Please give an overview of your sector?
Sustainable energy policy encompasses environmentally and economically sustainable production, supply and use of energy, across all sectors of the economy including public bodies, the business sector, local communities and individual consumers. It entails improving energy efficiency, advancing the development and competitive deployment of renewable sources of energy and reducing the environmental impact of energy production and use, particularly in respect of greenhouse-gas emissions. Success for Ireland will mean reduced reliance on imported fossil fuels and greater security of supply.
There is a growing appreciation of the absolute centrality of energy efficiency in any sustainable future.
Businesses throughout Ireland, from corner shops to our largest industrial sites, are tackling energy waste in their businesses and creating innovative solutions to energy challenges. Our large industrial users continue to push the boundaries of what is possible within their businesses, and corporate Ireland is focused on energy efficiency like never before.
Similarly, householders are increasingly aware of the benefits of improving the energy performance of their homes. Given the large proportion of Irish homes that were built prior to the introduction of building regulations, significant opportunities exist for improving the energy performance of the building stock. In the past decade more than a quarter of a million homes have been upgraded and today one in four homes has a Building Energy Rating or BER.
However we need to spread and deepen retrofit activity across society at a scale well beyond what we have achieved to date. Our work shows that there are huge gains to be made through actions that create jobs, reduce costs, reduce imports and importantly, reduce emissions as we make the inevitable and essential transition to a low carbon society.
This is positive and encouraging, but it is also just the start of a journey. It is clear that a new scale of ambition is needed to build on what we have learned so as to thrust Ireland into the forefront of the clean green revolution.
The EU’s ambition is to see our energy systems substantially decarbonised by 2050, which requires rapid growth of all forms of renewable energy. European Commission proposals for 2030 include higher ambition for both decarbonisation and renewable energy deployment. Renewable energy offers the possibility of greatly enhanced energy independence for Ireland, keeping billions of euros in the economy and giving us greater control over costs.
Ireland’s use of renewable energy has been growing steadily in recent years. Strongest growth has been in wind energy. This is because Ireland has an excellent wind resource and can produce electricity from wind at the lowest cost in Europe. SEAI’s detailed analysis has confirmed that, in the past five years, our use of renewables in electricity, predominantly wind, has reduced fossil fuel imports by more than €1 billion. Importantly, wind does not add to consumer prices in Ireland, in fact in recent years, the evidence shows that when gas prices have been high wind has actually lowered consumers’ bills. There is clear evidence that wind energy is positive for Ireland as a whole, but it must be exploited in an appropriate and acceptable manner. Our policy should be based on firm factual evidence, and good planning, local consultation and local benefit are all essential elements.
Bioenergy is a very important sector for Ireland as it can exploit our agrarian strengths and divert money into local supply chains. Applying our bioenergy resources to heat is a particular opportunity, as so much of our building stock remains dependent on expensive, polluting liquid fuels for their heating. The government will shortly publish a new bioenergy strategy. SEAI’s detailed analysis of bioenergy resources and costs indicates that delivering our 2020 renewable heat target will serve to divert €200m annually into local fuel supply chains.
One renewable source that has not gained much traction to date in Ireland is solar electricity. However, dramatic reductions in prices globally mean there may be potential now to see growth in this area, bringing the benefit of further diversification of our renewable supplies.
In the longer term, marine energy technologies such as wave energy offer huge potential for Ireland, both for energy and enterprise reasons. However, it will be a number of years before such technologies are at a point of being able to make a contribution to our energy mix.
The current focus of renewable energy policy is on meeting Ireland’s 2020 targets. This will entail between 2,000MW and 2,500MW of additional wind capacity, i.e. approximately a doubling of current capacity. The targets also require a doubling of the use of bioenergy for heat, and increasing the renewable content of transport energy from 4% to 10%, largely through the use of biofuels.
What is the size and scope of the sector?
Delivering our Green Potential is the Government’s Policy Statement on Growth and Employment in the Green Economy in Ireland.
It is estimated that up to an additional 10,000 jobs could be created in certain green economy activities in Ireland by 2020 – not including the potential that exists in green financial services, agriculture, marine or tourism.
Energy now ranks alongside Pharmaceuticals and Information Technology as one of the key growth sectors of the Irish economy.
As the new technologies are rolled out into production it is likely that many more businesses will be involved (as can already be seen in the more mature industries of wind and solar energy production). This also applies to so called smart technologies used in applications such as energy management systems and intelligent heating and lighting controls, all of which will draw upon the country’s ICT expertise.
The opportunities for careers in this sector are likely to expand greatly from the original technology based roles to include many more career paths not only in production but also in finance, economics, sales and marketing.
The roles will be based in specialist niche companies as well as larger multinational energy companies. The consulting and business fields are also likely to provide many opportunities for graduate careers.
What are the current issues affecting this sector?
Energy issues have never been more central in societal discourse. The scientific certainty of the climate change crisis is growing and there is widespread consensus on the imperative to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
The European Commission has given clear indications of its intent with respect to renewable energy and carbon emission targets to 2030 which will require resolute action by Ireland in respect of both energy efficiency and renewables.
Enterprises are striving to be more competitive while Ireland seeks an increased deployment of renewables to reduce its dependency on imported fossil fuels. The accelerating demand for skilled personnel in the sustainable energy industries has created and will continue to create many career opportunities.
What changes are anticipated over the next 5 years
- Continued action towards the decarbonisation of Ireland’s electricity supply with a strong focus on adding more wind capacity.
- Retrofitting of all aspects of the existing building stock with a strong emphasis on a deeper retrofit. This will require new and innovative service offerings from the market coupled with new and innovative approaches to project financing with options such as Pay-As-You-Save being a consideration.
- Through the Energy Efficiency Directive, energy supply companies are obliged to achieve mandatory energy reduction targets across their client base which will be a significant driver for a range of energy efficiency interventions in the residential, industrial and public sectors.
- With a 33% reduction target as an exemplar, the public sector will be focussed on ambitious programmes of energy reductions.
- The Department of Communications Energy and Natural Resources will shortly publish a Green Paper on energy which will signpost policy direction fore the next 5-10 years.
Do you have any statistics relevant to the sector?
The value of the Irish market for environmental goods and services was estimated by Forfas at €2.8 billion with over 6,500 people employed in the sector. A report from the High-Level Group on Green Enterprise highlighted the potential to create over 80,000 jobs in the coming years.
Are there any areas in your sector currently experiencing skills shortages?
Enterprise pervades all aspects of sustainable energy policy and programmes. This extends from protecting all existing jobs by helping firms become more energy efficient, to exploiting the many emerging opportunities for new technologies and services in the sustainable energy sectors. Sustainable energy issues are also rapidly becoming important elements of foreign direct investment decision making.
It is a sector which is expanding very rapidly both in terms of technology advancements and the skills and manpower needed to sustain and drive it. Our Universities and Institutes of Technology have reacted with the development of many new training courses and students who are qualified in this specialist area have good career prospects.
To meet the current and expected increase in jobs, trained staff are needed at the technical, trade and professional levels with the knowledge and skills to develop, promote and implement new methods of sustainable energy production, and improve the efficiency of existing systems and appliances.
They need training in a wide range of knowledge areas including the social, environmental, economic, technical and scientific aspects of energy generation in a sustainable manner.