Jim Gannon, Chief Executive, Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland reflects on the current state of renewables in Ireland.

The renewable energy industry is at a significant juncture, both in Ireland and internationally. Across the globe, we have seen major structural changes within the oil and gas markets with fossil fuel prices lower than they have been for many years. Furthermore, there is an expectation that they may not reach the highs of the past for some time to come. In parallel, we have seen a significant reduction in cost across a range of renewable energy technologies, most notably in solar PV and offshore wind.

Domestically, we are undergoing an overhaul of our incentives for a range of renewable energy resources. Through the development of options for a potential Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), the government is examining the range of technology types that may be able to contribute to our renewable heat ambitions, while having due regard for both environmental and economic sustainability. Given recent experience in other jurisdictions, it is essential that while an RHI should provide the required incentive effect, this should not be at the cost of appropriate governance or assurance around value for money for the exchequer. As the proposed deliverer of this, we are endeavouring to ensure that this is the case.

In September, the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment launched the final stage of the consultation process for the development and design of the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme. As is currently envisaged, this will bring Ireland closer to the international norm of an auction process, with a view to providing increased competitiveness and overall value for money. The consultation is open, and provides significant access to the analysis that have informed the Government’s thought processes. Furthermore, there is a new and very material focus on how renewable energy projects will interact with our communities in the future.

However, over the coming years, we will also need to address the rapidly decreasing costs of a range of other technologies. In particular, those that will see distributed renewable energy, and particularly electricity, have a far greater impact on our energy market and the essential networks and systems that support it. Electric vehicles, small scale generation and storage, smart meters, electrification of heating and blockchain technology also present huge opportunities and challenges for Ireland. Knowing how these technologies will work together and where value will be created and destroyed into the future is becoming ever more important.

Above all, it is critical that the broader industry communicates to society the real value of the transition underway. Whether for large-scale infrastructure or distributed technology, our receiving communities and consumers need to have faith that new technologies will work, will provide them with fair value, and will succeed in addressing our energy and climate challenges.

The level of understanding required is only achievable if the approach taken by industry is collaborative and open. Conflicting and antagonistic voices lead to confusion and an overall lack of credibility in the eyes of society.

At SEAI, across our capital grant, research and behavioural programmes, we are committed to bringing a new level of understanding and advocacy to the dialogue, for large-scale infrastructure and for consumer tech. Irish society as a whole must be more involved in and, consequently, bought into the next phase of decarbonising our energy system. Although challenging, international precedent suggests that it is certainly achievable, and SEAI will continue to work with policy-makers, industry and communities to ensure that it is delivered.