Author: Dr Brian Motherway, chief executive, Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland
A report published earlier this year that suggests converting the Moneypoint generation station from coal to biomass would solve Ireland’s renewable energy issues is misinformed and risks creating false hopes.
The report, prepared by UK consultants BW Energy for the Rethink Pylons campaign group, argues that this one action would enable Ireland to meet its 2020 renewable energy targets at a single stroke. It also claims it would allow us to abandon our plans for investment in wind energy and transmission infrastructure. Unfortunately, the reality is not that simple.
That is not to say that biomass does not offer significant benefits for Ireland. It can and is already making a difference. Biomass is organic material used as energy – generating heat or electricity, or indeed fuel to power vehicles. Ireland’s richest biomass resource is wood, sourced from the cultivation of high-yielding trees like willow and poplar, or from the thinnings and residues of forestry land, and also from other wood products such as boards and construction materials.
We have a rich biomass resource in Ireland and, used right, it can bring great benefits to local communities across the country. We at the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland want to see the sector grow rapidly, and we believe it can. SEAI’s research shows that it has the potential to become a €200 million supply chain of local fuel within the next few years. This creates jobs – in growing, harvesting, transporting and using.
Take Tralee, a town like many others across in Ireland where people are spending money to keep their homes warm and their businesses operating. All of that money leaves the region to pay for imported fossil fuels, making other countries rich. Like all parts of Ireland, there is a strong desire in Tralee to create local jobs and bolster local incomes. So, the people of the town, led by Kerry County Council, are doing something about it.
They started by insulating homes to reduce heat loss and make them easier to keep warm. They then built a biomass-fuelled district heating scheme, delivering heat and hot water directly to homes, offices and a local school. Now, homes are warmer, cheaper to run and have lower carbon emissions. And with the fuel sourced locally, all the money stays within a few miles of the town, supporting the area’s forestry sector. They even use the ash from the boiler as a fertiliser in the school garden. Now that’s sustainability.
There are many other communities using local ingenuity and resources to control their own destiny – like the Aran Islands with their target of energy independence by 2022, or Dundalk’s international recognition for its wide-ranging energy innovation activities.