Renewable energy development holds a central role in Ireland’s strategy to address climate change. It serves as a critical pillar in achieving goals related to security, cost competitiveness, and sustainability.

Renewable Energy Targets: The European Union’s Renewable Energy Directive (RED) significantly shaped the growth of renewable energy in the EU and Ireland up to 2020. As of 2021, RED was succeeded by the second Renewable Energy Directive (REDII), continuing to drive the expansion of renewable energy until 2030. RED established mandatory targets for Ireland, with the initial overall renewable energy share (RES) target set at 16% of gross final energy consumption (GFC) by 2020. Ireland achieved 13.5% in 2020 and made up the difference through statistical transfers from other EU Member States. REDII introduced a binding EU-wide RES target of 32% in 2030, and Ireland’s target is 34.1% as outlined in the National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP) for 2021-2030.

The second RED target focused on the renewable energy share in the transport sector (RES-T). The 2020 RES-T target, met by Ireland, was 10%. REDII now sets a new RES-T target of 14% by 2030.

Ireland also had national renewable energy targets for the electricity and heat sectors in 2020 to support the overall RES goal.

Renewable Energy Modes: Renewable energy in Ireland is categorized into three modes: Electricity, Transport, and Heat. REDII introduced a minimum target for the share of renewable energy sources in transport (REST) of 10% in 2020, which Ireland exceeded at 10.2%. The new target for 2030 mandates a minimum of 14% renewable energy in transport’s final energy consumption.

Weighting Factors: REDII, like its predecessor RED, employs weighting factors or multipliers for certain fuels or energy sources to calculate RES-T. These multipliers incentivize the use of advanced biofuels and biofuels from waste materials over crop-based fuels, favoring options with lower greenhouse gas intensities. REDII made adjustments to these multipliers.

Ireland does not have a mandatory national target for RES-E (renewable electricity) for 2030, but it plays a crucial role in achieving the overall renewable energy target. The NECP 2021-2030 aims for 70% RES-E in 2030, while the Climate Action Plan 2021 (CAP 21) strives to increase the share of electricity generated from renewables up to 80%, where feasible and cost-effective, without compromising energy security.

Ireland set an ambitious RES-E target of 40% for 2020, nearly reaching it with 39.1% RES-E. Despite this, electricity generation has been the most successful mode in renewable energy development, becoming the second-largest source of electricity after natural gas.

In 2021, RES-E decreased to 36.4%. Some of this decrease can be attributed to the absence of verification for approximately 568 GWh of electricity generated by biomass fuel, which must be sustainable under REDII to count towards RES-E and overall RES. Additionally, a growth in electricity consumption offset the increased production of renewable electricity.

Wind Generation: In recent years, wind energy has become a dominant contributor to renewable electricity production in Ireland, overtaking hydro. Wind energy, characterized as “non-synchronous” generation, presents challenges to grid stability. The Irish grid operator, EirGrid, has emerged as a global leader in managing non-synchronous generation, reflecting Ireland’s commitment to renewable energy from wind sources.

Although REDII does not establish a mandatory target for Renewable Energy Sources in Heating (RES-H), Ireland’s National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP) for 2021-2030 outlines a target of 24% RES-H by 2030, contributing to the overall mandatory target of 34.1% renewable energy. REDII requires all Member States, including Ireland, to work toward increasing the share of renewable energy in heating and cooling by an indicative 1.1 percentage points annually during the periods 2021-2025 and 2026-2030.

In 2020, RES-H accounted for 6.3% of overall heat usage, but this figure decreased to 5.2% in 2021. The decrease is attributed to the transition from RED to REDII and the introduction of new sustainability and verification criteria for biomass fuels.

In 2021, about 79 ktoe (kilotonnes of oil equivalent) of heat was generated from biomass fuel (including solid biomass and biogas), which must meet REDII’s sustainability criteria to be counted toward RES-H and the overall renewable energy target. The lack of verification for this biomass fuel resulted in a 1.6 percentage point decrease in RES-H for 2021.

Solid biomass is the predominant source of renewable heat in Ireland, primarily driven by the increased use of wood waste in wood processing. The residential sector has seen a significant rise in the adoption of air source heat pumps, leading to increased use of renewable ambient energy.

Renewable energy plays a vital role in reducing carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions. Substituting fossil fuels with zero-carbon renewable energy sources is essential for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, such as CO₂. It also enhances energy security by decreasing reliance on imported fossil fuels.

Between 2005 and 2020, the amount of CO₂ emissions avoided through the use of renewable energy increased five-fold, reaching 6.6 million tonnes of CO₂ (MtCO2) avoided in 2020. This is equivalent to the CO₂ emissions of over half of all Irish homes. In 2021, an estimated 6.2 Mt CO₂ was avoided through the use of renewable energy, with wind energy contributing 4.0 Mt CO₂ in emissions reduction.

The success of renewable electricity is evident in the decarbonization of the electricity system and the increasing electrification of heat and transport, including electric vehicles and heat pumps. This transition to renewable electricity results in significant reductions in CO₂ emissions compared to fossil fuel alternatives, forming a crucial part of the strategy to decarbonize the energy system.

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