Skip to main content
Home » Circular Economy » How we can replace fossil fuels fast on Ireland’s decarbonisation journey

Declan Meally

Director of Business & Public Sector & Transport,
Sustainable Authority of Ireland (SEAI)

The need to decarbonise is increasingly urgent, and a joined-up approach can secure a greener future for All-Ireland. 

Declan Meally — Director of Business, Public Sector and Transport at the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) — explains that when it comes to carbon emissions, the ‘Three F’s’ are key: farm animals, fertiliser and fossil fuels. 

The first two are responsible for just 33% of carbon emitted into the atmosphere. Fossil fuels are responsible for the other two-thirds. “We are taking fuel out of the ground in a linear fashion,” says Meally. “That is simply not sustainable. It’s been said that our fossil use is releasing energy into the atmosphere in the form of heat at the equivalent of four Hiroshima bombs per second. So, we need to go after these fuels — fast.” 

We want to move to renewable energy by cutting out fossil fuels; not just reducing — but replacing.

Replacing fossil fuels to decarbonise Ireland

SEAI introduced the Irish Energy Management Standard in 2006 to help industry manage its energy with a focus on cost and competitiveness. The model is rooted in the importance of structure, and it has also helped business networks and communities to understand what they are doing and which technologies and behaviours are available to create change and be more efficient.  

The focus has somewhat changed from the early days when the focus was cost-saving. “Now, decarbonisation is the target,” Meally says. “We want to move to renewable energy, not just by reducing our use of fossil fuels but replacing them with renewable alternatives. The good news is that our processes designed in 2006 have stood the test of time and will enable business to tackle their decarbonisation challenges.” 

So far, that seems to be the case. Ireland hit its target of generating 40% of its electricity from renewables by 2020, while the public sector became 33% more efficient, and industry saved hundreds of millions of euro in reduced energy bills. Renewable heat, however, remains a big challenge.  

“We are locked into using heat in a certain way, and installing heat pumps requires investment,” Meally explains. “The technology is improving; costs are reducing; our grants are increasing — but retrofitting is challenging, and it is a learning process.” 

Cross-governmental approach can speed up decarbonisation

The new Climate Action Plan takes a cross-Governmental approach, with departments taking joint responsibility for a greener future for Ireland. “That’s been the game-changer,” Meally says. “It makes sure we are all working towards the greening of our economy rather than just talking about it.” 

“We are international leaders in renewable electricity and have a chance of leapfrogging countries in other areas. We are small, versatile and flexible — and already attract the best multinationals because of how we operate,” Meally adds.  

“Of course, there’s a long way to go to hit our targets for 2030, but we are ready to build on this momentum and prove we don’t just talk a green talk but are ready to walk a green walk.”

Next article