Climate change is one of our generation’s most pressing issues, yet it is often overlooked by businesses and individuals alike, often leaving governments in charge of the situation. With several factors accumulating simultaneously to spell trouble for the industry, it seems as though disaster is looming for our energy sector.
The issue is much, much more pressing than most people think. Ireland has vouched to achieve 40% renewable electricity by 2020. As of 2017, only 27.2% of our electricity was renewable, a figure which is growing at an average rate of 0.81% per year. Failure to meet these EU targets could lead to fines worth millions, which will inevitably fall on the taxpayer. Elsewhere, the increasing price of oil is making traditional energy-production methods rise in cost. However, the arrival of Brexit (regardless of any delays that may be made to it) is perhaps the most worrying aspect of our energy crisis. Ireland relies heavily on imports from the UK to meet our energy demands, such as electricity derived from nuclear power and raw materials that are turned into energy. In fact, 85% of our energy needs are met by imports. Brexit could lead to the Irish state having to find other sources for these imports. Alternatively, we may have to pay high tariffs on UK energy and energy-related material imports. It seems as though we should all be bracing for heftier energy bills and increased taxes this year.
Should we really though? There must be a way of preventing this? Enter the Irish renewables industry. A few forward-thinking companies anticipated this trend and began building an infrastructure to develop renewable sources of energy. Look at solar energy, which has been around for a while, to see the proven benefits that sustainable energy can function well. Not only are Irish businesses such as Amarenco Solar and Wyse Solar profiting from the sun, but so too are households. The average solar panel reduces a household’s energy expenses by €500, which covers the purchase cost after only a few years. Coupled with the government grant of up to €3,800 available, it makes installing one seems like an obvious decision. In fact, in the future, households who produce more solar power than they consume could sell this excess clean electricity to the national grid and make a small profit for themselves. Further investments in this sector could be a feasible way of reducing our dependence on the polluting, imported energy we are accustomed to today.
Though we may not be the optimal location for solar panels, as an island, we have many alternatives available to us. Take wind farming as the prime example; 85% of our renewable energy comes from wind. This figure has been rising through the years, as have the profits from being in this business. As technology gets better and cheaper, wind farms are more lucrative by the year. This is reflected in the 19 new wind farms built last year alone, a record number for the country. Yet again, individuals and businesses can easily, and relatively cheaply, install a small turbine in their household and alleviate their dependence on harmful energy sources. This would tackle our energy crisis head-on, help create employment and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.
Meanwhile, the ocean energy sector is also evolving at a rapid pace. As an island, we are ideally situated to benefit from the natural power of waves. The Irish market is expected to be worth some €132 million by 2019, creating 154 jobs and reducing our CO2 footprint simultaneously. Innovative Irish companies such as Sea Power Ltd. are already trying to harness electricity from waves, and are seeing support and investment from some large companies.
Lastly, the emergence of ‘green finance’ and ‘sustainable finance’ in the country is a positive hint as to the direction of the clean energy industry in Ireland. With the UN’s green finance network and environmentally-aware investment funds based in the country, there is a clear interest from investors in what Ireland has to offer. Whether or not these measures will be enough remains to be seen, but it’s clear that the Irish government and private companies alike are trying to stem the damage that may be on the horizon, whilst also pocketing some money in the process.
By Alex Lohier – Business Editor