Electricity generation on the island of Ireland is becoming “more and more reliant” on gas, and there is a strong need to diversify the State’s fossil fuel sources, according to the country’s energy watchdog.
The British Irish Chamber of Commerce hosted representatives from the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU), as well as other experts, at an event on Wednesday to discuss the security of Ireland’s energy supply and storage capabilities ahead of the winter months.
CRU director of security of supply and wholesale markets John Melvin said that while the State had benefited from a “diverse range of fuels in the past”, such as coal and oil, gas will become “the go-to fossil fuel” into the next decade.
“As we move into the next decade, when we are not making electricity from renewables, the go-to fossil fuel is going to be natural gas for the next period of time,” he said. “The plan is for the overall energy system to become more and more reliant on electricity, in terms of heat and in transport.
“As indigenous production declines, our reliance on Britain will increase. Britain is an island like us. It has a well-diversified set of sources. Nevertheless, from a strategic viewpoint, it would make sense not to be reliant on a single source regardless of how reliable it is.
“The Department [of the Environment and Climate] is conducting a review of security and supply of electricity and gas, and our view is that diversifying our sources of gas should be an important part of that review.
“In the context of no further licences being issued for exploration, clearly liquefied natural gas and onshore storage will be an important thing to consider.”
Economic and Social Research Institute senior research officer Muireann Lynch described Ireland’s sustainability goals as “monumentally ambitious”.
“They were always going to be challenging to meet, and the Ukraine war has made them even more challenging,” she said.
Ms Lynch also suggested that Ireland is “constrained” by its interconnectedness with the rest of the European Union. “In some ways, we are constrained by what is going on at European level,” she said. “I think there is an over-reliance by European policymakers in particular on interconnectedness to solve all our problems.
“The idea that as long as we have every market working in the same way, on the same timelines, along the same rules … is problematic. Just to clarify, I am 100 per cent in favour of interconnectivity, I just don’t think it’s a panacea.”
She added that policymakers need to start being honest with the public in terms of the sacrifices that climate goals and energy security are going to involve into the future.
“We have to start being honest and completely realistic with people about what this means,” she said. “Yes, we do have extraordinary political buy-in for climate action, but almost no political buy-in for what climate action will involve.
“I wonder how much of that is due to the fact there is a narrative out there that there are these win-win-win options. People aren’t that stupid. If that was true, we would do it. We have to be honest with people.”
Matt Collins, assistant secretary leading the energy function at the Department of the Environment and Climate, admitted there has been “some slippage” in terms of the Government’s delivery of the Climate Action Plan.
“There has been some slippage on the climate action plan delivery by the department,” he said. “We have to address the security of supply issues we are dealing with. That has been part of the consequences we are living with because of the invasion of Ukraine.
“The reassurance I have is that we know what the issues are. Storage is massively important, something the department is committed to. We will build gas and will be using gas over the course of the next decade.”