ESB rejects report findings on fossil fuel ‘lock-in’ and defends record

State bodies must play ‘active role in delivery of our climate ambition’ – DCCAE insists

ESB’s current strategy is entirely based on Ireland’s need to move to a low-carbon energy system as part of meeting the Paris Agreement, an ESB spokesman said. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

ESB’s current strategy is entirely based on Ireland’s need to move to a low-carbon energy system as part of meeting the Paris Agreement, an ESB spokesman said. Photograph: Aidan Crawley


The ESB has strongly defended its commitment to reducing carbon emissions and rejected a suggestion its investment plans will cause fossil fuel “lock-in” over coming decades.

It was responding to a Friends of the Earth report that concluded public bodies including the ESB and Gas Networks Ireland (GNI) were out of line with Paris Agreement emissions reduction commitments. It also claimed their current mandate and investment plans indicated they were persisting with fossil fuel use contrary to Government policy.

“ESB’s current strategy is entirely based on Ireland’s need to move to a low-carbon energy system as part of meeting the Paris Agreement,” an ESB spokesman said. “This means decarbonising electricity and using that clean electricity to electrify the heat and transport sectors and thereby decarbonise those sectors also.”

That way electricity can deliver a reduction of between 50 and 60 per cent in Ireland’s overall carbon emissions, he added.

ESB had committed to a 50 per cent carbon reduction target by 2030 and investment in renewable generation to meet it, he said, while ESB Networks’ proposed five-year plan submitted to Commission for Regulation of Utilities was based on developing smart networks to connect renewables and to support the electrification of heat and transport in line with the Government’s climate action plan.

Electric Ireland’s strategy was “based on developing products to support our customers in this transition”, he added.

The ESB’s new gas plants “are fast-response peaking gas plants rather than baseload gas plants... designed to support increased renewable penetration by running only when renewables are low (about 50 hours a week) and thereby addressing the intermittency issue associated with wind and solar”. They would not cause fossil fuel lock-in, he underlined.

It was incorrect to state ESB strategies “are highly dependent on the development of carbon capture and storage”, he said.

“We remain open to all options which may have a part to play in the decarbonisation challenge. However we are aware that low-carbon solutions are needed to support renewables which are weather-related.”

On decarbonisation, ESB has disclosed its carbon emissions since 2009 with a high standard of disclosure, and adopted transition to a low-carbon energy system as the organisation’s purpose, the spokesman said. “We are fully committed and invested in this goal now and into the future.”

Gas Networks Ireland said it was committed to supporting the decarbonisation of the Irish energy system and to maintaining a secure and competitive energy supply.

“Our strategy is in line with national and European energy policy, which acknowledges the importance of the gas network and renewable gases, such as biomethane and hydrogen, in meeting climate goals,” a GNI spokesman said.

“Using proven technologies and existing national infrastructure, we are developing innovative solutions that will support the growth of intermittent renewable electricity and reduce emissions in difficult to decarbonise sectors of the economy,” he added.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment (DCCAE) said the Government was committed to an average 7 per cent per annum reduction in overall emissions from 2021 to 2030, and to “net zero” emissions by 2050.

The Climate Action (Amendment) Bill to be published within the first 100 days of this Government coming into office “will significantly strengthen the statutory framework for governance of the climate challenge in Ireland, establish a 2050 target into law and introduce a legal requirement for Government to adopt a successive series of three economy-wide carbon budgets and decarbonisation ranges for each relevant sector”, she said.

Significant increases in volumes of generation capacity will be required to meet Ireland’s electrification objectives and demand from heat pumps and electric vehicles. There needed to be significant investment to enable growth in renewable electricity including investment in generation capacity that will support the variable generation from solar and wind and provide security of electricity supply, the spokeswoman said.

Investing in interconnectors and storage would enable use of more renewables and less fossil fuels. “However we will still need natural gas to balance the grid and provide security of supply until other options become viable,” she added.

On natural gas use in other sectors, it would take significant time to retrofit properties and fit heating sources with zero local emissions – such as deployment of heat pumps, she said.

“There are also business and manufacturing processes, on which many existing and potential new jobs depend, that require high temperature heat in the medium term (such as that provided by natural gas). However other non-residential natural gas use may decrease through energy efficiency and electrification to decrease overall fossil fuel use,” she noted.

Every minister has to make climate action a core pillar of their new departmental strategies, which must be produced within six months of taking office, she confirmed. “Furthermore, DCCAE is developing a climate mandate for each minister to direct each of the agencies and offices under their department to adopt. All State bodies, including ESB and GNI, are expected to play an active role in delivery of our climate ambition.”