Dáil debates

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

3:00 pm

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Question 72: To ask the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources for details of what he envisages to be a proactive Government role in incentivising the purchase of electric cars by the public; the Government actions and the timescale associated with those actions, resulting from his recently announced initiative; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44086/08]

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South, Green Party)
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Electrical vehicles offer an increasingly realistic solution in terms of reducing the transport sector's greenhouse gas emissions and Ireland's dependence on imported fossil fuels. There has been very significant global investment in research and development in this field. The technology is now maturing to a point where large scale commercial deployment is looking feasible in the medium term. It is all the more important therefore that Ireland is positioned as a centre for electric vehicles.

Last week, with my colleague, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Noel Dempsey, I launched our plans for the large scale deployment of electric vehicles in Ireland. We are setting a target of 10% of all vehicles in the transport fleet to be powered by electricity by 2020, a figure of approximately 250,000 electric cars on Irish roads over the next 12 years.

My Department is working with the Department of Transport, Sustainable Energy Ireland, the ESB, IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, and other stakeholders to ensure we have a fully cohesive approach in facilitating the development of the electric transport model. We have introduced tax incentives for businesses to purchase electric vehicles, allowing them to write off 100% of the cost of purchase against tax under the accelerated capital allowance scheme. Sustainable Energy Ireland will fund a €1 million project to research, develop and demonstrate electric vehicles nationally and has also published a buyers' guide and a cost of ownership calculator to aid individuals interested in purchasing electric vehicles. Sustainable Energy Ireland also recently published reports on hybrid electrical vehicles and battery electric vehicles. These reports highlight potential measures that could be used to stimulate uptake of electric vehicles in Ireland and they make recommendations on how this might best be achieved.

The collective work to date will be carried on by a national task force which will examine the infrastructure options for the national roll-out of electric vehicles, including street charging. We have sent out a clear message that Ireland is open for business and the work of positioning this country as a centre for electric vehicles will continue over the next number of years, in tandem with global developments in technologies and commercialisation.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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I welcome that the Government is showing some initiative in promoting the use of electric vehicles. When will the task force be set up and who will be on it? How will the Minister determine who will be on it? When will it report with recommendations?

The target of 10% of electric vehicles by 2020 is very unambitious when one considers what is happening in other parts of the world. Israel, for example, is planning for the complete replacement of petrol and diesel-driven cars. Denmark is planning to do the same, as are regions of Australia, but Ireland is still at the stage of setting up a task force.

Is the Minister open to reviewing that target, with the intention of increasing the ambition of Government in the replacement of petrol and diesel-driven cars? It is an initial step but there are also implications for the public transport fleet.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South, Green Party)
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The membership of the taskforce will include persons from the Departments of Transport, Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Finance, from Enterprise Ireland, the IDA, Sustainable Energy Ireland and agencies such as the ESB which has already set out a significant amount of work in this area. It will continue work that has already been done by Sustainable Energy Ireland, including visits by officials from the agency to Denmark and Israel.

I disagree with Deputy Coveney on the issue of targets. I believe the target is pitched exactly right. It takes time for any country to turn its fleet over to electric power. Any cars bought today will still be on the road in ten years' time. In looking at what other countries are doing, we set ourselves at the top level with such countries as Denmark and Israel, recognising that they also are only at the starting phase in this. No country has yet deployed the infrastructure needed to support a wide electric fleet. This work is starting and it will take a number of years for car companies and the infrastructure-building companies to deploy the infrastructure. I believe that in this regard the target we set ourselves is at the right level.

Targets are not limits to our ambition in this instance. We must reduce our dependence on oil and the transport sector is the biggest user of oil. If we can exceed that target, then certainly I shall be more ambitious and push beyond it. However, given where the technology is at present and where other countries are, it is the right target for us. It allows us to work with those countries — Israel, Denmark and Portugal in particular — and with the international car companies and our infrastructure providers, to provide a scale that makes the development of electrical vehicles commercially viable more quickly.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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This is where I strongly disagree with the Minister. He proposes that Ireland should follow the more ambitious countries that have a vision of a shorter time period for the transformation of their transportation fleet. The main driver behind this is emissions. Emissions coming from the transport sector since 1990 have increased by 168%, and are continuing to increase. As regards the area the Government has responsibility for in terms of emissions, and for which it has made commitments to the European Union, some 80% of that comes from transport and agriculture. We are not going to make the type of gains that are needed in agriculture and therefore we need to make them in transport. Some 10% of our fleet by 2020 will reduce carbon emissions by 400,000 tonnes, and that is it. What is required is a far more ambitious approach. Ireland should take a leadership position in this instead of the usual "wait and see" approach, while allowing other countries to make ambitious investments.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South, Green Party)
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The key driver in this is also energy security. The reason Israel is promoting the move to electric vehicles is that it is concerned about the availability of oil coming from the Middle East——

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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That is all the more reason for Ireland to be taking the initiative.

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South, Green Party)
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——and therefore energy security is a key driver. When it comes to emissions the Deputy is absolutely right. This helps us to reduce our emissions and that is a crucial second motivation and it is where we have a competitive advantage and will not be following, but leading. In setting a 40% renewables electricity target, particularly for variable power supplies such as wind, we have a competitive advantage that allows us to power an electric fleet cleanly.

Photo of Simon CoveneySimon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
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Exactly, so why is the Minister talking about 10%?

Photo of Eamon RyanEamon Ryan (Minister, Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Dublin South, Green Party)
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By being ahead of the countries I have mentioned, in terms of the work we are doing in deployment of smart grids and smart networks, we have a competitive advantage which makes Ireland a country that will and can lead. I am very confident that by starting this process, putting the word out to the international motor companies and the infrastructural companies that we will do exactly that.