A Chathaoirligh agus baill den Choiste, ba mhaith liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil libh as ucht an deis a thabhairt dom bualadh libh anseo inniu i mo ról mar cathaoirleach ainmnithe ar EirGrid.
By way of my background, I have over 30 years experience of working in government, initially in local government and then in national Government. I worked in a number of Departments, including over 15 years in the Department responsible for the energy sector. My last role working in government was as Secretary General in the then Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. In that role, I oversaw the establishment of EirGrid and the creation of the all-island single energy market.
Since completing my role as Secretary General, I have been an independent non-executive director of a number of commercial companies. I have also been involved in a number of non-profit bodies, including chairman of the National Longitudinal Study of Ageing, TILDA, and the Science Foundation Ireland MaREI Centre, which is responsible for marine, climate action and energy transition.
My appointment as chairman designate of EirGrid comes at a critical time for the group. Last September, EirGrid unveiled its response to the Government's climate action plan with the launch of a new five-year strategy that will see it invest €2 billion in helping to decarbonise Ireland's electricity system. The strategy is a clear demonstration of the fact that EirGrid has a major role to play in making the climate action plan happen.
EirGrid is preparing the electricity system for a future based almost entirely on renewable energy. The climate action plan states that 70% of electricity will be generated from renewable sources by 2030, mainly onshore and offshore wind energy plus solar power. EirGrid currently operates the grid with approximately one third of generation coming from renewable sources. This target will require EirGrid to break new ground in how it manages the electricity system. In real terms, EirGrid will need to connect up to 10,000 MW of additional renewable generation to the electricity system. To put that in perspective, the all-island demand for electricity this day last week peaked at just over 6,000 MW.
Integrating renewable energy on to an electricity system is technically challenging. This is because renewable energy is intermittent, which causes challenges for maintaining the frequency of the electricity system, something that is absolutely critical for the system. This will require EirGrid to operate the system in a more dynamic and responsive way. In turn, this will require improvements to infrastructure to make the grid stronger and more flexible. In tandem with these developments, much of heating and transport will switch from carbon-based fuels to electricity, which will increase demand for power. We have also anticipated growth in demand due to the expansion of some key industries such as data centres which, of course, support not only the significant ICT sector in Ireland but most businesses as well as companies as they move their data storage to the cloud.
EirGrid forecasts that the demand for electricity in Ireland will increase by between 23% and 47% over the next ten years. The expectation is that the electricity system will carry more power and that most of it will be generated from renewable sources. This is a once-in-a-generation change that cannot happen unless the power system is transformed. It is a daunting challenge but I am encouraged by the fact that there is growing support across the country for this transformation.
The report from the Citizens’ Assembly last year was striking. The members voted by 80% or more in favour of the 13 recommendations on climate change put to them. These included proposals to ensure climate change is at the centre of policy making through new governance architecture, as well as the potentially contentious questions of increasing carbon tax and taxing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture.
Last week, we had our first ever Youth Assembly on Climate Change here in Dáil Éireann and the assembly's ten recommendations are laudable.
We discussed the recommendations at our board meeting last week and in the new year we hope to outline some ideas on how we will respond to them.
I am also very encouraged by the growing consensus here in the Oireachtas. This was demonstrated in March with the publication of the committee's groundbreaking report on climate change. It is fair to say it is the envy of many countries that we have such a consensus across the Oireachtas. It demonstrated that not only are members listening to our citizens but this committee is providing cross-party leadership in addressing what is one of the most significant challenges of our generation. The Government’s climate action plan, which is based on the committee's report, is a very challenging plan. I am confident that EirGrid can successfully meet its commitments in the plan but it cannot do so on its own. There is a range of stakeholders whose support will underpin its success. These include neighbouring transmission system operators with which it either has or will have interconnectors, as well as customers that generate or use large amounts of power. The company needs partners to deal with the major changes caused by the switch to electric vehicles and electric heating in the home. Perhaps most important, EirGrid also recognises that development of new grid infrastructure requires partnership with landowners and communities. EirGrid alone cannot deliver the necessary infrastructure. We can only do it working effectively with communities across the country.
Although advances in technology are increasingly helping us to find less intrusive ways to move large amounts of power, all electricity grids in any country depend on a backbone of large-scale infrastructure. This means we will continue to rely on pylons, substations and overhead wires. Asking landowners and local communities to accept new infrastructure has never been an easy task. EirGrid never takes these decisions lightly or without first investigating all alternative solutions but where new infrastructure is essential, we will work with the people and communities affected to endeavour to provide the necessary infrastructure to deliver our collective aspirations. We hope to work with people and communities so that we all not only commit to the vision outlined in the climate action plan but we get a consensus on how this is to be delivered on the ground.
I ask the Members of the Oireachtas to support the critical work EirGrid will carry out over the coming years in addressing the significant energy transition that is required for the future. For EirGrid, the next five years are critical. If it is successful, we will have taken a significant step towards delivering on our long-term climate change goals. We can only do it with the support of the Oireachtas.