Ireland’s critical energy balance

By Niall Gormley

The chart shown here represents all the sources for the energy we use in the Republic of Ireland and where that energy is consumed. It shows the huge tasks facing us as we try to make our way of life sustainable and it shows the huge opportunities that are open to us.

Ireland’s education sector will be a key element in solving the policy dilemmas we face and the solutions will have to come from investment in research and development, technology and people.

>>> The way we currently use energy is unsustainable and change is coming under pressure from a number of areas. Climate change is the obvious immediate problem, but others including airborne pollution and the economic cost of imports, are also vitally important and immediate.

As is clear from the charts our energy use is increasing again as the economy recovers from the Great Recession. The good news is that carbon emissions have been somewhat decoupled from energy use, so that even as demand for energy increased our carbon emissions dropped somewhat.

Electricity generation has seen the greatest impact of renewables as wind energy has increased and coal and peat declined. But we can see from the main graphic that electricity only accounts for around one fifth of our energy consumption. Transport remains almost totally dependent on oil and Ireland doesn’t have any oil wells so all of that energy is imported.

Electric vehicles are a large part of the answer but the transition is painfully slow. However, technology is making batteries last longer and making charging quicker. This month, Alstom announced a successful experiment to power trains using hydrogen. This technology could be particularly useful in Ireland where the mainline rail has not been electrified, saving huge capital costs and eliminating emissions (See Green News).

The transition to a low carbon economy is going to require enormous investments in research and development and in skilled workers to implement all the retrofitting and building required. Are our second and third level education sectors preparing tomorrow’s students and the institutions themselves for the opportunities coming down the line?