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Analysis of Energy Consumption in Ireland


General Introduction

The following chapter will introduce the dissertation topic by means of its intended goals, outline of content within each chapter and the research methodology. The research goals present the author’s aims to be achieved, core objectives and hypothesis to test. The chapters shall be briefly described as to their particular topic area. Research methodology will establish the research process, planning, data collection methods utilized and finally mention limitations encountered throughout completing the dissertation.

Research Goals


To investigate is renewable energy the way of the future, the potential of renewable energy sources and to analyse their long-term capability of meeting Ireland’s future energy needs.


  1. To consider past and present trends of energy consumption in Ireland.
  2. To investigate the suitability of this technology for Ireland.
  3. To evaluate the environmental advantage of using the technology.
  4. To examine in detail the practical adoption of renewable energy technology in another country.
  5. To compare traditional energy sources against renewable sources.
  6. To examine the financial implications of changing from the traditional energy supply to a more renewable supply.


Renewable energy is a viable option for meeting energy requirements for the future of the Irish energy market.

Outline of Chapters

Chapter 1:

This chapter introduces the dissertation and details the author’s core objectives to be researched. The structure of the dissertation is briefly described, which details the key sources of information followed by a short account of the chapters to follow.

Chapter 2:

The dissertation begins with a short first chapter explaining what is known as renewable energy.

Chapter 3:

Talks about potential future energy demands. Energy trends are evaluated to prepare an estimated energy forecast for Ireland’s future.

Chapter 4:

Investigates into why a renewable energy future? The chapter deals with the rising demand and price of oil and gas. Also the concerns about climate change and Ireland’s commitment to the EU’s Directives on the deployment of renewable energy are dealt within the chapter.

Chapter 5:

The chapter reviews the renewable energy options available to Ireland. The options are assessed on the extent to which they could be used in meeting future demands.

Chapter 6:

Examines the Governments present proposal “Renewable Electricity – A 2020 Vision,” which is to set up an All-Island Energy Market between the Republic and Northern Ireland. The Chapter evaluates the proposal to secure future energy supply through renewable energy for the whole island.

Chapter 7:

This chapter considers nuclear energy through certain areas which may be beneficial or not to Ireland.

Chapter 8:

This is the final chapter of the dissertation where the author reaches conclusions from the research carried out to date, followed by recommendations and areas for further study.

Research Methodology

Research may be defined as, ‘the systematic study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions’ (Concise Oxford English Dictionary 2005).

This section outlines the research methods used to prepare this dissertation. The structure of this dissertation presents the findings of research, clearly identified, which was conducted by the author. Also aspects of data collection associated with problems encountered and limitations will be summarized.

Research Process

Preliminary research began during the Author’s placement year (year 3 of BSc Construction Economics & Management in Limerick Institute of Technology). As part of the year a dissertation proposal submission was required. An initial investigation on the availability of information was carried out and being satisfied that the information available was sufficient, I decided to continue with the topic. The initial sources primarily included books, Internet, papers and magazines.

Research Planning

For the research process consideration was given to the possible methods of approach to the actual dissertation. To carry out the research effectively and in a detailed manner a research plan and programme was established. This plan consisted of giving sufficient time for the detailed research of material both published and unpublished. From this the author got a detailed understanding of the topic and the exact focus of the dissertation was established along with the content and scope of the various chapters.

After choosing the title, aim, objectives and hypothesis, a detailed plan had to be formulated to meet each objective of the dissertation. This proved vital to the success of the dissertation, given the limited time frame to review material, engender results and complete the dissertation. Due to the amount of publications and information that needed reviewing for inclusion into the dissertation file, reading and analysis was continuously ongoing. All articles of information were scanned generally to assess their suitability and all relevant information marked accordingly. All relevant information, once analysed, was categorized based on its relevance to a given chapter.

Data Collection Methods

In order to test the hypothesis of this dissertation effectively detailed information had to be sought on all aspects of renewable energies and the Irish energy market.

The types of data used for compiling this dissertation came from both primary and secondary sources. Material from both sources was read in detail and any information relevant to any aspect of the dissertation topic was highlighted and noted. For the actual structure of the separate chapters, this information was subdivided into separate files for each proposed chapter.

Primary Sources

The dissertation utilized primary sources, as work contained provided accurate information. The volume of the information was obtained from Government organisations and EU reports. The up to date factor of the reports was its main advantage. Other organisations such as Sustainable Energy Ireland published reports which proved very beneficial. As the dissertation subject is topical at present, there have been many related conferences and the proceedings published. Official Government publications were helpful especially for information relating to the All Island Energy Market. Other official publications from the EU were used to gather information on EU Directives and the Kyoto Protocol. Finally structured interviews were conducted in relation to setting up and operating wind farms as the results offered accurate first hand information. Past dissertations have been utilized but for the purpose of guidance.

Secondary Sources

An in depth documentary review was undertaken by the author, which involved examining various sources of information for factual information. This information was taken from construction journals, textbooks, brochures and magazines. Text books were used only for background information. Magazines and national papers proved helpful in keeping up with new developments affecting the topic, for example the Budget and Government publications. As the dissertation required up to date information on the topic, a large quantity of information was obtained from the Internet.


There were a number of difficulties encountered during the research of this dissertation. The main concern for the author was the realization that new information on the chosen topic was constantly being up dated with new developments. As the dissertation is somewhat based on what may happen in the future, the conclusions and recommendations are based on educated assumptions.

There exists a lack of published work in relation to the All Island Energy Market, as the consultation period is still on going. Contact with the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources was made with regard to the topic and all other topics relating to the dissertation. The author was informed that the most up to date information would be available in the Government’s Energy White Paper 2007 “Delivering a Sustainable Energy Future for Ireland” and that information contained within it could not be released until the Government’s official launch on the 12th of March 2007. Due to time constraints the author was not able to exploit this source.

Based on the limited amount of information available the author utilized a significant amount of secondary sources. Also research questionnaires had to be abandoned due to a lack of response from organisations. Although certain information available was limited, with continued research and perseverance though all possible avenues it is believed that suitable material was compiled delivering a complete dissertation on the subject matter.


What Is Renewable Energy?


Renewable energy comes from energy sources that are continuously replenished by nature. They are non-fossil energy sources that are not depleted by utilization. The main sources of renewable energy are the wind, the sun (solar energy), water (hydropower, wave and tidal energy) and biomass (wood, biodegradable waste and energy crops).

Renewable energy sources are those which are effectively inexhaustible (such as wind, wave, solar, hydro etc) or which are replenished at or about their rate of consumption (such as managed forests and energy crops and other forms of biomass) (Anon 2005).

What are the Benefits of Renewable energy?

Renewable energy resources are clean sources of energy. They can be harnessed without damaging the environment, unlike using fossil fuels which release carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) and other harmful pollutants into the atmosphere.

  • Increasing the use of renewable energy is therefore a key strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and meeting Ireland’s Kyoto commitments.
  • Renewable energy resources will not become exhausted. Unlike finite fossil fuels, renewable energy resources are continuously replenished and will not run out.
  • Renewable energy resources are indigenous resources. Ireland is heavily reliant on imported fossil fuels. We now import around 89% of the fuels we need for energy. By tapping the renewable energy resources with which Ireland is richly endowed, we could reduce this reliance on imports. By increasing our use of renewable resources, we can achieve a more secure and stable energy supply for the long term (Sustainable Energy Ireland a).

Chapter Summary

Renewable energy generally refers to energy derived from non-fossil fuel resources (excluding nuclear). Renewable energy has become more popular in recent times as talks of global warming increase internationally and exhaustion of fossil fuels. Renewable energy will benefit the environment and help reduce our dependency on depleting sources of energy.


Ireland’s Potential Energy Needs


To assess the potential of renewable sources sustaining Ireland’s energy needs in the future, firstly energy trends have to be evaluated to estimate the future requirements. It is impossible to know for sure what the future will hold but by reviewing different forecasts, a reasonable estimate can be made.

Energy Trends

Energy trends of the past fifteen years will give a good review of Ireland’s energy growth. It was within this time that the country experienced significant economic growth which was seen in the energy sector. The amount of energy consumed is shown through the Total Primary Energy Requirement (TPER).

Total Energy Requirement (TER) figures represent the total Irish electricity generation at the plant exported level plus imports, less exports. The TER is the amount of electricity required to meet total final consumption in the Republic of Ireland including an allowance for transmission and distribution losses (Anon 2005).

Figure 3.1 shows the Total Primary Energy Requirement (TPER) of the Republic of Ireland, broken down by fuel type, over the period 1990 to 2000. Estimates for the period 2001 to 2010 are also included.

This figure shows that there was rapidly increasing growth in energy demands in the 90’s and in particular, the mid 90’s to 2000. It also shows a high dependence on the oil and gas.

Energy Forecasts

The Government document, All-Island Energy Market: Renewable Electricity – A ‘2020 Vision’; Preliminary Consultation Document, (Anon 2005), forecasts energy demands by “firstly modifying the 2005 – 2011 median TER values so as to account for generation plant ‘house load’, and then determining the values for 2012 – 2020 at the assumed growth rates of 3% per annum between 2012 and 2015, and of 2% per annum between 2015 and 2020.” This can be clearly seen in Table 3.1. These facts are based on the future for the whole island of Ireland, a joint north and south venture of meeting future energy demands and include Northern Ireland which is discussed in Chapter Six.

The above forecast is not alone in believing that there will be a steady growth, although slightly less over a longer period of time. The report (Howley et al 2006) assumes electricity demand to grow significantly. Table 3.2 from the report shows the predicted growth. The prediction assumes the CO2 costs €15/tonne in 2010 and €30/tonne in 2020.

Chapter Summary

The past energy trends showed that there has been a constant rise in energy demand and this is reflected in the forecasts. The two different reports predicted to 2020 and show a similar prediction. It can then be assumed that to 2010 a 3.0 – 4.0% increase can be expected and from 2010 – 2020, a lesser 1.0 – 2.0%. The forecast for the generating fuel is predicted through past trends and present economic development, predicting oil to be eliminated by 2010 and gas to dominate. Although renewables are predicted to increase, early forecasts report they will only have a minor impact.


Why a Renewable Energy Future?


The future of Ireland’s energy supply is changing and it can not be stopped but we can adapt. The foremost important issue for the Government is to secure the countries future energy supply. Ireland’s geographical location and fuel resources means it is of critical importance that the future energy supply is secured now before it is too late. Ireland is too dependant on import fossil fuels for energy and so we need to become more independent, which renewable energy can provide. While Ireland’s imports of fossil fuels for energy still stand at about 85 per cent, much higher than the EU average of 50 per cent, there is a definite shift towards renewables. But there are other factors steering Ireland towards renewable sources, including EU and Kyoto responsibilities.

Oil and Gas Depletion

Oil and gas are a finite resource and there so going to completely run out some day. The demand for gas and in particular oil is increasing. This is mainly due to significant economic growth of China and India. The report Exxon-Mobil’s view of the future of oil and gas predicts “demand is expected to rise through the year 2010 at a rate of about 2 per cent per year for oil and 3 per cent per year for gas” (Longwell), as shown in Figure 4.1. This is leading to a rise in price, Figure 4.2, which already is affecting Ireland.

As stated in the EU Green Paper in 2006, “Oil and gas prices are rising. They have nearly doubled in the EU over the past two years, with electricity prices following. This is difficult for consumers. With increasing global demand for fossil fuels, stretched supply chains and increasing dependence on imports, high prices for oil and gas are probably here to stay” (Anon 2006).

Rising oil prices

In its 2001 review BP commented “The world’s oil R/P (reserve to production) ratio has fallen modestly since 1990 as world oil production growth has outpaced additions to reserves” (Busby 2002). A chart in the 2001 review shows 1990 as the year when the R/P peak ratio of 44 was passed, reducing to 40 by the end of 2000. At the end of 2002 the R/P ratio had reduced further to 39, to rise to 41 at the end of 2003, dropping back to 40.5 at the end of 2004, but shown at 40.6 at the end of 2005. As production continues to rise and additions to reserves fail to match it, the ratio of oil reserves to production (R/P) will continue to decline and the price of crude oil will rise. The world gas R/P ratio in 2005 was 65.1, compared to 40.6 for oil. At 2005 production rates, gas reserves would provide a source of energy for a further 24 years after oil exhaustion.

But when oil supplies starts to run out, more gas will be used as a substitute, hence increasing gas depletion. So if oil production peak is predicted at 2010, gas production peak should follow bout the year 2020.

The problem starts to become apparent when you realise the decline of oil discovery, as shown in Figure 4.3. The gap between discovery and consumption is widening and this will eventually lead to oil production peaking. Chevron, one of the world’s largest oil companies, admits to the imminent peak and decline of oil. An Oil production peak before or by 2010 seems now to be generally accepted. The not so distant future of Ireland’s energy market will then have to contend without oil.

The oil market is global where the gas market is regional and this is where Ireland could really suffer in the long term. It is predicted that gas will outlast oil but gas has to be piped and Ireland’s geographical location causes problems. The discovery of the Corrib gas field “is potentially very important as it offers temporary relief from increasingly unreliable supplies of gas from the United Kingdom and Europe,” says Colin Campbell, petroleum geologist (Campbell). In the near future with oil demand rising pushing up prices and in the distant future oil not been available, we must look to renewables now. The Corrib gas field is small and might get ten or more years out of it at the current rate of consumption but the Government should use this opportunity to draw on the gas to help support renewable energy.

The Environment and EU Directive

Ireland’s main source of energy is fossil fuels which produce vast quantities of CO2, add to climate change and which the EU intend to reduce. The emissions that are produced from burning fossil fuels are becoming more serious every year and a much discussed topic at national and international level.

Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol

Fossil fuels constitute a significant repository of carbon buried deep under the ground. Burning them results in the conversion of this carbon to carbon dioxide, which is then released into the atmosphere. This results in an “increase in the Earth’s levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, which enhances the greenhouse effect and contributes to global warming” (Wikipedia).

As was seen in Figure 4.4, fossil fuels are a major electricity fuel for Ireland. Fossil fuels, particularly coal, contain a dilute radioactive material which is released into the environment leading to low levels of radioactive contamination.

“Within the EU burden sharing agreement to meet its obligation under the Kyoto Protocol, Ireland must stabilise its Greenhouse gas emissions at 13% above 1990 levels within the period 2008 to 2012” (Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources 1998).

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) latest Assessment Report was released on the 2nd of February 2007 in Paris. The report was produced by some 600 authors from 40 countries. According to the IPCC, the warming of the world is unequivocal, and that humans are very likely (higher than 90% likelihood) behind the warming. The key conclusions were:

  • Possible temperature rise between 1.1C and 6.4C by 2100
  • Sea level most likely to rise by 18-59cm (7in-23in)
  • Artic summer sea ice disappears in second half of century
  • Increase in heatwaves very likely
  • Increase in tropical storm intensity likely

Considering overall greenhouse gas emissions, energy related CO2 emissions accounted for 51% in 1990 compared to a projected 66% in 2010 if we continue in the same direction. Renewable energy would dramatically reduce Ireland’s CO2 emissions by replacing fossil fuels. This will take time, so if want to have any chance of meeting the requirements, we have to act now.

EU Directive

The use of renewable energy has a legislative basis in the EU under Directive (2001/77/EC). The Directive asserts the European Countries need to promote renewables to contribute to:

‘…environmental protection and sustainable development. In addition this can also create local employment, have a positive impact on social cohesion, contribute to security of supply and make it possible to meet Kyoto targets more quickly'(Anon 2005).

The directive forces Ireland to have an output of renewable powered electricity to 13.2% of total electricity consumed in Ireland by 2010. But the Government is hoping to have it up to 15% by 2010 through the Renewable energy Feed In Tariff (ReFIT) programme. The new Renewable energy Feed in Tariff (ReFIT) programme replaces the Government’s previous support mechanism, the Alternative Energy Requirement (AER) programme and provides financial support of €119m to renewable energy projects over a fifteen year period

The ReFIT programme will support the construction of an initial target of at least 400 megawatts (MW) of new renewable energy powered electricity generating plants. Its main aim is to increase the contribution of renewable energy sources to electricity production. The ReFIT programme will help make renewable energy competitive and is a move closer to reaching the Kyoto Protocol and the EU directive. Failure to meet the Kyoto Protocol and EU Directive (2001/77/EC) will have serious financial implications.

On April 4th 2006 the European Commission launched legal proceedings against Ireland, for failing to meet the deadline of October 2003 for taking the necessary measures to transpose Community legislation on renewable electricity into national law. Ireland is now under pressure to act on renewable energy.

Future Policies

EU Leaders decided on Friday 9th of March 2007 to slash greenhouse gas emissions, which included a binding target for renewable sources to make up a fifth of EU energy use by 2020. The leaders committed to a target of reducing EU greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 and offered to go to 30 per cent if major nations such as the United States, Russia, China and India follow suit. According to a draft agreement, the EU will aim to go even further in the future, with cuts of 60 to 80 per cent by 2050.

Reports of drastic future climate change in the wake of the IPCC’s recent assessment, talk of a post Kyoto agreement is been debated. The recent EU summit outcome of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent will form the basis of the EU’s position in international talks to replace the U.N. Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. Whatever it may be called, it will aim to severely reduce Greenhouse Gases to coincide with Global Warming reports. Either way it will mean a serious change for Governments and society.

Chapter Summary

The demand for gas and in particular oil is increasing largely due to the economic growth of China and India. The reserves at the moment show gas will outlast oil. Oil production is predicted to peak around 2010 but as oil resources decrease, demand for gas will increase to make up the slack which will result in gas production peaking sooner rather than later. The large growth in demand at present is increasing prices and with talk of oil production peaking and the politically unstable situation in the Middle East, prices look set to continue escalating. Renewable energy can help Ireland reduce its dependence on imported fossil fuels.

Ireland’s main energy source, fossil fuels, is seriously damaging the environment and the main cause of Global Warming. The Kyoto Protocol requires Ireland to reduce its CO2 emissions. Under EU legislation Ireland must increase the use of renewable energy to 13.2% of all electricity produced but the Government are aiming for 15% with the announcement of the ReFIT programme. The programme will help meet Kyoto and EU obligations. Recent announcement from the EU requires 20% of the EU’s electricity generation mix be from renewable sources by 2020. This ambitious target will require serious consideration from the Government.


The Renewable Energy Options for the Future


To meet the future energy demands, the Government will have to put a lot more work into developing renewable sources of energy. The positive from this, is Ireland has vast potential for renewable energy production, especially wind. Although the Government are starting to take more notice of renewable energy technology. Within ‘Budget 2007’ Brian Cowan stated “scheme of tax relief in place in the form of a deduction from a company’s profits for corporate investment in renewable energy products in the solar, wind, hydro or biomass technology categories, shall be continued for a further five years, subject to EU approval” (Cowan 2006). But when considering renewable energy options, it is important to realistically assess their full potential. The present renewable energy sources should be looked at in a view of their output and efficiency, then evaluate their future part in securing the country’s energy supply.

Wind Power

Wind power is one of the most mature renewable energy technologies to date and currently has a good record of reliability and availability. The wind resources in Ireland are among the best in the EU due to the strength of the Atlantic winds. “A wind turbine in Ireland will deliver twice as much power as the same turbine in Germany. We are the envy of Europe because of our wind speeds” (Seanad Éireann 2005).

Wind energy has seen major advances in Ireland recently, especially in the last four years. Wind energy now has the largest installed capacity of all renewable energy technologies in Ireland (Figure 5.1). As per up to date statistics from EirGrid, there is currently a total of 744 MW worth of wind power connected to the main grid and an additional 547.3 MW worth of energy from contracted wind farms currently in production to be connected at various stages in the future. (See Appendix C and Appendix D)

Renewable Connections

Kinetic energy in airflows is used to run wind turbines; some are capable of producing 5 MW of power, but the most cost effective are currently 500 kW – 1.5 MW. Conventional investment costs are about €1,100 per kW installed. Wind energy has been growing significantly over recent years and following the trend, wind power will keep going in the near future, Figure 5.2.

Wind Generation since 1992 to 2007

Onshore Wind

Onshore wind in Ireland is mainly concentrated on the west coast due to strong winds from the Atlantic. Wind-speed maps help decide on the locations by showing the wind potential of certain areas but sites close to the western sea shore is generally the best region, as with Tursillagh Wind Farm. (Example of Analysis of Wind Potential – See Appendix E)

Turbines at Tursillagh

Winds in an area are often monitored for a year and detailed maps constructed prior to wind generators being installed. Coastlines tend to be the windiest sites for turbines, because a primary source of wind is convection from the differential heating and cooling of land and sea. The erection of a wind farm onshore is becoming straight forward with companies having gained much experience and knowledge. Ireland has had well developed onshore wind energy for many years and has the knowledge to develop bigger wind farms to help meet the countries energy demand.

Offshore Wind

The offshore electricity production in Ireland is minimal but has made a good start. Arklow Offshore Wind Power Plant is the world’s first offshore project to deploy giant wind turbines in excess of 3megawatts and is Ireland’s only offshore wind project. But already is showing great prospect, showing excellent reliability and availability, areas where wind power is mainly criticised. The site was chosen as tests proved to be one of the windiest areas in Europe.

Offshore turbines cause less aesthetic controversy as usually can not be seen from the shore. It offers fewer obstacles and stronger winds but is also more inaccessible and the conditions are harsh, corrosive and can increase the costs of maintenance. Unlike with onshore wind farms, planning is not an issue. The biggest obstacle at present is the significant capital cost even compared to onshore wind. Ireland’s offshore potential is an untapped resource and must be harnessed to become a serious contributor to the Irish electricity mix. Offshore wind power generation should be recognised for what it is; Ireland’s best option for meeting present renewable energy and CO2 targets.

Planning for the Future

To promote wind as one of the major sources of electricity in the future, it can be beneficial to look at a similar EU country with a successful wind market, for example Denmark. The ESB system is comparable in size to the west Denmark Eltra system.

“The Transmission System Operator (TSO) in Ireland, ESB National Grid (ESB NG), has asked for a report, explaining the management of the western Danish system Eltra with a focus on handling of wind production” (Hilger 2004).

This shows the level of interest in the Danish system for wind. The ESB has spotted the potential of assessing Denmark’s approach to wind for our own future development. Denmark has only modest wind speeds, compared to Ireland’s impressive wind energy potential. As can be seen in the Case Study (Appendix F), the key to Denmark’s wind power success is the support from the interconnectors to other EU countries. Wind’s intermittence problem is compensated with bought in electricity from the Nordic power pool at the going rate.

The major interest in Denmark’s Eltra system for the future will come from Denmark’s offshore development, in particular the Horns Rev Wind Park. The Horns Rev Wind Park is a show case of Danish initiative in the large scale promotion of renewable energy. Horns Rev is the largest offshore wind farm in the world, producing two per cent of Denmark’s total energy consumption. Much can be learned from Horns Rev in planning the future of wind power generation in Ireland. The offshore turbines produce 150 per cent more electricity than land based turbines. Also Denmark’s offshore areas are restricted but the Irish situation is a decentralised approach where the pick of areas is open for private initiative. The Horns Rev project was a result of fourteen years of research and initiated by the Danish Government which was the main factor for its commencement. The turbines used (Vestas V80) which can adapt the output of the turbine to suit the parameters of any electricity grid. Although a lot of planning and research went into Horns Rev, construction only took six months which was run through the summer months for improved weather conditions. And finally so successful was Horns Rev, an additional wind farm (Horns Rev 2) is to be built northeast of the existing farm. The new offshore wind farm and the landing facilities will be commissioned in May 2009. (See Appendix F, Case Study)

Constraints of Wind P

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