On February 27th the MBA Thought Leadership Club held the event “Fuelling Ireland’s Future”, which examined the future of Ireland’s Energy sector. The event, organised at UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School, offered its participants the privileged opportunity to hear from key decision makers in the energy industry about how leadership and innovation are shaping the country’s energy future.
The speakers’ impressive backgrounds and eloquence inspired high-level discussions on Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions, European targets, future projects and the country’s approach towards development and innovation. “Ireland’s fuel must be Sustainable, Secure and come from the right Sources (SSS) but also Affordable, Accessible and Available (AAA). Ireland’s future depends on multiple factors including political, economic, climate change, Brexit, technology and infrastructure,” declared the event’s master ceremony John Power, Director General of Engineers Ireland.
The panel at the event included a mix of personalities from the country’s energy industry. Starting with Jim Gannon, Chief Executive at Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI); Peter O’Shea, Head of Strategy and Regulation ESB and Michael Walsh, Managing Director European region at Smart Wires Inc.
One of the biggest issues currently facing Ireland is the high rate of carbon emissions. Peter O’Shea, in his presentation, identified the main contributors to this problem. He noted that approximately 20% of Ireland’s carbon emissions come from electricity generation, a further 20% from the heat sector, 20% from the transport sector and 32% from agriculture. It appears that decarbonising electricity and the electrification of transport and heat seems to be the way forward for Ireland if they want to achieve future emission targets.
The decarbonisation of electricity generation is being driven by various initiatives to increase renewable energy production, but despite good progress there is still a need for investment and quicker developments. Onshore wind farms are the preferred path for big scale production but they often face negative public opinion, and offshore wind developments are costly. There is also a need for a better mix of renewable sources such as solar panels, biomass and others if renewable energy production is to be increased considerably.
Currently transport decarbonisation is happening at a very slow rate. To improve this, Ireland needs to invest in infrastructure which will encourage the use of electric vehicles, while also making a more significant effort to change the mentality of the larger population towards an eco-friendly transportation industry. Finally, decarbonising heat for households is a must. This is easy to implement in new buildings, but a lot harder to implement in existing households. ESB is leading the way in trying to make these transitions successful.
Jim Gannon from SEAI emphasised that under the current trajectory it would be difficult for Ireland to reduce it’s emissions and achieve its year 2020 target. The target could be missed as Ireland may only be able to provide 13% of its energy through renewable resources. To incentivise companies to reduce carbon emissions, different initiatives are being led by the SEAI. The focus of these initiatives has changed in recent years to a more consumer focused approach . “We want the consumer to want it,” said Jim Gannon.
The discussions at the event were not only about energy production but also about its efficient distribution. Ireland uses about 20% of its grid capacity and Smart Wires’ innovations aim to improve the use of the grid’s spare capacity. “Bringing intelligent technology to the grid is where we want to be,” stated Micheal Walsh. Smart networks link information technology to electricity networks in order to control fluctuations. The increase in sources of electricity, including solar parks and wind farms along with small generators in households, require a better management of the grids.
Data centres planned by Google, Amazon and Microsoft among others will transform Ireland into the data capital of the world. However, while this increase in electricity demand will be a significant challenge it could bring financing opportunities for renewable electricity production projects.
Brexit is another obstacle which must be faced and the outcome does not look good as Ireland’s electricity interconnector is linked to the UK. Any changes to the trading regulation could put the country at risk.
Energy from fossil sources will still play an important role in the country’s energy mix but it will require the adoption of a low carbon emission approach. If all the industries work toward the same target, then Ireland will have a successful transition.
I was delighted to lead the event’s organisation and listen to the leaders who will ensure a bright future for Ireland. “Fuelling Ireland’s Future” was definitely an event worth attending.
Sauyith Cueva, Full Time MBA 2017-2018