A European Green Deal and Ireland’s Renewable Energy Progress

18th December 2020

The EU is at the forefront globally of moving towards a future which is dominated by renewable sources of energy and fighting climate change. Through ambitious policies and close cooperation on the international stage, the EU aims to be climate neutral by the year 2050 – this would mean having an economy with net zero greenhouse gas emissions. This ambitious objective is at the centre of the European Green Deal and is also in line with the EU’s commitments under the Paris Agreement – the Paris Agreement sets out a global framework to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to below 2°C and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5°C.

The EU has set itself ambitious targets for reducing its greenhouse gas emissions up to 2050 through the following strategies:

  • 2020 climate and energy package – the EU is already on track to meet its greenhouse gas emissions reduction target for 2020;
  • 2030 climate and energy framework – the EU has put forward a plan to further cut emissions by at least 55% by 2030, which includes EU wide targets and policy objectives for the period from 2021 to 2030. Under the framework, each Member States is required to adopt integrated national energy and climate plans (NECPs). These plans were submitted in draft by the end of 2018 and final plans submitted by the end of 2019.
  • 2050 long-term strategy – by 2050, the EU aims to become the world’s first climate neutral continent.

The EU aims to lead the way by investing in technology, empowering citizens and aligning actions in key areas such as industrial policy, research and finance.

Key targets for 2030:

Key targets for the 2030 climate and energy framework are as follows:

As part of the European Green Deal, the Commission proposed in September 2020 to raise the 2030 greenhouse gas emission reduction target, including emissions and removals, to at least 55%.

Ireland’s progress

The Irish Government published its Climate Action Plan in June 2019. The Climate Action Plan identifies how Ireland will achieve the 2030 targets in a manner that is consistent with a path to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

Focusing on renewable energy share (RES) targets, to date Ireland has the second lowest progress to meeting the overall targets of all EU Member States. We are currently behind our targets and are also expected to miss our 2030 targets as set out in our National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP). A recent annual report by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) showed that if the progress in 2018 is expressed as a percentage of the 2020 target, Ireland ranks 27th out of the EU-28 for progress towards the overall renewable energy 2020 targets, having reached 69% of the 2020 target, compared to the average for the EU-28 of 90%.

Energy use is commonly split into three uses: electricity, transport, and heat. Ireland has underperformed in each category to date in terms of renewable energy share.

Figure 1: Transport and Heat are the largest users of energy Source: SEAI

Figure 2: Ireland is not on track to meet 2020 renewable energy targets, RES (Renewable Energy Share) Source: SEAI
  • Transport – Transport represents the largest sector of energy use, accounting for 42% of final energy demand in 2018, but it has the lowest share of renewable energy sources. The required EU target was 10% renewable for transport by the year 2020. However in 2018, only 3% of Ireland’s transport energy was sourced from renewables. Ireland ranked 13th out of the EU-28 for renewable energy share in transport;
  • Heat – Heat energy is the 2nd largest of the three types of energy, accounting for 38% of the final energy demand in 2018. Ireland set a target of 12% of heat energy to come from renewable sources by the year 2020, however by 2018 this was just 6.5%. Ireland ranked 27th out of the EU-28 for renewable energy share in heat;
  • Electricity – Electricity is the smallest sector in terms of energy end-use demand. In 2018, 33.3% of electricity was generated from renewable sources, with wind accounting for 85% of renewable electricity. At 33.3% this is below the 2020 target of 40%. Ireland was 12th out of the EU-28 for renewable energy share in electricity.

Renewable electricity makes the largest contribution to Ireland’s overall renewable energy sources (RES) target, of which wind energy is the biggest contributor (55% of all renewable energy). Nonetheless, transport and heat are the largest sectors of energy use in the economy, with renewables only powering a meagre 3% of transport and 6.5% of heat.

While Ireland is a leader in integrating renewable energy onto our electricity system and has one of the world’s most successful onshore wind industries and a growing solar sector, industry bodies have warned that Ireland is off track for meeting its 2030 targets. Urgent changes will need to be made across the economy particularly in transport, buildings and industry. Issues to be addressed include streamlining planning procedures, investing in adequate infrastructure for electric vehicles, increasing deployment rates of renewable energy technologies and avoiding imports of coal based electricity.

Agriculture Emissions

Focusing on reducing our overall greenhouse gas emissions, agriculture is currently the largest contributor, accounting for 34% of Ireland’s total emissions compared to 10% across the EU-28. According to the national energy and climate plan, Ireland aims to “deliver substantial verifiable greenhouse gas abatement through the adoption of a specified range of improvements in farming practice” and “support diversification within agriculture and land use to develop sustainable and circular value chains and business models for lower carbon intensity farming”. This will also include an expansion of forestry planting and soil management.

While reducing emissions is more difficult in agriculture due to absence of technical solutions that exist for energy, if agricultural emissions are exempted from reduction or fail to be reduced, this will put greater pressure on the other sectors to reduce their emissions and likely increase the overall economic costs of reaching our climate targets.

The challenges faced by Ireland were reflected in the EU commissions assessment of Ireland’s draft national energy and climate plan (NCEP). The commission stated that the “lack of a clearly identified contribution to the 2030 renewable energy target among the four scenarios presented makes it difficult to assess the level of Ireland’s ambition”. Indeed, Ireland was only one of six countries that was late in its final submission of the NCEP. According to the SEAI, increasing the deployment rates of sustainable energy technologies and practices across the entire economy is essential to achieving targets with immediate and significant action essential.