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To truly empower people to be energy citizens a better job of explaining renewables is required

Ireland is entering a decade of huge change as it embraces renewables, overhauls public transport and retrofits 500,000 homes

There is one frontier where there is marked co-operation and broad political consensus on what needs to be done quickly. That is transforming how we generate and use energy.  Photograph: Getty Images

There is one frontier where there is marked co-operation and broad political consensus on what needs to be done quickly. That is transforming how we generate and use energy. Photograph: Getty Images

 

This is a time of terrible uncertainty in Ireland and throughout the world as Covid-19 continues to maintain its awful grip on economies and to make normal ways of living and doing business almost impossible.

Political polarisation in many countries compounds the difficulties as it undermines multilateralism and the ability to respond collectively to immensely challenging problems – and not just those relating to Coronavirus. Climate disruption and biodiversity loss are the most pressing of these within the context of what needs to be done this century.

There is one frontier where there is marked co-operation and broad political consensus on what needs to be done quickly. That is transforming how we generate and use energy. Minister for Climate Action Eamon Ryan has referred to it as both a clean energy and digital revolution.

There is no doubt that the digital revolution sweeping the energy sector has already begun, facilitating the “prosumer” in getting the greenest power at the cheapest cost, while assisting in the critical task of reducing carbon emissions that cause global heating.

It’s a new era marked by energy efficiency, though Ireland is not there yet. Progress in AI and computing power, reduced cost of sensors and other digital equipment, and improved connectivity are making it easier to use clean energy sources and to cut energy waste.

The European Union has flagged it intends to drive that revolution. It’s a key element in its wish to achieve net-zero carbon by 2050. It will transform how we work, how we live and heat our homes, and the form of transport we use.

The combination of the European Green Deal; putting green investment at the heart of its recovery plan post-Covid, and agreement that a major portion of its next seven-year budget is directed towards climate action will facilitate the decarbonisation of Europe.

Ireland has committed to matching that EU ambition. A target in the programme for government to cut emissions by an average of 7 per cent per year up to 2030 and endorsement of the Climate Action Plan aim to build an electricity grid capable of catering for 70 per cent renewables signal strong intent.

Challenge

Obvious blockages, however, need to be addressed urgently. Planning decisions need to be processed more quickly without undermining the ability of people to raise their concerns. Equally, an immense challenge will be getting ordinary people to buy into that vision, and to recognise the benefits.

To truly empower people to be energy citizens a better job of explaining renewable technologies like wind and solar power, battery storage and the need for grid reinforcement is required, while collectively contributing to addressing the unfolding climate crisis.

Having a significant community element in the recent awarding of contracts under the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme was a tangible way of putting citizens at the heart of the transition.

Science-based guidelines, however, need to be put in place on both wind (onshore and offshore) and solar developments in the interests of both developers and communities where their infrastructure may be located.

Equally critical will be the need for timely processing of grid connections backed by reassurance that the grid will have sufficient capacity to meet rising demand and increasing volumes of renewables.

If all that is achieved in coming years, Irish consumers can look forward to a significant drop in electricity prices, while renewable development projects have the potential to bring an economic lift to rural Ireland.

Electrification

Ireland is entering a decade of unprecedented change in how its energy is generated and consumed as the country embraces renewables, overhauls public transport through electrification and spends billions of euro on retrofitting more than 500,000 homes to make them energy efficient.

The big aim to have almost 1 million electric vehicles (EVs) on Irish roads by 2030 has been put on the table.

Energy Revolution, the latest in a series of Irish Times magazines on decarbonisation; the move to greener power and embracing sustainability, highlights the real difficulties in scaling up actions, but also features the success stories that are a solid platform to push and to realise the considerable benefits sooner, while reducing the risk of runaway climate change.