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If we are serious about a low carbon economy, then society must transform

18/07/2017 by Jim   Gannon

The time for talking about a realistic future for sustainable energy is over. We are already on the pathway towards a low carbon economy, but the real question is will we get there in time. Ireland needs action, and fast, to reach our 2020 targets and to commence the activities that will bring us towards our 2030 targets.


Can we hit our 2020 energy efficiency target?

Without a dramatic change in course, we will likely miss our 2020 renewable energy target, probably getting to 13% versus a target of 16%. We are likely to miss our energy efficiency target by a similar amount. Come 2020, the penalty for not hitting this target could be in the order of €100m with the possibility of further penalties year- on- year after this until we reach those targets. That is the very real and very worrying short-term future. Furthermore, we will soon have sight of our 2030 targets, which are likely to be at least as challenging. Moreover, unlike the 2020 targets, the EU will measure our progress in meeting the 2030 targets at regular intervals rather than just at the end-point. Therefore, from the outset, we will need to meet high levels of performance and sustain them over the duration.

I often wonder if these targets mean anything to the vast majority of people in this country. For the government and SEAI, they are necessary drivers of policy and a barometer of the success of our interventions. I suspect for most people however, they are intangible and meaningless. Which makes it difficult to get people engaged in the journey towards a cleaner and healthier environment.


What happens if we don't hit our targets?

Despite the successes of our grant programmes, we need more people to understand the very real impacts of not meeting our targets and to take action. Yes, there are significant financial penalties that will place an even greater burden on the State's allocation of budget and resources. But the human impact of inaction is far more critical. This is about the health and well-being of our children and our children's children. It's about having a dependable, affordable and sustainable energy supply so that industry can continue to flourish. It's about creating a clean energy future for our people and our economy.

If we fail to act now, we will not be able to reverse the pollution, damage to health and risk to business that climate change will bring. And the longer we leave it, the worse it will get. If we are serious about moving to a low carbon economy, then we must focus on a genuine transformation of our businesses and society. How we live, how we work and where we get our energy from. We need to see real action by consumers, homeowners, businesses, communities and policy-makers across all Departments. Furthermore, it is no longer good enough for Irish citizens and businesses to expect policy, in and of itself, to solve our climate challenges. We are all responsible for the impact we have on our climate, and we must all rise to the challenge.

Extreme Irish weather


How is Ireland performing right now?

We have made some progress over the past few years but this is only the beginning. SEAI invested €400m between 2011 and 2016 resulting in over €1 billion in savings for the Irish economy. Over 200,000 homes were upgraded in that period and over €170m per year is being saved by over 1,200 businesses that engaged with SEAI. We know that the transition to sustainable energy makes sense. The evidence, the opportunities and the economic value are no longer in question. However, our willingness as a society to participate actively in the transition is where the battle lies.

There are several reasons for our current level of performance, not least the sustained recession from which we are still recovering. This not only affected the level of national funding available to incentivise renewables and efficiency, but also reduced the amounts of money held by businesses and citizens, who might otherwise have invested in more sustainable energy options. We need to realise though that these constraints are less material than before and our collective performance as a nation must improve now or we will pay a heavy price.

The upcoming strategic cabinet meeting is a welcome move by government. It will allow Ministers and Departments to prioritise key areas of focus for the years ahead. Ireland has a significant opportunity to improve the energy performance of our homes and businesses. While building regulations should ensure that new buildings will reach near zero energy standards, we also need to focus on existing residential, commercial and public buildings. SEAI's programmes, in partnership with the policies of the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, will focus on the technical challenges, financing barriers, supply chain, consumer awareness and delivery requirements needed to deliver the scale of impact required. It is worth highlighting that as we reduce the amount of energy we use, our renewable energy targets become easier to reach.


Sustainable Fuel and Electric Vehicles key areas for transport

In transport, Ireland has already made some inroads through the substitution of sustainable fuel into our petrol and diesel, but there is still work to do. To have any hope of creating a real transformation, people need to start using alternative forms of fuel and by moving towards gas, biofuels and hybrid or electric alternatives. Manufacturers have to give consumers real options and consumers must be willing to make the more sustainable choice. SEAI will be central to this transition. However, full value of electric vehicles can only be realised when our electricity is substantially derived from renewable sources. Our transition to EVs is just one area where the need is very clear for both consumer decision-making and long term policy to converge.

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People and communities are key to our energy future

Across electricity, heat and transport, people and communities will be central to the next stage of our energy transition. Technologies around the home, such as solar panels, battery storage, electrified heating and smart meters, will empower consumers like never before. This transition can deliver a complete sea change in how we view energy production and use it and a future where consumers can be in charge. Across all of our programmes, we are seeing an appetite grow for the knowledge and technologies that will put the consumer in the driving seat. People must be supported and encouraged in doing this. Here at SEAI we are determined to capitalise on the mood for change that we are seeing on the ground, and catalyse an even greater response.


Our strategy can work with your help

SEAI's new strategy will be the first that straddles a national energy target milestone. While we need to keep this in mind as we deliver on our mission, it is essential that we also build the platforms that will help Ireland reach and exceed our 2030 targets. But, we cannot do it alone.

We are all responsible for the energy we use and the carbon we produce and every corner of our society will need to be part of the transition. Simple choices we make in our business and our everyday lives, such as using less energy or making choices that are more informed can have an immediate and lasting impact. While we see this sort of activity increasing among our local communities, we need deeper and broader adoption across Irish business and society.

SEAI will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to support a cleaner energy future for our country. We will do this by informing our business and citizens, delivering grants and designing more effective interventions. We will also play a central role in policy development, and research and innovation in the sustainable energy arena. It is not just an option; it is now an economic and social necessity.

We are not just in the business of reaching targets, we are building the future and shaping the lives and communities of generations to come.

Minister launches SEAI strategy



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