It is a great pleasure to have the opportunity to talk to the committee about EirGrid and the critical role we play in driving the transformation of the power system as the Government looks to the electricity system to play a central role in the forthcoming climate action plan. I am joined by Ms Suzanne Collins, our head of public relations, and Mr. Liam Ryan, our chief innovation and planning officer.
The climate action plan, underpinned by the recently published Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill, will set out a pathway to reduce carbon emissions across society and the economy by 50% between now and 2030.
EirGrid operates the power system on a 24-7 basis across two jurisdictions on the island of Ireland, thus ensuring people have electricity at all times. EirGrid is also responsible for planning the power system of the future. Our planning horizon runs for decades.
Ireland is a world leader in renewable energy integration, namely, onshore wind. Last week, we reported the fact that Ireland achieved 43% of all electricity from renewable sources in 2020. This was an extraordinary achievement and ahead of the 40% target set back in 2008.
As recently as March of this year we signed off on our capability to operate the power system at 70% renewables on the system on an instantaneous basis. We are the only island country in the world operating at this level. We expect to be able to operate at 75% by the end of the year.
Ireland has exceptional untapped wind resources, particularly offshore. They equate to approximately ten times what is currently installed on the island of Ireland, namely, 5,000 MW. As we look to 2030 targets and ultimately to net zero emissions in 2050, offshore wind has a key role to play.
The forthcoming climate action plan seeks to transition the electricity system from the aforementioned 43% from renewable sources last year to at least 70% by 2030. We are among an elite group in the world with such ambition.
I will set out some context. The task of meeting the target of 70% of electricity from renewable sources in 2030 represents a whole-of-system challenge, one that has to be dealt with across three dimensions. I will elaborate on these three dimensions. First, the total system demand for electricity is going to increase by as much as 50% in the coming ten years due primarily to data centres, electric vehicles for transportation and heat pumps for homes. Second, the generation portfolio is changing dramatically as fossil fuel plant exit the system and the fleet of renewable generators increases by between 100% and 200% through continuing investment in onshore wind - something Ireland is excellent at - new solar generation and a major new industry centred around offshore wind generation. Third, EirGrid occupies the space in the middle, completing the jigsaw and delivering the balancing act across the three dimensions, including operations, the market and the network, more commonly referred to as the grid.
While operations and markets are fundamental to achieving the renewable energy target of 70% by 2030 I will focus on the role of the grid in this discussion because it tends to attract the most attention and is the most controversial. Let us consider demand and generation of electricity.
To understand the grid, one must understand generation and demand. Today, we have a mixture of fossil fuel generation, including coal, peat and oil, as well as onshore wind spread across the country. In fact, we have onshore wind in 80% of counties in the Republic of Ireland. As we transition to 2030, more onshore wind will be required in most counties, solar generation will be developed in the southern half of the country and offshore wind will be developed in the Irish sea on the east coast. The following questions have to be answered: where is demand going to be located? What is the optimum balance of renewables technologies? Where should generation of renewables be located when looked at through the lens of the necessary supporting grid infrastructure? The grid is what holds the system together. Our Shaping our Electricity Future programme, which we are discussing, is designed to answer these questions and thus provide a clear picture of our power system in 2030, including setting out the optimum pathway to delivering this future of a power system with 70% of electricity coming from renewable sources.
To find the optimum grid solution we have distilled a major body of work, which we have been engaged in over the past year and a half, into four fundamental approaches, which I will discuss in more detail shortly. Before I speak to the four approaches, I stress a number of points. First, the approaches are not mutually exclusive; it is not about picking one option at the expense of all others. The issue is more complex than that. Second, all approaches require significant grid infrastructure – there are no easy options. Third, almost every county in Ireland will see some level of impact. Fourth, the objective of the process we have designed is to find the best solution in consultation with a vast array of stakeholders. What I mean by the best solution is that it delivers the objective of 70% by 2030, and it does so at an acceptable cost.
I will briefly go through the four options. The first option is called "generation-led" and the concept is that Government policy would inform where electricity generation will be located, particularly with reference to where demand for electricity is high and where the grid network is strong. The second option is called "developer-led", which is the current approach. I must emphasise that the current approach has served us well in getting us to in excess of 40% renewables on the power system last year. The third option is called "technology-led". It is somewhat more radical, using technology that is deployed on offshore wind farms to move large volumes of electricity across the country to high demand regions. The fourth option is called "demand-led" and involves Government policy informing where large demand users might be located, particularly with reference to strong grid infrastructure and adjoining renewables generation, thus moving away from a Dublin-centric emphasis, which is the way things have developed in the past.
I refer to engagement. We cannot achieve this ambition on our own. We need support across a vast range of stakeholders, but particularly in the community and political domains. We launched Shaping our Electricity Future on 8 March last and so far the response has been positive and very measured. It has been genuinely inquiring as people seek to understand what the future will look like and what voice they can have in that future. This all-island engagement programme will do four things. It is reaching deep and wide, both at national and regional levels, involving more than 20 set piece events. It is highly transparent. The high-level document in plain English runs to 20 pages and the detailed technical document runs to approximately 200 pages. It is backed up by a major communications programme, national, regional, local, radio, newspapers and social media. It is be underpinned by a real commitment on the part of EirGrid to listen to all views.
I will summarise my message. Enhanced electricity generation using renewables is at the centre of EirGrid's approach. This transformation will have a significant impact across the country and will impact every county. Our engagement process will reach into all levels of society and business across the country, North and South. We have options, but all options include unpopular choices. Shaping our Electricity Future will provide the roadmap to deliver the policy objective of 70% renewables by 2030.
I and my colleagues will be delighted to take questions from the members.