Modern societies are dependent on reliable and secure supplies of electricity. Electricity generation accounts for a third of all primary energy use in Ireland.

Energy flow for electricity generation

Hydro,Total Fuel Inputs,1.30
Other Renewables & Wastes,Total Fuel Inputs,6.70
Wind,Total Fuel Inputs,16.30
Natural Gas,Total Fuel Inputs,53.90
Coal,Total Fuel Inputs,10.70
Peat,Total Fuel Inputs,10.30
Oil,Total Fuel Inputs,0.80
Total Fuel Inputs,Electricity Transformation losses,42.30
Total Fuel Inputs,Gross Electricity Consumption,57.70
Gross Electricity Consumption,Electricity from Natural Gas,29.90
Gross Electricity Consumption,Electricity from Wind,16.20
Gross Electricity Consumption,Electricity from Coal,4.00
Gross Electricity Consumption,Electricity from Peat,3.90
Gross Electricity Consumption,Electricity from Hydro,1.30
Gross Electricity Consumption,Electricity from Other Renewables & Wastes,2.20
Gross Electricity Consumption,Electricity from Oil,0.30
Source: SEAI

Electricity generated

On the left hand side are the fuel inputs to electricity generation. Natural gas was the largest energy input, followed by coal and wind. On the right hand side are the amounts of electricity generated by each of the fuel inputs, and the total energy lost during electricity generation. Natural gas was responsible for the largest share of electricity generated, but wind was the next largest share, ahead of coal.

There is a significant difference in the shares of electricity generated by fuel compared to the fuel inputs. This is due to the different efficiencies of generating electricity in different processes. Generating electricity in traditional thermal power plants using coal, peat or biomass has low efficiency. Electricity generated from wind and hydro is 100% efficient.

Generation efficiency

Electricity transformation losses accounted for 42% of all fuel inputs in 2018. This means that 58% of all the energy used to generate electricity ends up as electricity.

Primary inputs to electricity generation

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Primary energy input to electricity generation; ktoe,Gas,Coal,Peat,Renewables,Oil,Wastes Non-Renewable,Net positive Electricity Imports
2005,2044,1422,496,180,794,0,176
2006,2411,1217,462,233,686,0,153
2007,2737,1172,457,270,398,0,114
2008,2811,991,578,341,355,0,39
2009,2759,775,567,393,214,0,66
2010,3025,868,491,368,137,0,40
2011,2499,913,480,516,55,0,42
2012,2270,1160,557,526,56,18,36
2013,2098,970,507,561,43,23,193
2014,1973,942,550,631,60,25,185
2015,1899,1127,554,750,86,25,58
2016,2342,1101,522,748,68,25,0
2017,2423,868,488,885,34,56,0
2018,2461,489,472,1017,35,91,0
Source: SEAI

The graph shows the primary energy inputs to electricity generation by fuel type.

Importance of natural gas

Gas accounted for 54% of energy inputs to electricity generation in 2018. Natural gas has been the largest input to electricity generation since the late 1990s, but its use declined after 2010, due partly to increased use of wind generation. It increased again after 2016. This was partly due to increased electricity exports to the UK and to reduced generation from wind and hydro in 2016 and to reduced coal use in 2017 and 2018.

Coal and peat accounted for 21% of fuel inputs to electricity generation in 2018. 22% of all energy inputs to electricity generation were from renewable sources in 2018. Oil has been almost fully phased out of electricity generation since 2011.

Electricity imports and exports

Electricity can be imported or exported between Ireland and the UK over interconnectors. Ireland changed from being a net importer to a net exporter of electricity in 2016 and continued to be a net exporter in 2017 and 2018. This causes an increase in the amount of energy required for electricity generation in Ireland.

Efficiency of electricity supply

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,Efficiency of electricity supply (%)
2005,40.8
2006,42
2007,43.6
2008,44.8
2009,45.5
2010,44.5
2011,47.4
2012,45.7
2013,48.4
2014,49.1
2015,49.1
2016,47.7
2017,49.2
2018,52
Source: SEAI

Generation efficiency and supply efficiency

Electricity supply efficiency differs from electricity generation efficiency as it includes:

  • Losses from transmission and distribution of electricity on the network
  • Consumption of electricity in power plants which are considered as losses

As it includes these losses, efficiency of supply is less than efficiency of generation.

Improvements in efficiency

Conventional thermal power plants have low generation efficiencies. Before 2000, electricity was produced mostly from these generators and supply efficiency was less than 35%.

The supply efficiency began to improve after the year 2000 due to two factors. The first was the commissioning of modern gas fired turbines. They have higher generation efficiencies of 50-55%.

The second is the growth in wind powered electricity. Wind powered electricity generation does not consume fuel, and so is considered 100% efficient. Despite this improvement, in 2017 the supply efficiency was 52%. This means that 48% of all the primary energy used to generate electricity is lost before the electricity reaches the user.

Electricity generated by fuel

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Electricity generated by fuel type; ktoe,Gas,Renewables,Coal,Peat,Oil,Wastes Non-Renewable,Net Positive Electricity Imports
2005,995,161,549,211,287,0,176
2006,1186,213,506,184,244,0,153
2007,1330,240,473,187,165,0,114
2008,1438,309,442,237,147,0,39
2009,1402,353,344,226,79,0,66
2010,1558,321,306,187,52,0,40
2011,1327,466,339,183,20,0,42
2012,1216,452,432,210,20,4,36
2013,1129,484,368,196,16,6,193
2014,1087,550,340,215,22,6,185
2015,1064,676,419,217,35,6,58
2016,1318,646,404,199,25,6,0
2017,1348,764,313,186,12,14,0
2018,1377,877,185,180,12,26,0
Source: SEAI

Importance of wind generated electricity

Natural gas is the largest source of electricity generated, accounting for 52% of all electricity generated in 2018. The amount of electricity generated from renewables grew from just 7% in 2005 to 33% in 2018. 28% of all electricity generated in 2018 was from wind, second only to natural gas and twice as much as coal and peat combined. Ireland is a workld leader in integrating large amounts of wind onto our electricity system. Non-combustible renewables such as wind and hydro make up a much larger share of electricity generated than fuel inputs, as they are effectively 100% efficient.

Combined Heat and Power

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,CHP electricity as % of total electricity
2005,2.2
2006,5.5
2007,6.1
2008,6.1
2009,6.4
2010,6.8
2011,7.1
2012,7.7
2013,7.4
2014,7.4
2015,7.5
2016,7.5
2017,7.3
2018,7
Source: SEAI

Higher efficiency

In conventional thermal electricity generation, we typically lose 60% of the energy input as waste heat. Combined Heat and Power (CHP) systems make use of this valuable heatenergy to generate useful heat and electricity in a single process. CHP plant efficiency is usually 20% to 25% higher than heat-only boilers and conventional power stations combined.

CHP can also avoid some of the transmission losses incurred by centralised generation. In 2018 7.0% of Irelands electricity was generated through CHP.

CO₂ emissions intensity of electricity

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Carbon dioxide intensity of electricity generated; gCO2/kWh ,Gas,Coal,Peat,Oil,Wastes (Non-Renewable)
2005,201,230,100,104,0
2006,230,191,88,87,0
2007,251,177,83,49,0
2008,253,146,105,42,0
2009,263,121,110,27,0
2010,286,133,93,17,0
2011,243,145,94,7,0
2012,223,187,110,7,2
2013,204,155,99,5,2
2014,190,149,107,8,2
2015,178,173,104,10,2
2016,213,165,96,8,2
2017,216,127,89,4,4
2018,214,69,81,4,7
Source: SEAI

Trend in electricity CO2 intensity

Carbon dioxide intensity of electricity has reduced since the 1990s. In 1990, the CO2 intensity of the electricity grid was 896 grammes of CO2 for every kilo-Watt hour of electricity used (gCO2/kWh). In 2001 it was still over 800 gCO2/kWh but by 2005 it had fallen to 635 gCO2/kWh and by 2017 to 441 gCO2/kWh.

This is due to increased use of higher efficiency gas turbines, increased electricity generated from zero carbon renewable sources, especially wind. We are also using less high carbon intensity fuels in low efficiency processes such as coal and oil. Oil has been almost completely removed.

In 2018 The carbon intensity of electricity fell from 441 to 375 gCO2/kWh. This was mainly due to a large reduction in coal use and an increase in wind generation. Coal use for electricity generation fell by 44% due to a technical fault at ireland's only coal fired electricity generation plant, Moneypoint.

Coal and peat

Coal and peat continue to be used for power generation. In 2018 coal and peat accounted for 40% of carbon emissions from electricity generation, despite only accounting for 14% of electricity generated.The result of this is that the carbon intensity of the Irish electricity remains one of the highest in the EU, despite all our progress on using renewable energy.

Energy in Ireland

See the download below for more information on electricity in Ireland.