Dáil debates

Tuesday, 25 May 2021

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Renewable Energy Generation

10:05 pm

Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin Fingal, Fine Gael)
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I cannot see the Minister of State but I know he is there. I will start by mentioning a development that occurred this evening. I am pleased to report that Fingal County Council, my local authority, voted for 1,200 houses in Donabate. Rather shockingly, although unsurprisingly, Sinn Féin opposed it. The development will provide for more than 500 social and affordable homes and 700 private homes. They will be available soon at a price of €270,000, far under the cap that will be placed on it by the Government.

I raise the important issue of the quicker than expected growth in renewable energy across Europe. Information released recently by the International Energy Agency, IEA, has shown a significant uptake in renewable energy production. This includes, of course, solar, wind and other renewables, which are growing at the fastest rate in more than 20 years. Much of that change is being driven in Europe and the US. However, China, while being a strong performer in this field several years ago, is beginning to drop off. That is slightly worrying. It underscores the importance of creating balanced progress across the globe and not just in industrialised and wealthy nations such as our own.

Renewable energy grew by 45% in 2020, reaching 280 GW, which I understand is in excess of half of our national requirement in any given year. It is the largest yearly increase since before the turn of the millennium. The IEA earlier forecast the number to be approximately 200 GW. It is anticipated that 270 GW will be added in 2021 and 280 GW will be added in 2022. This marks the emergence of an important trend in sustained growth. The anticipated results for 2021 and 2022 represent a 25% increase on the forecast made last November by the agency.

This afternoon at a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action, we heard from the Electricity Association of Ireland. Part of our ongoing discussion was about energy security and the need for us to move away from fossil fuels, including the closure of Moneypoint power station in 2025, and the need for us to ensure we have the capacity in this State to deliver not only wind and solar energy, but also to deliver through interconnectors, which form a crucial part of that security of electricity supply. That applies to the North-South and east-west interconnectors, and the Celtic interconnector to France, which is slated for delivery in seven years.

These developments are a cause for optimism in our fight against climate change. Renewable electricity is a key component in helping us to hit our climate targets for 2030 and 2050. The Minister of State will welcome the announcement by the IEA in recent weeks. We have a number of targets to try to reach in the coming years in terms of policy development, incentivising the various sectors that are going to generate clean, zero emissions energy sources in the coming years to ensure that we have the necessary power. Our population is ever increasing, as is our energy demand. Our carbon footprint as a result of our energy generation must drop dramatically, as I know the Minister of State will agree. I thank him for taking this Topical Issue matter. I appreciate the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, was on his feet in the Dáil all day, so I understand his not being available. We have a huge target ahead of us. That target will only be reached if we can match it with the ambition that we, as a House, set forward. I am interested to hear the Minister of State's remarks.

Photo of Malcolm NoonanMalcolm Noonan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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I welcome this matter and thank the Deputy for making such a valuable contribution it. It is important that we continue to debate this issue.

The recent IEA report emphasises that the energy sector is the source of approximately three quarters of greenhouse gas emissions today. Reducing global CO2emissions to net zero by 2050 is consistent with efforts to limit the long-term increase in average global temperatures to 1.5°C. This calls for nothing less than a complete transformation of how we produce, transport and consume energy. The global pathway to net zero emissions by 2050 requires all governments to significantly strengthen and then successfully implement their energy and climate policies. Ireland, in the programme for Government, committed to an average 7% per annum reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions from 2021 to 2030, a 51% reduction over the decade, and to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. That is a very ambitious target. We are committed to the rapid decarbonisation of the energy sector.

The programme for Government made recommendations for how the deployment of renewable electricity can be speeded up, for example by provision and permissioning of grid connections, such as completing the Celtic interconnector to connect Ireland's electricity grid to France. The Department's publication of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill marked a milestone in Ireland's efforts to mitigate the impact of climate change. The Bill has given effect to the programme for Government commitment to achieve net zero by 2050. When enacted, the Bill will ensure a robust governance mechanism through the proposal of five-yearly economy carbon budgets by the climate change advisory committee and approval of the carbon budgets by Government. The first two carbon budgets will incorporate our programme for Government ambition by budgeting for a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 51% over the period 2018 to 2030.

The Bill aligns with our collective ambitions as Europeans outlined in the European Green New Deal. In 2020, the Heads of Government of all member states agreed to increase the EU-wide commitment to greenhouse gas emissions from 40% by 2030 to 55% by 2030 and to set a target of net zero by 2050.

In addition to significant onshore renewable energy development, meeting the goal of 70% renewable electricity by 2030 will require development of significant offshore renewable energy generation capacity and associated grid infrastructure over the coming decade. The programme for Government commits to the achievement of 5 GW of offshore wind by 2030 and a potential of 30 GW of floating wind thereafter. Ireland has the resource potential to become a major contributor to a pan-European renewable energy generation and transmission system.

Together with the forthcoming maritime area planning Bill, the national marine planning framework will be a key enabler to achieve Ireland's climate goals and deliver a reliable supply of safe, secure and clean energy and phase out fossil fuels. Enactment of the marine planning framework Bill, led by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, will provide the legislative underpinning and flexibility to allow Ireland to move towards a more centralised, plan-led regime. It will establish a new agency to regulate development in the maritime area. Work on the development and future operation of a new consenting regime for offshore renewable energy is under way within the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications.

When the framework is in place, the Department will launch the first offshore renewable energy support scheme, RESS, auction, known as ORESS-1. This will be the first in a series of dedicated offshore auctions designed to achieve Ireland's 2030 targets and beyond. Work is also under way within the Department to develop a new offshore renewable energy development plan.

The actions being taking now, and the further actions to be announced in the 2021 climate action plan, will set us on the path to a 70% renewable electricity target and to increased electrification of our end-use sectors to 2030, and ultimately towards our national climate objective of net zero by 2050.

Photo of Alan FarrellAlan Farrell (Dublin Fingal, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive response. There was a lot of information in his reply for me to consider as a member of the climate committee in the coming months.

One of the issues mentioned by the Minister of State was grid improvements, and the necessity for us to invest a significant sum in upgrading our grid infrastructure to cater for demand but also for home and-or commercial generation, that is, into power stations. This is something that we encourage, of course. I know the Minister, Deputy Ryan, is working on a policy position in order that we can work on how people can not only support their local communities in terms of home energy generation but also benefit from it financially.

The Minister of State mentioned the wind energy development plan, which I am really pleased to see in the works at the moment. We have a real opportunity in Ireland, however, in terms of our offshore wind energy potential off the west coast. Deep sea turbine technology is not necessarily where it needs to be but there is an opportunity for us to develop that technology in conjunction with not only our educational institutions but also with large companies. I know, for instance, that some European companies are very interested in looking at it. There are opportunities for port developments and such, where local communities can benefit from what is a very high-skilled and no doubt very high-revenue industry, which I believe will create a significant jobs presence.

We have an opportunity. Indeed, the Dublin Climate Dialogues conference last week highlighted the importance of turning net zero commitments into viable energy policies, which, of course, will have to involve the financial sector. I am glad the Minister of State mentioned the auction.

In November of this year in Glasgow, we also have the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, COP26, which I believe will also be working on this. I am pleased with the Minister of State's response and thank him for coming before the House this evening.

10:15 pm

Photo of Malcolm NoonanMalcolm Noonan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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Again, I thank Deputy Farrell. The net zero by 2050 roadmap, produced by the IEA envisions that by 2050, global energy demand will be 8% smaller than it is today but will service an economy twice as big and a population with 2 billion more people, and that almost 90% of electricity generation will come from renewable sources.

Energy security will evolve on the path to net zero. Electricity system flexibility, cybersecurity and reliable supplies of critical minerals will all become more important. Most of the world's reductions in CO2emissions between now and 2030 in our net zero pathway come from technologies already on the market today. In 2050, however, almost of half the reductions will come from technologies that are currently only at demonstration or prototype phase, which I believe was referenced by Deputy Farrell.

This calls for major innovation progress in this decade. Total annual energy investment is expected to surge to $5 trillion by 2030 in an EIA pathway, creating millions of clean energy jobs and putting global GDP 4% higher in 2030 than it would reach based on current trends.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I thank the Minister of State. Members can read the rest of the reply. We will move on to the next Topical Issue matter.