Ireland will not meet its obligations on countering global warming if it continues a flawed strategy of relying on gas as an energy source, according to a study by the US-based Oil Change International (OCI).
Drilling for more new gas fossil fuel in Irish waters and expanding associated infrastructure, especially in power generation, will impair the ability to decarbonise the economy by 2050, the leading energy NGO concludes.
The approach adopted in Ireland – in effect, of using gas as “a clean energy transition fuel”, especially in electricity production – will obstruct rollout of cheaper renewable energy derived from wind and solar panels, OCI predicts.
In analysis to be presented to the Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action and Environment on Tuesday, it assesses the role of fossil gas in the energy system against the background of Ireland's own decarbonisation targets, and commitments under the Paris Agreement on climate change.
The committee is scrutinising the 2018 Climate Emergency Measures Bill, which proposes a ban on the future granting of licences for fossil fuel exploration and extraction in Ireland.
It was introduced by People Before Profit TD Bríd Smith and passed its first stage in spite of Government opposition – it is expected to clear its next stage as Fianna Fáil have indicated continuing support for the Bill.
Speaking in advance of appearing before the committee, OCI research director, Greg Muttitt said Ireland's targets could not be achieved without a major reduction in fossil fuel consumption.
“This report finds gas is no exception to that rule, and that further development of gas extraction, or import infrastructure, can serve only to undermine the country’s progress toward reaching its climate goals.”
Allowing more gas exploration and its use in power generation “obstructs the introduction of renewables for homes and businesses and associated gas infrastructure locks-in even higher emissions” over decades to come, he added.
‘New fossil gas’
Claims that “new fossil gas” is required to balance peaks and troughs in power supply and demand do not stand up to scrutiny, its study concludes. Battery storage and grid management technologies will soon enable technical limits in addressing this issue to be overcome.
They will be significantly cheaper than today and mean gas will not be necessary, OCI finds.
The report shows developing “new gas” and power stations using the fuel is inconsistent with Paris commitments as all new energy development must be “zero-carbon”.
The report notes climate goals require the power sector to be decarbonised by mid-century. In the Irish context “energy sector reductions are especially important to Ireland’s contribution to the EU’s target of 80 to 95 per cent reductions of all greenhouse gases, given Ireland has significant agricultural emissions, which are much harder to mitigate”.
It rejects the view that more gas is needed in the clean energy transition to balance renewables coming onto the grid. There is already too much fossil fuels being generated and burned globally, it adds.
Reacting to the findings, Ms Smith said it highlighted “the irresponsibility of fossil fuel companies’ continued use of oil, gas and coal as a source of energy when we know it is propelling us to catastrophic climate change”.
“A zero-carbon society is possible if we have the political will to make the necessary changes,” she added.
The report demonstrated “there is no room for new gas in Ireland’s energy transition” said Friends of the Earth director Oisín Coghlan. “New gas is a block, not a bridge, to clean energy and could lock us in to pollution for decades after we need to off dirty fossil fuels,” he said.
“Gas is not a nicotine patch or an e-cigarette in our struggle to end our addiction to fossil fuels. ‘Low-carbon gas’ is like those ‘low-tar cigarettes’ that turned out to be marketing spin by big business trying to delay action to protect public health,” Mr Coghlan said.