Ireland and its Fossil Fuel Addiction
Ireland is extremely reliant on fossil fuel imports for our energy needs. Approximately 90% of our energy comes from imported sources, compared to an EU average of circa 50%. With insignificant deposits of fossil fuels, Ireland is dependent on the high proportion of imports. Even with Ireland being ranked second in the world, just behind Denmark, as one of the global leaders in wind energy, this only makes up a small percentage of our energy mix. Renewables will undoubtedly contribute to a lower import dependence in the future.
Looking at Ireland’s energy imports, oil accounts for approximately 58%, gas is 30% and coal makes up 12%. When the Corrib gas field came on stream in late 2015, our dependence on imported gas reduced as a result. Unfortunately, with our fossil fuel addiction, we are likely to remain dependent on fuel imports for the foreseeable future. Subdivisions such as the transport sector and home heating are the most heavily reliant on imports. The power generation sector obtains 75% of its fuel requirements from imports. Import dependency grew significantly between 1995 – 2001 as shown in the graph below. This was due to a decline in the indigenous production of natural gas production in Kinsale in 1995 and increases in transport.
Graph 1 - ‘Import dependency of Ireland and the EU 1990-2014’ source: http://d36.co/12JvX
Ireland could face fines from the EU of more than €450 million in 2020, for failing to meet legally binding targets on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Figures from the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] show greenhouse gas emissions increased by 3.5% last year to an estimated 61.19 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent. Figure 1 - below shows the current rise attributed to increased activity in the dairy and energy industries and the transport sector.
Figure. 1 ‘Greenhouse gas emissions in 1990 and 2016 by sector source: http://d36.co/12Jw1
Low Carbon Economy
Stephen Treacy, senior manager with the EPA’s Office of Environmental Sustainability, commented that the Government’s National Mitigation Plan outlined what was needed to move Ireland to a low-carbon economy, but needs to be backed up by investment and action.
Dr Cara Augustenborg an environmental scientist from Friends of the Earth said we will have to eliminate most fossil fuels by 2050. The fossil free concept for Ireland was discussed in a TEDx talk at University College Dublin, link as follows;
Augustenborg said “the main issue is that we constantly hear about climate problems and we rarely talk about climate solutions”. Augustenborg stated that in order to reach temperature targets, we can only burn 20% of our known fossil fuel reserves and use anymore.
Case studies of eco-villages to aid the reduction of fossil fuels is the Cloughnjordan Eco Village in Tipperary and the Aran Islands Energy Cooperative which have made advancements in sustainable living patterns. Cloughjordan Ecovillage has over one hundred residents living in high-performance eco-homes with Ireland’s largest renewable energy biomass district heating system. At the end of construction there will be a total of 130 homes. The data is used in conjunction with external researchers and there is a commitment to education & training. Some images are shown below.
Augustenborg urged Ireland to look abroad for vision to develop a more sustainable transport system with electric cars and waste-powered public transport. She highlighted that two-thirds of buses in Sweden are powered by clean ethanol from sugar cane. In 2014, the UK introduced its first buses powered by human and food waste. Implementing some of these ideas can in her words help us live in “a world of climate action” rather than “a world of climate change”. Augustenborg said that “We have to positively disrupt the status quo and move to a fossil free Ireland - “a fossil free Ireland can’t be held hostage by a pipeline or an oil nation’.
Dr Eimear Cotter, director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Sustainability, said “a transformation of the State energy, agriculture and transport systems would be needed if Ireland was to meet its long-term goals to reduce emissions”.
To reduce car fuel costs and decrease single car-users, Dublin has implemented a cycle path along the Grand Canal that is now at capacity. It was initiated by the ‘Dublin Cycling Campaign’ who convinced the Dublin Authority that it was worth the investment. In Copenhagen, 45% of people cycle more than any other form of transport.