I thank the Chair for inviting the Electricity Association of Ireland to address the committee on the issue of achieving a 51% reduction in emissions by 2030 over 2018 levels.
I am the chief executive of the Electricity Association of Ireland and I am joined by Mr. Stephen Douglas, senior policy adviser and Ms Gemma Bewley, policy adviser. At the end of this presentation, we would be happy to answer any questions the committee might have. If we are unable to provide answers today, I will arrange for the relevant information to be sent in writing to the committee.
The EAI is the trade association for the electricity industry on the island of Ireland. We represent over 90% of electricity generation and retail supply activities, and 100% of distribution. Our members have a significant presence across the sector value chain. We represent the interests of the all-island electricity market in Ireland, the UK and the EU, through membership of the European electricity sectoral representative body, Eurelectric.
Our vision is for a decarbonised future, powered by electricity. Our sector supports the Government’s ambition for a carbon-neutral economy. As stated by the Climate Change Advisory Council, the continued decarbonisation of Ireland’s electricity sector is of fundamental importance to achieving climate action targets, as this is the foundation of decarbonisation in many sectors.
There is no other energy carrier that can curb greenhouse gas, GHG, emissions in transport and heating sectors to the same extent and scale as electricity. As part of our commitment to achieving our vision, the EAI commissioned the centre for Marine Research and Innovation, MaREI, to model the electricity system in 2030, under the base assumption that 70% of the 50 TWh of electricity consumed on the island will be generated by renewable energy sources. The resultant report, Our Zero e-Mission Future, which was circulated to this committee previously, demonstrates unequivocally that a 70% ambition for renewables in 2030 is achievable on an all-island basis. However, it will require significant investment in the all-Ireland grid and an accelerated electrification of heating and transport to place Ireland firmly on the path to net zero emissions.
The MaREI researchers used publicly available data, stated Government ambition and independent modelling to project into the future. Uniquely, they examined a quarter of a million hours of historical weather data. This allowed them to determine the extremes that the future weather-dependent, electricity generation system on the island of Ireland will have to flex to.
They found that by the end of the decade, the island’s electricity system will be 40% larger in capacity but will emit half the emissions of today. This will require all planned electricity interconnectors - including North-South, from the Republic of Ireland to the UK and from the Republic of Ireland to France - to be in place by 2030. However, backup generation fuelled by natural gas will be used less. The findings will have implications for the economics of existing and new investments.
The analysis of the weather data shows the importance of being able to export and import energy through the interconnectors during high and low wind periods. During conditions where electricity demand is high but weather-dependent generation is low, we will need all storage and system flexibility to be maximised and all backup generation, including natural gas, to be available.
The study looks at potential pathways to net zero. It includes the 5 GW of additional wind energy to the climate action plan that is in the programme for Government and highlights the need for increased interconnection. After 2030 there is implicit uncertainty about the most appropriate low-carbon technologies and energy sources. Large storage projects, carbon capture and storage, interconnection or power to hydrogen all share a requirement for early investment decisions, significant capital commitment and long lead times for construction.
With one year gone and nine to go to 2030, it is imperative that the Oireachtas turns its attention to ensuring that the correct policy signals stimulate appropriate market incentives and the right investments for a cost-effective and just transition. Ireland has already achieved world-leading rates of renewable penetration for weather dependent energy on an isolated island system. There is now a significant opportunity to crystallise a leadership role in the energy transition. However, this will require a much faster rate of switching from high carbon fossil fuel to electric heat pumps and vehicles and a much more flexible and agile electricity grid to absorb the projected level of weather-dependent generation. An all-island approach to market development and infrastructural investment will be required too.
This report is a postcard from the future and sets out the challenge we face of swapping the petrol in our cars and the kerosene in our boilers for plugs. We must also co-ordinate policy, planning and investment to facilitate the increasing levels of electricity generated renewably. Ultimately, it will be this renewable electricity that will be relied upon to fuel the backup zero carbon emission generation of the future. The time to invest in our all-island electricity system is now and is a no-regrets decision from which future generations will benefit.
I thank the committee for the opportunity to give evidence to the inquiry. I am happy to answer, with my colleagues, any questions the committee might have.