Understanding Renewable Energy - FAQ's

What is renewable energy?

Renewable energy comes from energy resources that are continuously replenished through the cycles of nature. Unlike fossil fuels, their supply will never become exhausted. The main sources of renewable energy are:

  • the sun (solar energy)
  • the wind
  • moving water (hydropower, wave and tidal energy)
  • heat below the surface of the earth (geothermal energy)
  • biomass (wood, waste, energy crops)

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What are the benefits of renewable energy?

  • Renewable energy resources are clean sources of energy. They can be harnessed without damaging the environment, unlike using fossil fuels which release carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) and other harmful pollutants into the atmosphere.

    Increasing the use of renewable energy is therefore a key strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and meeting Ireland's Kyoto commitments.
  • Renewable energy resources will never become exhausted. Unlike finite fossil fuels, renewable energy resources are continuously replenished and will not run out.
  • Renewable energy resources are indigenous resources. Ireland is heavily reliant on imported fossil fuels. We now import approx 89% of the fuels we need for energy. By tapping into the renewable energy resources with which Ireland is richly endowed, we could reduce this reliance on imports. By increasing our use of renewable resources, we can achieve a more secure and stable energy supply for the long term.

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How does renewable energy contribute to sustainability?

Renewable energy is a supply-side solution for a sustainable energy economy.

Renewable energy measures promote sustainability by increasing the supply of energy from sustainable sources.

Energy efficiency measures promote sustainability by reducing demand for and consumption of energy.

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Can solar panels and other renewable energy technologies provide heat for my home or building?

Yes. Ireland receives enough annual solar energy to allow a correctly sized solar thermal collector system to provide an annual average of 60% of a building's hot water requirements (the figure will be higher in summer and lower in winter).

Clean renewable heat energy for buildings of all sizes can also be obtained using passive solar design, heat pumps and wood fuel.

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How much electricity can wind turbines and other renewable energy facility produce?

In Irish conditions a 1 MW wind turbine or hydro plant could provide between 2.5 and 3 million units of electricity - enough for around 650 homes. A 1 MW wood or waste biomass plant could provide over 6 million units of electricity - enough for around 1,300 homes. The average Irish home uses about 5,000 kWh of electricity per year.

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How can I sell electricity generated from renewables?

There are a number of routes for selling electricity generated from renewables:

  • Projects successful in AER competition are awarded an ESB power purchase agreements. Government supported Alternative Energy Requirement (AER) competitions have run since 1994. Following a call for tenders, competitors are assessed on the bid price per unit of electricity. Successful competitors are offered an ESB power purchase agreement of up to fifteen years.
  • Projects supported under EU RTD programme are awarded power purchase agreements with ESB. Projects successful under the EU Fifth Framework programme (Energie) are guaranteed access to the electricity network. The price offered in the power purchase agreement will be the average of the prices bid in the relevant category of the preceding AER competition. This continues the support offered to successful Thermie projects under the previous framework programme.

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What price will I get for electricity generated from renewables?

AER contract prices
(Please note our current pence (p) converts to cent (c) in Euros)

Unit prices awarded under AER have fallen since the first competition in 1994 - testimony to the competitive nature of the process.

  • In AER 1 (1994) successful projects were awarded contracts at 5c/KWh (4p/kWh).
  • In AER 3 (1998) price ranges of successful projects were as follows (Euro per kWh): biomass/waste: 3.17 c (2.5p) -5c (3.94p), hydro: 4.41c (3.48p) - 4.95c (3.9p), large wind: 2.80c (2.21p) - 3.54c (2.79p), small wind: 3.49c(2.75p) - 4.06c (3.2p) (weighted average: 2.748).
Direct to customer prices

Following the opening of the electricity market for renewable energy in February 2000, renewable energy companies are entitled to sell electricity to any customer at mutually agreed prices. Average ex-tax revenues per kWh are 5.30c (4.18p) from all high voltage consumers (all industrial sectors) and 12.69c (7.7p) from all low voltage consumers (households).

ESB default price

Prices paid to renewable suppliers who do not have AER or Thermie power purchase agreements are based on ESB's 'avoidable fuel price', currently around 2.15c (1.7p) - 2.41c (1.9p) per kWh. This option is therefore only suitable to provide a bonus income for projects where the main objective is self-supply.

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