A Historic Period of Change for Energy Production and Usage: An Engineering Opportunity

Ireland is on the cusp of immense change. Recent discussions pondering how we might contribute to the global challenge of meeting the COP21 targets are now resulting in actions and plans which will impact us for generations to come. Political upheaval in our nearest neighbour has created a feeling of uncertainty and capital investment decisions have responded in kind.

This is a time for the country to decide how we will generate and consume energy for years to come, and it is a fantastic opportunity to ensure we make the correct decisions now that will result in a cleaner, more environmentally friendly society in the future.

Engineering professionals will continue to be thought-leaders in this new era and will lend their talents, experiences and voices to a society-wide decision-making process that needs to take in the opinions of all stakeholders.

Outlined below are just some of the policies and societal changes that we will operate within, and from which we can as Engineers provide a significant and positive contribution.

The National Mitigation Plan

On the 19th July 2017, Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Denis Naughten T.D., published Ireland’s first statutory National Mitigation Plan (NMP) in accordance with the provisions of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act, 2015.

This Act was enacted “to provide for the approval of plans by the Government in relation to climate change for the purpose of pursuing the transition to a low carbon, climate resilient and environmentally sustainable economy” by the end of the year 2050.

Contained within the NMP are a series of mitigation measures which seek to address the immediate 2020 target challenges and prepare for the EU targets that Ireland will take on for 2030, ultimately laying the foundations for 2050’s deeply decarbonised society which has the following as its long-term vision:

  • an aggregate reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions of at least 80% (compared to 1990 levels) by 2050 across the electricity generation, built environment and transport sectors; and
  • in parallel, an approach to carbon neutrality in the agriculture and land-use sector, including forestry, which does not compromise capacity for sustainable food production

A total of 106 actions are included in the final Plan to be implemented across Government in order to advance the national transition agenda in addition to the following key items.

  • Robust implementation and oversight arrangements through a High-Level Steering Group, annual progress reports and the Annual Transition Statement to the Oireachtas;
  • A commitment to carbon pricing as a long-term core plan of Ireland’s climate mitigation policy mix;
  • Financial supports, through SEAI, for housing energy efficiency improvements, social housing energy efficiency upgrades, and Near Zero Energy building (NZEB) standards;
  • A commitment to address ‘just transition’ concerns by undertaking a detailed study on the economic and employment implications of the transition;
  • Recognition of the relationship between spatial planning and climate change;
  • A commitment that all new cars and vans sold in Ireland from 2030 will be zero emission (or zero emission capable);
  • Further work, led by the Department of Agriculture, to elaborate on the concept of ‘carbon neutrality’ in the agriculture sector for 2050;
  • Work to further investigate the potential role of wetlands to contribute to Ireland’s mitigation objectives, including our EU targets for the next decade ahead;

Brexit

The UK’s decision to leave the European Union has created a significant amount of uncertainty in local markets. Anecdotal evidence abounds of UK companies cancelling purchasing orders due to a freeze on their respective capital expenditure budgets.

Whilst details of how Brexit will impact us from an economic, legislative and personal viewpoint are still conspicuous by the absence, it is widely reported that any products entering and leaving the UK post-Brexit will be accompanied by an associated import and export tax, not currently levied. Exactly how this will affect Ireland’s over-reliance on imported UK natural gas, and the 500MW East West Interconnector (EWIC) remains to be seen.

Interestingly, a recent House of Lords Committee publication in relation to Energy market post-Brexit noted “strong support across the energy industry for the UK to continue to participate in the Internal Energy Market (IEM)” and “existing UK-EU interconnectors benefit all parties, by improving energy security, reducing cost, and facilitating decarbonisation”.

National Development Plan and National Planning Framework

The National Development Plan, due to be launched mid-February, will outline €115 billion worth of capital expenditure plans for the country’s infrastructure, to be spent over the coming ten years. In addition, the National Planning Framework will soon be launched and will inform all planning, infrastructure and spatial strategies over the next twenty-five years.

When implemented, each of these policy objectives will have a significant impact on how travel and interact as a society, and this will have obvious implications for our energy consumption and carbon emissions targets.

The Bus Connects (Transforming City Bus Services) program, driven by the National Transport Authority, is a perfect illustration of the changes and opportunities to come. Using current data and future forecasts, they have estimated the cost of time lost to congestion in the Dublin region alone will exceed €2 billion per annum by the year 2033.

To prevent this, plans are presently being developed to improve the road and bus infrastructure in the region that will ultimately result in a faster journey times, an extended, more user-friendly network and cleaner, environmentally friendly vehicles.

Conclusion

There are a number of changes happening in the coming months and years that will have a lasting effect for generations. There is an opportunity for us all as citizens of this planet to adapt to these changes and adopt new behaviours and technologies that will ultimately benefit us all.

From an engineering standpoint, we can help drive this change and shape our futures. By working together, increased collaboration and cross-pollination of ideas will speed up the learning curves and lead to greater innovations – as the proverb goes: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”.

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