DUBLIN, Ireland - Ireland got its report card on the country's energy policies on Monday.
A mixed review, the report, the first in seven years, was nonetheless welcomed by the government.
Ireland has successfully advanced the transformation of its energy sector, led primarily by the power sector. In 2017, about a quarter of the country’s total power generation came from wind power, the third highest share among all 30 IEA member countries, according to the latest review of Ireland’s energy policies by the International Energy Agency.
The Irish electricity system can already accommodate up to 65% of variable wind and solar generation, without risking security of supply. This is one of the highest shares globally, and a testimony to the country’s innovation and research capacity.
Ireland’s overall energy system remains heavily reliant on fossil fuels, and with energy consumption projected to rise with population growth, Ireland will need to meet its future energy needs through low-carbon and energy efficient solutions in order to keep carbon emissions in check. Ireland is not on course to meet its emissions reduction and renewable energy targets for 2020, which means that reaching its 2030 targets is also in question.
"Ireland has become a world leader in system integration of renewables thanks in large part to strong policies and commitment to innovation" said Paul Simons, IEA Deputy Executive Director, who presented the report in Dublin, Ireland on Monday. "Building on this success, we advise the government to urgently implement additional measures and monitor their progress to get the country back on track to meet its long-term climate targets."
Efforts to manage emissions could include building on the success of its broad set of existing energy efficiency policies and the many new policies that have come into force since 2017, supported by a substantial increase in funding. Ireland’s commitment to efficiency is highlighted by its decision to host the IEA’s 4th Annual Global Conference on Energy Efficiency in Dublin in June this year.
Decarbonising heating in buildings is a particular challenge for Ireland because of a highly dispersed population living in single-family dwellings, which, compared to other IEA countries, still feature a high share of individual oil-heating systems. As Ireland has already achieved significant reductions in energy intensity, attention should now shift to switching from fossil fuels towards more renewable energy sources in heat production.
Since January 2019, all new buildings must install renewable energy systems to ensure that the expansion of the building stock does not lock-in carbon fuel consumption. Decarbonising heat in the existing building stock is more challenging; especially in the rental sector. In its report, the IEA recommends a two pronged strategy: complementing attractive financial incentives for landlords along with the introduction of minimum energy efficiency standards where needed.
Moving towards a low-carbon energy system will also ease concerns over Ireland’s security of supply, given its limited domestic hydrocarbon resources and geography that makes a full integration into larger European energy markets challenging.
Ireland is one of the few countries that taxes all carbon fuels, an effective instrument for reducing demand and enhancing energy efficiency. But the carbon tax rate has not changed since 2014 and, with rising living standards, its impact on customer behaviour is weakening. The IEA encourages the Irish government to introduce an automatic upward adjustment of the tax when pre-set emission targets are not met.
"The International Energy Agency's review confirms that while recovery has seen some improvement in take up of renewables and in energy efficiency, Ireland has not broken the link between economic growth and prosperity and greenhouse gases. It highlights the major changes Ireland needs to make in how we heat our buildings, on how we move around and how we power our grid," Ireland's Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Richard Bruton said Monday.
"The all of government plan will provide the clear targets and the policy roadmap which we need. However, the first challenge is to secure widespread buy-in across our entire community on the vital importance of the journey which we need to go on. This can only be achieved by all sections of our community working together."
Ireland became a founding member of the IEA, when it was established in 1974. The IAE is an agency of the OECD.
Every few years, the policies of the 30 individual member countries are reviewed in-depth by a team of peers led by the IEA. The process of review by peers not only supports member countries' energy policy development and mutual learning, but it also encourages exchange of international best practice and experience.