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Future of Energy Roundtable

Why change is necessary for Ireland to reach a greener energy future

If Ireland is to meet its 2030 net zero commitments, it needs an integrated approach, a properly resourced planning system and a sharper focus on recruitment.

Ireland is at a crossroads, say representatives from the renewables industry in a Future of Energy roundtable in Dublin. On one hand, it is taking a positive, multi-technology approach to renewables by adopting a range of innovations that include wind, solar, battery storage and hydrogen while embracing new transport and heating solutions. On the other, there seems to be no plan for how Ireland will achieve an integrated zero-carbon system — yet it has just six years to achieve its 2030 climate targets.

Our message to students needs to be: ‘We need you because the single greatest goal of our society is to decarbonise.

Kevin O’Donovan, Managing Director, Statkraft Ireland

Integrated approach to achieving climate targets

“We need an integrated plan,” insists Peter Lefroy of RWE Renewables Ireland, a key player in the Irish energy market. “This must include technology, infrastructure, people, skills and investment in regional development. Unfortunately, the Irish renewable energy journey has been too ‘stop and start’ and too reactive to date. I would hope we don’t continue with that disjointed approach as we near 2030.”

Another priority must be an overhaul of the planning system, believes Liam Faulkner of Strategic Power Connect, a company that designs and installs on-site renewable energy systems. “If we want to meet our targets, we need to look at larger renewable projects which are of strategic importance to the country and fast-track them through the system,” he says. “To that end, we need to make sure that our planning functions are properly resourced.”

Better planning and fewer regulatory hurdles to increase investment

Peter Lefroy, Director, RWE Renewables Ireland

Chris Collins of Schneider Electric, a global manufacturer specialising in digital automation and energy management, points out that a slow planning system and too many regulatory and statutory hurdles pose a real challenge for investment in these projects. “We need to be able to provide quicker planning decision timelines — not only to make investment more viable but also to achieve the renewables targets set by the Government for 2030 and 2050.”

Ireland also needs to take notice of developments in other regions, notes Faulkner. “For example, in Northern Ireland, there are approximately 750 single-site wind turbines. These are generally small, but they account for almost 15% of wind capacity in Northern Ireland. If we adopted the same approach here, farmers could install single-site turbines on their land. That would help decarbonise a difficult-to-decarbonise industry, and farmers could develop a new source of income.”

Faulkner insists that another win would be the adoption of private wire, where businesses can receive electricity directly from a generator via their own private cabling infrastructure — alleviating stress on the public grid. An increased focus on digitalisation is also vital when it comes to improving the energy efficiency of homes and businesses.

Selling the Irish renewables industry to the recruits of tomorrow

Liam Faulkner, CEO, Strategic Power Connect

Lastly, Ireland needs to make the renewables sector more attractive to potential talent, says Justin Moran of Wind Energy Ireland, the representative body for the Irish wind industry. More needs to be done to sell the industry as a huge part of Ireland’s economic future — one that offers its workers a long, fulfilling and varied career and a good quality of life.

“While being able to attract people from abroad is an option, we also need a steady stream of homegrown talent — people emerging from relevant third-level courses or apprenticeships who want to stay in Ireland and contribute to this massive challenge to decarbonise our energy system,” insists Kevin O’Donovan of Statkraft, Europe’s largest generator of renewable energy.

“There are so many roles available in the sector,” adds Moran, who notes that attention in Ireland is now turning to offshore wind farms. “Our message to students needs to be: ‘We need you because the single greatest goal of our society is to decarbonise. That’s your mission. Build wind farms; save the planet. Retrofit homes; save the planet.’ What could be a bigger opportunity?”

Future of Energy contributors

Chris Collins, Country President Ireland, Schneider Electric
Kevin O’Donovan, Managing Director, Statkraft Ireland
Peter Lefroy, Director, RWE Renewables Ireland
Justin Moran, Director of External Affairs, Wind Energy Ireland
Liam Faulkner, CEO, Strategic Power Connect

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