New policy has underlined the growing importance of renewable energy development in Ireland, boosting confidence in its sustainability and enabling investment across a more diverse range of technologies.
The publication, in early October, of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2020 set out a new path to meet Ireland’s 2050 net-zero emissions targets via a set of five-year economy-wide carbon budgets. The bill is indicative of Ireland’s recent efforts to create a clear and reliable framework for decarbonization that provides strong signals for investment in renewables.
The 2019 Climate Action Plan kicked off this new era. It specifically addressed the need for public- and private-sector support to develop Ireland’s renewable electricity market. Restating Ireland’s pledge that 70% of its electricity will come from renewable sources by 2030, the plan aligned a state-led auction scheme – the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS) – with a target for 15% of Ireland’s renewable electricity demand to come from corporate power purchase agreements (PPAs) by 2030. It also highlighted the need to address planning, consenting and grid-connection issues for offshore wind development.
The Coalition’s Programme for Government (PfG), ratified by the Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and The Green Party Coalition in June 2020, supports the 2019 plan. It stated the intent to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 and upped the offshore wind development target from 3.5GW to 5GW by the end of the decade.
For RESS specifically, the Coalition promised annual RESS auctions in its PfG, and it held the first in July 2020. Further, it awarded €3m (US$3.5m) in capital funding to support the creation of community projects under RESS in its most recent budget. The introduction of this scheme has provided the detail and stability needed to generate interest and create confidence in a more diverse renewables sector in Ireland.
Such policies will be vital to transforming Ireland’s poor performance in reducing its carbon emissions to date. In 2018 – the latest year for which figures are available – Ireland’s renewable energy share was 11%, versus the 16% target set for gross final consumption of energy under the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive. Ireland’s Environmental Protection Agency has also forecast that it will achieve only a 2%–4% reduction on 2005 (base year) emission levels in 2020, considerably lower than its 20% target.
In addition, while the new RESS should boost diversity in terms of technology, Ireland’s renewables sector has traditionally been dominated by onshore wind. Total wind capacity installed increased by 69% between 2015 and 2019, showing growing interest in the sector, but RESS should now encourage much more diversification in terms of technologies.
The first RESS auction in July 2020 has generally been seen as a success, particularly in terms of diversification. However, key sectoral issues must be addressed to ensure that the confidence in RESS continues to build.