Here are the questions you asked our panel of people who work in the energy sector in Ireland.
Elva Bannon (Wavebob): The whole energy sector is growing rapidly, from new technologies, energy management and raising awareness about the issues related to energy needs. I believe there will be plenty of opportunities there in the future, and in a very diverse range of careers.
Universities seem to be following the growing need for energy-related courses and are offering both degrees and master programmes in the area.
Jasita Lalloo (CPL): Wind energy (onshore and offshore) is an area that is currently developing, with organisations that are established in the renewable area in the UK, Europe and the US considering Ireland as an area of growth for them
There are also organisations developing wind in the area of low-velocity wind concepts that emphasize generating electricity in urban environments.
Marine energy (wave energy) is also an area of growth in Ireland, with companies like OpenHydro and Wavebob leading the way globally with these new types of technologies.
Jobs in these organisations could range from mechanical design or product development to project work.
Sheila O’Connor (ESB): Ireland is committed to achieving significant targets by 2020, which are:
- 20% emissions reductions
- 40% of energy from renewable
- 20% improvement in energy efficiency
For its part, ESB targets to have by 2020 reduced its carbon emissions by 50%, established a renewables portfolio of 33% and improved energy efficiency by 33%.
A government target of 40% of the electricity generated coming from renewable sources means that the amount of renewable energy generation capacity installed on the system would have to be higher than 40%, as the various renewable sources are intermittent – for example, the wind won’t blow for all turbines at all times.
Ireland is well on its way to reaching the 2020 target, with 1663 MW of wind and 511 MW of hydro installed in Sept 2012, which is approximately 25% of the total installed capacity in the Republic of Ireland. Significant additional capacity is contracted to connect to the electricity system.
Brid Sheehan (Bord Gáis Networks): Hi Kieran, as part of that plan, 40% of all electricity consumption will be generated by renewable energy – 10% of transport will be generated by renewable energy and 12% of heat will be generated by renewable energy.
It’s interesting to see these changes occurring in our landscape all the time. New wind farms are popping up and many houses have solar panels to heat their water. We’ll see even more evidence of this increase in renewable energy in the next few years.
Sheila O’Connor: Ireland’s main renewable resource is currently wind. As a country, we are very suited to wind generation, and as a result have relatively high levels connected or contracted to connect.
However, ESB is involved in researching other options, such as wave technologies, biomass co-firing in generation plants, and the possibility for future carbon capture and storage projects etc.
While wind is an attractive resource in Ireland, it is intermittent. Wave power is more consistent, but it is a harsh environment for equipment to operate in. Nuclear is currently not government policy in Ireland.
Hydro is also a key part of the renewable portfolio for Ireland, with 511 MW of hydro currently on the system in the Republic of Ireland.
Interconnections are key to minimising the intermittent nature of wind, by moving the wind generated power around more e.g. if the wind is not blowing in Ireland, it may be in the UK, and could be transmitted through interconnectors to Ireland.
On a wider scale, Northern Europe has a high dominance in wind generation while Southern Europe has extensive levels of solar power, and interconnection between these two areas will ultimately offer a more consistent level of supply.
We operate the transmission grid to which energy generators – both renewable and conventional – connect. As a result of the move towards renewable energy generation in recent years, we now manage some of the highest levels of wind penetration in the world.
This provides us with a unique opportunity in developing Smart Grids technology, which will ensure the transmission network can accommodate the different sources of renewable energy.
Sheila O’Connor: My personal opinion is that wave power, if it can be sourced and transmitted, will provide a more secure, continuous source of renewable electricity. However, ocean energy technology is currently in its infancy.
In Europe there are a number of small projects varying from conceptual designs to full-scale prototypes of ocean energy plant. The key issue is the harshness of the environment.
ESB is currently collaborating with industry and research institutions in an attempt to identify technologies with commercial potential which might progress the company ambition of having 150 MW of ocean energy by 2020.
An additional area for development is e-cars. Both the government and ESB have targets in relation to the rollout of e-cars and the related charging infrastructure. Although it is somewhat aspirational at the minute, in the future there is the possibility that the e-cars/charging infrastructure could become a means of providing storage for excess wind power when it is not being used elsewhere.
Another technology which is being investigated is the possibility for future carbon capture and storage projects. Interconnection is key to being able to rely on renewable generation, with back-up ideally provided from alternative renewable generation rather than maintaining a reliance on traditional thermal plants.
Brid Sheehan: Energy storage is something which I think needs development. In most cases, the investment required or running costs and efficiency of energy storage is prohibitive.
For wind/wave/solar energy to be increased enough to supply more or most of our energy requirements, storing energy when for example wind is producing more electricity than is required by the system, and then releasing this energy when the system requires additional electricity, will facilitate a larger amount of renewable energy on our system.
In Ireland, we have pumped storage currently in Turlough Hill in Wicklow. It consists of two lakes or reservoirs, one of which is higher than the other. Here, excess (or cheap) electricity during periods of low demand is used to pump water from the lower reservoir to the higher reservoir. When the electricity system needs more electricity, the water is released from the higher reservoir and falls (by gravity) to the lower reservoir, passing through turbines along the way, which generate electricity and supply it back to the grid.
Elva Bannon (Wavebob): This is a very interesting topic. We have built our world and our lifestyles on the availability of cheap energy but that energy is no longer cheap and we have started to realise the environmental costs of fossil fuels.
Renewable energy can only replace part of this energy need, but the greater issue is to reduce it. With changes to our lifestyles, it is possible to significantly reduce our energy need, and consider more reusing rather than recycling. Have a read about “negawatts” – this along with clean energy is the way of the future.
Brid Sheehan: Hi Tim, that’s a really good question. I’m not sure that one day there will be a renewable source of energy that is cheap, but I do think that the cost of fossil fuels will increase eventually so that in comparison the renewable energy will be cheaper.
I personally think that energy efficiency is one of the best ways of reducing the amount of fossil fuels used.
We can each make an effort to reduce the amount of energy we use every day – for example by using products with less packaging (since there is significant amount of energy used in producing packaging), car pooling or using public transport, turning off lights when we leave the room, insulating our homes etc.
This theory can be carried through to industries, reducing the cost of heating and industrial processes for businesses throughout the country and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.