Along the Irish road to a sustainable energy future


Professor J.
Owen Lewis,
Following the recent release of three new energy technology roadmaps that point the way to a sustainable energy future for Ireland, Professor J. Owen Lewis, Chief Executive Officer of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), shares his views on the important role that roadmaps can play in helping identify opportunities and challenges, and in accelerating efforts at the national level.

This new series of roadmaps on wind power, smart grids and electric vehicles expands the existing roadmap portfolio that includes ocean energy, bio-energy and energy efficiency. What are the drivers behind this recent focus on roadmap development?

The objective of SEAI’s engagement in roadmap development is to better understand the steps needed and the measures required to accelerate the deployment of selected technologies in Ireland within both a near term (2020) and longer term (2050) time horizon. They exploit a considerable consensus concerning the 2050 objective, in order to clarify today’s challenges and opportunities. There are a number of drivers for SEAI’s roadmap development: firstly the roadmaps inform ‘current’ public policy by outlining various options available for ‘future’ technology deployment, making them a valuable tool in envisioning and exploring future scenarios. These scenarios can map an evolution of each of the technologies and their market penetration. Secondly, the roadmaps become a significant tool to help identify gaps in RD&D and accelerate new efforts at a national level. Furthermore, the roadmaps help us to identify the specific needs of individual low-carbon technologies to harness available indigenous resources for Government decision makers, provincial and local policymakers and regulators, transmission and distribution system operators, industry actors, and the scientific and business community.

What was the rationale behind choosing the suite of technologies?

One of the main drivers in our roadmap development is to identify the major barriers, opportunities, measures and timelines for policy makers, industry and financial partners arising in the development and deployment of key technologies. The objective in selecting a suite of related RES-E technologies was linked to Ireland’s ambitious renewable energy targets to 2020. These specific roadmaps are intended to support national policy-making through identifying factors which influence technology needs and targeting areas within these previously prioritised technologies while providing opportunities to explore inter-relationships.

What progress has been made on implementing the first set of roadmaps launched in 2010?

While accepting that the implementation of our roadmaps requires a long term horizon, some significant work has commenced. Currently, SEAI is focussing on advancing the enabling environment to meet our 2020 goals. For example, in the efficiency area, we are significantly supporting upgrades within the residential, public and commercial sectors through the Government’s Better Energy Programme. We are conducting analysis and identifying the most cost effective means of upgrading our national housing stock, while also engaging with energy suppliers to harness their experience and position in improving their customers’ energy services. From a bioenergy perspective, we have been working closely with our government’s Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources in examining market supports for electricity from biomass and we have developed a bioenergy analysis model that is focussed on analysing renewable energy heating policies within the Irish market. From an ocean energy perspective, we are establishing an ocean energy test facility, called the Atlantic Marine Energy Test Site, on the west coast of Ireland. The focus is primarily on full-scale pre-commercial wave energy converters in extreme open sea conditions.

These roadmaps outline the potential for significant economic and employment opportunities. What is the role of SEAI in addressing these issues?

Our roadmaps provide a useful frame to describe the enterprise, employment and greenhouse gas abatement opportunities available within Ireland. Central to our roadmap development was engagement and consultation with the relevant enterprise agencies, industrial development authorities and associated Government Ministries. Each of our roadmaps analyse the economic and employment opportunities available within the Irish market to 2050; each helps in quantifying this potential and communicating these findings available to wider audiences.

The investments needed for roadmap implementation are considerable. How do you expect they will be financed?

In many instances the implementation and investment costs will be shared. For example, in relation to the smart grid roadmap, Irish utilities are already providing significant finance and drawing on the financial markets for the necessary large scale infrastructure investment. On the demand side, it is envisaged that consumers will bear a cost through standing charges. In the case of wind, private sector/financial institutions provide the investment in the wind technology, with government through semi-state agencies investing in the required physical and regulatory infrastructure. This infrastructure is financed through levies on consumers in the form of regulated fixed charges on their bills. The feed in tariff that provides market support to wind is funded through the public service obligation. This is also levied on consumers through a fixed charge on their bill.

For electricity networks to become ‘smart grids’, customer participation will be crucial. What advice could you provide to Irish consumers to alleviate their concerns while at the same time raise awareness of the need for a sustainable energy agenda?

The key aspect, from SEAI’s perspective, is to bring the benefits of each of the smart grid enabling technologies to the attention of the consumer. This involves SEAI showing how the technologies, such as smart meters, can empower the consumer by giving them more information about how and when they consume their energy. This, in turn, gives them control, not only over their consumption, but also their bills, and may allow their participation in growing energy markets. In providing such advice to the consumer, we are disseminating reliable and impartial information, while helping the consumers better interpret the wealth of data they receive from smart meters so that they may change behaviour accordingly.

What do you see as the greatest challenges for Ireland to achieve the 2050 goals?

There are a number of critical inputs that either have to be maintained or further developed to realise our ambitious goals. At a national level, Irish consumers will be required to radically evolve the way that they power, heat and light their homes. We need to revise our energy policy landscape to better encourage private sector engagement. We require considerable grid and other infrastructure investment, and transport modal shifts and technology developments are needed for more sustainable energy systems. A number of international framework agreements and European directives, notably in the climate and low carbon technology arenas, will require efficient transposition.
What advice would you offer to policy makers that are also considering putting in place roadmaps and establishing 2050 goals for energy technologies?

Stakeholder engagement is key. Seek to manage expectations and build consensus across multiple actors, agencies and industry federations in pursuit of objectives which are widely understood and supported. Societal engagement, and social acceptance, issues are also important.

This interview was published in the IEA (International Energy Agency) OPEN Energy Technology Bulletin Issue No. 82, February 2012, and is republished with permission.
Copyright OECD/IEA, © 2012