The overarching objective of the Government's energy policy is to ensure secure and sustainable supplies of competitively priced energy to all consumers. Ireland is currently heavily reliant on imported fossil fuels to meet our energy needs. While it is acknowledged that fossil fuels will remain part of the energy mix for some time to come, progress is being made towards increasing the share of renewable energy in our generation portfolio. The 2009 EU Renewable Energy Directive set Ireland a legally binding target of meeting 16% of our energy requirements from renewable sources by 2020. In order to meet this target, Ireland is committed to meeting 40% of electricity demand from renewable sources. Figures for 2012 show that 19.6% of electricity demand was met from renewables.
To date wind energy has been the largest driver of growth in renewable electricity, contributing most towards the achievement of the 2020 target. In 2012, 15.3% of electricity demand was met by wind generation. At the end of 2013, the total amount of renewable generation connected to the grid was 2,300 MW. It is estimated that a total of between 3,500 and 4,000 MW of onshore renewable generation capacity will be required to allow Ireland to meet its 40% renewable electricity target. Currently, around 3,000 MW of renewable generation has taken up connection offers under the Gate 3 grid connection programme. Further increasing the share of renewable energy in our generation portfolio will reduce our dependency on expensive imported fossil fuels. Analysis undertaken by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland shows renewable electricity has displaced over €1 billion worth of fossil fuel imports - mainly gas - in the last five years and has reduced CO2 emissions by 12 million tonnes.
EirGrid's most recent Generation Capacity Statement, covering the period 2013 - 2022, deals with both renewable and conventional sources. The median electricity demand scenario is based on the ESRI’s Recovery scenario in their Medium Term Review and Eirgrid generation portfolio assumptions. The results for Ireland show it to be in surplus of over 1,000 MW for most years. This begins to fall off towards the later years as older plant is assumed to come to the end of its useful life. EirGrid has also made a high demand forecast, based on the possibility of a very cold winter (the coldest out of ten years). In this scenario, the surplus is reduced by about 100 MW from the Base Case. However, EirGrid has also stated the need for reinforcement and upgrading of the high voltage transmission grid to ensure that reliable electricity supplies can be maintained to all regions, and allow Ireland to attract and retain investment and create jobs. This work is being carried out by EirGrid through its Grid 25 programme and is also essential if we are to leverage our abundant, indigenous, renewable energy resources and realise the potential they offer for reducing our dependence on imported fossil fuels. The renewable energy sector has also been identified by both the IDA and Enterprise Ireland as a key growth area in their clean technology strategies. Therefore, increasing the renewable element of our energy mix will contribute to improving our energy security and our economic development.