.3 million tonnes in 2020. Ireland has surpassed its EU target on deploying 40 per cent of renewable energy in power generation by 2020, but failed to meet emissions reductions by a large margin.

The EPA analysis is available at EPA.ie