Current Irish polices won’t deliver the holy grail of carbon neutrality by 2050 is the conclusion of an EPA evaluation, 'Land Use Review Fluxes, Scenarios and Capacity', led by Dr James Moran of the Atlantic Technological University (Galway). The net zero transition faces land constraints, as green infrastructure competes with other critical land uses like agriculture and biodiversity. 

Co-location of renewable projects on existing agricultural lands can accelerate the transition while minimising land use changes. A national framework is needed to coordinate technologies supporting net zero emissions, including renewables, electric vehicle infrastructure, carbon capture and other emerging technologies.

The EPA evaluation report evaluates current and projected land use and greenhouse gas emissions in Ireland, examining climate impacts on the land system, compatible land use changes for net zero goals, biodiversity and water quality effects, and policy interactions. The report raises concerns over inconsistencies in existing land use and land use policies with regards to climate change-related binding targets.

Market drivers

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has brought serious attention towards Europe’s energy security dilemma, which can only be achieved through renewable energy  generation. But almost all renewable energy technologies and supporting infrastructures, such as grid connection or battery systems, are land intensive.

The land is a crucial and competitive resource on our journey to deliver net zero emissions. Given the multitude of conflicting land use priorities – from promoting renewable generation, green infrastructure, energy distribution, and storage to accommodating industry, ensuring affordable housing, addressing food security, and protecting biodiversity – how can we establish which should be prioritised?

Exporting renewable energy from Ireland may answer Europe’s renewable energy land squeeze, but Ireland must first address its land use and local opposition issues. One way to do that is through shared use of land (co-location).  

Even in normal conditions, prioritising between energy, agriculture or forests is not an easy balancing act. The required transition is to take place during the changing climate context.

Further complicating the situation are the ongoing climate impacts, with increased winter rainfall and less rain in summer resulting in alternating episodes of flooding and drought. July 2023 was likely Earth’s warmest month on record and Ireland hit its second highest temperature in 2022.

Apart from the urgent climate crisis, there is also a pressing biodiversity crisis. Solar farms contribute to biodiversity conservation – often more efficiently than conventional farmland. Unfortunately, this advantage is occasionally not fully recognised.

Nevertheless, as local authorities strive to achieve their own net zero objectives, they are progressively urging developers to enhance on-site ecology, making this a requirement for obtaining planning consent.

The competition for land usage revolves around the desirable green fields that have the potential for both renewable energy and agricultural purposes, creating a clash of interests that directly hold back project expansion due to escalating land costs.

Access to land use is a big issue

Access to land use is a big issue, given that tillage farmers find it difficult to contend in the land market due to dairy farmers’ efforts to expand their land holdings to comply with new nitrate regulations; moreover, solar farms are also contesting for land in some areas of the country; any forthcoming alterations in land usage must be carried out by the custodians of the land, Irish farmers.

Another significant contender for land usage is the necessity for land dedicated to power storage and electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure. The fluctuations in the market and the intermittent nature of renewable energy necessitate a substantial amount of land to meet the projected additions of renewable energy.

Ireland’s first national electric vehicle charging infrastructure strategy, published earlier this year, aims for an ambitious pathway and practical steps for delivery of a national EV charging network which will see a pool of high-powered chargers every 60km on our motorway network as well as home/apartment charging, residential neighbourhood charging (including new mobility hubs), destination charging and en-route charging.

There will be a different kind of land requirement to develop such a network. Also, enabling the adoption of newer technologies to support net zero, like green hydrogen and carbon capture and storage, would also call for specific land requirements in the near future. While the intensity in terms of the area might not be high, it becomes crucial for specific locations.

Holistic framework has to be created

Ireland in the 2030s will be able to generate far more electricity than it needs as the country builds its ability to capture wind energy in the Atlantic; it may need less than 10GW when it could be generating 50 or 75GW.

Therefore, the challenge quickly becomes how to export all that spare renewable power to where it is needed (without limits or losses) many hundreds or even thousands of kilometres away; thus a holistic framework has to be created to deliver net zero – with clarity in land use priorities – backed by more robust planning policies and with stakeholder synchronisation.

A system that welcomes all new technologies and works on a rapid pace so as to achieve the 2030 milestone, net zero and the country's climate goals by the middle of the century.

Creating a systematic framework that centralises all the technologies and innovations capable of aiding net zero becomes crucial. In the absence of such a framework, the competition for land use shall be driven by commercial purposes alone, which shall endanger nascent and yet-to-be-developed technologies and innovative solutions.

Valuation impact

Net zero emerges as a long-term voyage, a value catalyst, compelling stakeholders to unite with like-minded partners embracing net zero goals, sustainability, and encompassing environmental, social, and governance (ESG) principles.

Consequently, achieving net zero becomes an inherent part of conducting business, where its successful implementation can lead to the appreciation of the business, while missteps could have adverse consequences. Despite the initial investment, the eventual direct and indirect advantages over the extended term are poised to yield substantial value.

The demand for energy-efficient and sustainable buildings from occupants (residential and public sector buildings) has led to a need for structures to offer renewable energy generation, EV charging infrastructure, and biodiversity support.

This has consequently spurred green building growth, encompassing retrofitted and newly constructed properties. A positive change is happening but not on the scale required as the land continues to be valued 'business as usual'. Ecosystems, nature, and renewable energy potential are difficult to financially quantify for land value.

Why now?

By now, the necessity for achieving net zero and the significance of optimising land use are widely acknowledged and embraced. However, prompt actions must be initiated. Because land use decisions have far-reaching implications that can span decades.

By establishing a system for net zero land use strategies now, we ensure that we are making sustainable choices that can withstand the test of time and contribute to a low-carbon future.

Land use, including deforestation, urban development, and agriculture, contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. Delaying action would only exacerbate the environmental impact and make emissions reduction more challenging.

Also, planning for net zero land use requires investment in infrastructure, transportation, and urban development that supports sustainable practices. Initiating this process early allows for well-thought-out investment decisions that are aligned with emission reduction targets and sustainable development.

Climate change impacts are already being felt and will affect land use patterns. Planning for net zero now allows us to build resilience and adapt to the changing climate by creating more sustainable and adaptable land use strategies.

Common ground

The energy transition can be daunting for energy communities who rely heavily on oil and gas. Aside from clarity, stability, coordination, and urgent action, the transition must be smooth and protective of impacted workers and communities. Without considering the human impact, the transition could fail to achieve its founding goal – to benefit people.

A recent report titled 'Common Grounds for a Clean Energy Future' outlines pragmatic solutions for accelerating the transition to renewable energy in the United States.

The report proposes co-locating wind and solar projects on lands already leased for oil and gas production as a way to speed up renewables deployment while easing the economic impact on fossil fuel communities.

Some key recommendations from the report include:

  • Encouraging 'energy land-sharing' by identifying priority zones for renewables development on existing oil and gas leases and simplifying permitting for these sites. This allows renewable projects to tap into infrastructure built for fossil fuel production.
  • Requiring emission reduction measures like on-site solar generation to reduce the carbon footprint of ongoing oil and gas operations during the transition period.
  • Sharing revenues from renewable energy projects on public lands with local communities to offset potential declines in fossil fuel royalties. This builds local support.
  • Exploring opportunities to reclaim depleted wells for renewable energy projects, facilitating an in-place energy transition.

The report argues that co-location strategies can accelerate the clean energy transition while minimising land use conflicts and delivering benefits for incumbent energy companies and fossil fuel communities.

This pragmatic approach can unite disparate interests around our shared goal of a clean energy future.


In the orchestration of diverse stakeholders converging to cultivate an ecosystem conducive to the creation of a net zero land use system, the task might at first appear impossible.

However, if net zero is to be treated as a system providing sound business value, the right market conditions can be created. With every stakeholder’s small contribution, there is a way forward. 

Author: Lala Rukh Memon  (LinkedIn) is a doctoral researcher at MaREI–Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Energy, Climate and Marine Research and Innovation. She is working on Energy Performance Contracting (EPCs) framework for energy transition into the built environment. She is an electrical engineer and has master's degrees in energy systems and marine plastics abatement. She works as a New Future Fellow with Planet Reimagined in the Climate + Energy Transition team.