A reliable supply of affordable energy to heat our homes and power our industries is something Irish people have taken for granted for as long as most of us remember.
However, climate change and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have shown just how vulnerable Europe’s energy supplies actually are.
Russian fossil fuels have been used as an economic and political weapon, resulting in volatile energy prices and disrupted supply lines throughout Europe.
Meanwhile, the effects of climate change are already being felt across the world making the delivery of secure, sustainable and affordable energy to citizens and businesses a matter of urgency.
The European Commission is taking action to mitigate Europe’s energy vulnerabilities for the coming winters and proposing measures to ensure reliable energy supplies for future generations.
The Green Deal is Europe’s ambitious plan to transform Europe into the first climate-neutral continent, and it paves the way towards more affordable, secure and sustainable energy.
The Green Deal focuses on three key principles for this clean energy transition.
- Ensuring a secure and affordable EU energy supply.
- Developing a fully integrated, interconnected and digitalised EU energy market.
- Prioritising energy efficiency, improving the energy performance of our buildings and developing a power sector based largely on renewable sources.
“From wind to steel, from batteries to electric vehicles, our ambition is crystal clear: The future of our clean tech industry has to be made in Europe.”
Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission President,State of the Union 2023.
To meet the EU’s energy and climate targets for 2030, EU countries have published national energy and climate plans (NECPs) for the period from 2021 to 2030 showing how they intend to improve energy efficiency, increase the use of renewables and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Member States must submit a progress report and update their NECP every two years to reflect increased ambitions of the European Green Deal and the REPowerEU plan.
Work on tackling Europe’s reliance on Russian fossil fuels began long before the illegal invasion of Ukraine. The EU Energy Union was set up in 2015 to reduce dependency on energy imports, and in 2022 the European Commission launched the REPowerEU Plan to rapidly accelerate the process.
REPowerEU includes ambitious but achievable targets and measures to save energy, diversify energy supplies, and speed up the roll-out of renewable energy sources to replace fossil fuels.
Measures proposed by the European Commission to help achieve ambitious REPowerEU targets include the European Wind Power Action Plan.
Wind power has been an EU success story and it currently generates around a third of Irish electricity. However, future growth in the sector faces challenges that the action plan aims to address, such as insufficient and uncertain demand, complex planning rules and lack of access to raw materials.
Other proposals and measures to help achieve energy targets include:
- An EU solar strategy;
- the EU Energy Platform that includes a mechanism called AggregateEU to allow European companies collectively negotiate better energy prices on global markets;
- doubling Europe’s heat pump deployment rate through a new action plan;
- stimulating investment in sustainable domestic hydrogen through a European Hydrogen Bank (EHB);
- an action plan to increase the production of biomethane, which is one of the main renewable gases of the future.
Member States are being supported with their strategies to increase renewable energy sources through the Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF), the main pillar of the EU’s post-Covid recovery plan. Overall, close to €270 billion is available in the form of grants and loans.
The REPowerEU - One Year On progress report published in 2023 shows that the EU has reduced its gas demand by 18% compared to the previous five years.
It also found that by January 2023, Russian gas imports by pipeline were below 10% of total EU imports and the EU had reached its target of filling gas storage facilities to 90% of capacity by August 2023.
The European Commission has also proposed to reform the EU's electricity market to accelerate the use of renewables and phase-out dependency on gas.
The reforms, which include the right to fixed-price contracts for citizens, are designed to protect consumers from price spikes and potential market manipulation.
Towards energy independence
Many obstacles have to be overcome on the road to Europe’s energy independence, but progress is being made. In 2022, 39% of Europe’s electricity was generated by renewables with wind and solar power producing more than gas for the first time ever.
The European Commission has responded to volatility on European gas markets with measures designed to secure consistent energy supplies at affordable prices.
These include a Market Correction Mechanism to protect EU businesses and households from excessively high gas market prices, as well as initiatives to accelerate the deployment of renewable energy sources and reduce energy use.
In September 2023 the Energy Efficiency Directive was updated to include a legally-binding target to reduce the EU’s final energy consumption by 11.7% by 2030, compared to 2022, and increase energy savings from 0.8% by an annual average of 1.49% from 2024 up to 2030.
Member States are being obliged to prioritise vulnerable customers and social housing units when introducing energy saving measures.
In 2022 more than 40 million people in the EU, around 9.3% of the population, were unable to keep their home adequately warm.
The Commission has adopted a new Recommendation on energy poverty that includes measures to address its root causes and ensure access for all to energy efficient housing and household appliances as well as renewables.
The EU Renewable Energy Directive has also been reinforced, raising the EU's binding renewable target for 2030 to a minimum of 42.5%, up from 32%, and almost doubling the existing share of renewable energy in the EU.
The Commission has also presented a new Regulation that sets mandatory deployment targets for electric recharging and hydrogen refuelling infrastructure for the road sector.
In Ireland transport emissions increased by 6% in 2022, eroding the impact of new electric vehicles and undermining reductions made in other carbon emission sectors.
The Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation (AFIR) is designed to address problems in the switch to electric vehicles and in 2023, the European Alternative Fuels Observatory (EAFO) announced that there were now more than half a million recharging points across the 27 Member States.
Member States are being granted exemptions from EU State Aid rules for actions that speed up the transition towards a net-zero economy.
Plans for reducing gas consumption and demand for electricity have also been adopted as well as new rules requiring underground gas storage to be filled to near capacity.
The Eighth report on the State of the Energy Union, published in October 2023, warns that while the worst effects of the Russian energy crisis may now be behind us, there is no room for complacency.
Ireland and Energy
Being an island nation adversely impacts Ireland’s ability to fully integrate into the EU’s internal energy market but the importance of developing intra-EU cross border interconnection capacity is highlighted in the REPowerEU Plan.
Ireland’s gas supplies are less vulnerable than those of other Member States as 75% comes from the UK, but the country is still impacted by gas price instability and has its own challenges when it comes to security of electricity supplies.
Following Brexit, the 2020 EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) established an EU-UK Specialised Committee on Energy to develop and govern energy relations between the EU and UK.
Ireland benefits from a number of EU funded projects that will improve energy connectivity. These Projects of Common Interest (PCIs) are key infrastructure developments that link EU energy systems together. PCI projects in Ireland are:
- A 575km Celtic Interconnector between France (La Martyre) and Ireland (Knockraha, Co Cork) which will deliver greater energy security and lower energy prices.
- a proposed 360MW hydroelectric power station in Silvermines, Co Tipperary, that will transform a disused mining site into one of Ireland’s leading green energy facilities;
- a 190km underground electricity interconnector between the Great Island substation in Wexford and Pembroke substation in Wales.
The Celtic Interconnector is of paramount importance as it will end Ireland’s isolation from the Union’s power system and ensure a reliable high-capacity link improving the security of electricity supply and supporting the development of renewables in both Ireland and France.
Commissioner for Energy, Kadri Simson
Ireland has State Aid approval from the European Union to operate a Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS) out to 2025. This allowed Ireland to hold its first auction for offshore wind contracts, which in May 2023 were awarded to four offshore projects that are expected to generate enough clean energy at fixed prices to power over 2.5 million Irish homes.
European Investment Bank (EIB) funding is also helping Ireland source renewable energy.
- The EIB and Bank of Ireland are co-financing a €100 million Bord na Móna wind farm project at Cloncreen, Co Offaly, that will be able to supply up to 55,000 homes with renewable energy.
- EIB finance of €65 million has been provided to help finance an onshore wind farm in Co Mayo
- a €1.5 million EIB energy grant helped renovate Tipperary homes with renewable energy systems.
Ireland is one of nine EU members of the North Seas Energy Cooperation (NSEC) – a European Commission supported framework aimed at advancing development of offshore renewable energy in the North Seas, including the Irish and Celtic Seas.
NSEC Energy Ministers and the European Commission have agreed significant offshore wind energy targets that will represent more than 85% of EU-wide ambitions of reaching 300GW by 2050.
Ireland’s Climate Action Plan sets out a roadmap on how the country will meet agreed EU emissions targets by 2030 and reach net zero no later than 2050.
Ireland’s energy facts
The Irish government’s progress report on Ireland’s Climate Action Plan and the REPowerEU - One Year On report, both published in 2023, highlight actions taken to reduce the use of fossil fuel energy in Ireland. These include:
- Ireland has put more renewables on the grid with the country generating over 5GW of onshore renewables;
- Ireland’s redesigned energy efficiency obligation is expected to deliver an annual 5.203 GWH of energy savings;
- bans on oil and gas boilers in new buildings have been announced;
- Ireland’s first offshore renewable energy auction was held, and a consultation on the design of a third onshore auction was launched;
- retrofitting was undertaken in over 27,000 homes under the national SEAI Retrofit Scheme;
- natural gas production decreased by 43% since 2018;
- Ireland’s first all-electric bus service was launched in Athlone.
- News article
The European Commission has presented a European Wind Power Action Plan to ensure that the clean energy transition goes hand-in-hand with industrial competitiveness and that wind power continues to be a European success story.
- News article
European Green Deal: Energy Efficiency Directive, FuelEU Maritime Regulation and Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Regulation adopted
The European Commission has welcomed the final approval of the revised Energy Efficiency Directive, FuelEU Maritime Regulation and Alternative Fuel Infrastructure Regulation (AFIR), as part of the ‘Fit for 55' package of legislation to reduce EU greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030.
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The Commission welcomes the political agreement reached between the European Parliament and the Council to boost the number of publicly accessible electric recharging and hydrogen refuelling stations in particular across the European Union’s main transport corridors and hubs.
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Six schools perform with distinction during EU Model Council Debate on the EU’s Renewable Energy Transition
Scoil Muire agus Pádraig from Mayo has won first place at the 2023 Model Council of the European Union debating competition. Second place went to Christ King Secondary School from Cork, and third place to Deansrath Community College from Dublin.
- News article
The European Commission has proposed the Net-Zero Industry Act to scale up manufacturing of clean technologies in the EU and make sure the EU is well-equipped for the clean-energy transition.