Developing renewable energy is central to Ireland’s climate change strategy. It contributes to security, cost competitiveness and sustainability goals.
Renewable energy targets
The first Renewable Energy Directive (RED) was the most important legislation influencing the growth of renewable energy in the European Union (EU) and Ireland for the decade ending in 2020. From 2021, RED was replaced by the second Renewable Energy Directive (REDII), which continues to promote the growth of renewable energy out to 2030. RED set out mandatory targets for renewable energy in Ireland to be met by 2020, while REDII sets new targets and criteria to be met by Ireland in 2030 and the interim.
The first target relates to overall renewable energy share (RES) and is commonly referred to as the overall RES target. For Ireland, the overall RES target was for at least 16% of gross final energy consumption (GFC) to come from renewable sources in 2020. Ireland’s actual overall RES in 2020 was 13.5%, meaning that Ireland was obligated to acquire statistical transfers of renewable energy from other Member States to compensate for this shortfall. REDII introduced a binding EU-wide target for overall RES of 32% in 2030 and requires Member States to set their national contributions to the EU-wide target. As per the National Energy and Climate Plant (NECP) 2021-2030, Ireland’s overall RES target is 34.1% in 2030
The second mandatory target set by the RED related to the renewable energy share in transport sector. This is commonly referred to as the RES-T target. The 2020 RES-T target was for at least 10% of energy consumed in road and rail transport to come from renewable sources. The actual RES-T achieved in 2020 was 10.2%, meaning that Ireland did meet this target. REDII sets a new RES-T target of 14% by 2030.
Besides these EU mandatory targets, Ireland had two further national renewable energy targets for 2020. These were for the electricity and heat sectors and were designed to help Ireland meet the overall RES target.
Renewable energy is typically split into three modes: Electricity, Transport and Heat. The graphs below show renewable energy use in Ireland, broken down in different ways.
Overall renewable energy share (RES)
Renewable Energy Share (RES) by mode,Biomass in elec (not verified),Biomass in heat (not verified),RES-E (normalised),RES-H,RES-T 2005,0,0,1.3,1.5,0 2006,0,0,1.6,1.5,0 2007,0,0,1.8,1.5,0.2 2008,0,0,2.1,1.4,0.4 2009,0,0,2.8,1.7,0.6 2010,0,0,3.2,1.8,0.8 2011,0,0,3.8,1.9,0.9 2012,0,0,4.3,2,0.8 2013,0,0,4.5,2.1,0.9 2014,0,0,5.1,2.4,1.1 2015,0,0,5.5,2.4,1.1 2016,0,0,5.8,2.4,1 2017,0,0,6.6,2.5,1.4 2018,0,0,7.2,2.5,1.2 2019,0,0,8,2.5,1.5 2020,0,0,9.3,2.7,1.5 2021,0.4,0.7,8.9,2.1,1.5
The figure above shows the contribution of renewable heat, transport and electricity to the overall RES target. Renewable electricity makes the largest contribution to the overall RES and has been responsible for most of the overall growth in renewable energy since 2005. The figure also shows the share of biomass, used to generate heat and electricity, that was not verified as sustainable in the context of REDII and, consequently, could not be included in Ireland’s 2021 RES.
Renewable energy in transport (RES-T)
,RES-T (REDII),RES-T (RED),RE in transport (contribution to overall RES) 2005,,0,0 2006,,0.1,0.1 2007,,0.5,0.4 2008,,1.3,1 2009,,1.9,1.6 2010,,2.5,2 2011,,3.8,2.2 2012,,4.1,2.1 2013,,5,2.4 2014,,5.3,2.6 2015,,5.9,2.8 2016,,5.2,2.5 2017,,7.5,3.4 2018,,7.2,3.2 2019,,8.9,3.9 2020,,10.1,4.6 2021,4.3,,4.3
REDI established a mandatory minimum target for the share of renewable energy sources in transport (REST) by 2020: 10% of all petrol, diesel, biofuels and electricity consumed in road and rail transport. Ireland exceeded this target reaching 10.2% RES-T in 2020. REDII requires Ireland, along with all Member States, to set an obligation on fuel suppliers to ensure that the share of renewable energy within the final consumption of energy in transport is at least 14% by 2030.
REDII, as with REDI before it, specifies several weightings or multipliers that are applied to certain fuels or energy for the calculation of RES-T. These weightings help to incentivise the use of advanced biofuels and biofuels from wastes over crop-based fuels, generally promoting those with lower life-cycle greenhouse gas intensities. The various multipliers have changed under REDII.
These multipliers do not apply to the overall RES. Prior to the transition to REDII, there was a significant difference between the RES-T value and the share of renewable energy in transport, as a component of the overall RES.
In addition to the change in multipliers used in the RES-T calculation, REDII also includes limits on biomass fuels produced from certain feedstocks. These limits are defined as percentages of energy consumed in transport.
The figure above shows the annual RES-T from 2005 to present and the share of renewable energy in transport, as it contributes to the overall RES. The RES-T decreased from 10.2% in 2020 to 4.3% in 2021 – 5.6 percentage points of the decrease is due to the change in calculation methodology between REDI and REDII. The share of renewable energy in transport, without multipliers and as a component of overall RES, decreased somewhat from 4.6% to 4.3%. Despite including the multipliers and limits set out above, the 2021 RES-T result is practically equal to the share of renewable energy in transport, at 4.3%
Renewable energy in transport by source (without multipliers)
Renewable Energy Share of Transport (RES-T) by fuel (%),Biodiesel,Biogasoline,Renewable Electricity 2005,1,0,0 2006,2,1,0 2007,18,4,0 2008,38,18,0 2009,55,23,0 2010,62,30,0 2011,69,29,1 2012,56,29,1 2013,74,29,1 2014,90,27,1 2015,98,30,1 2016,86,33,1 2017,131,30,1 2018,127,27,1 2019,162,26,2 2020,155,19,2 2021,158,20,4
Biodiesel and bioethanol
Renewable fuel use by transport is almost entirely due to biodiesel and bioethanol. These are blended in all regular diesel and petrol (or "gasoline") sold in Ireland.
Without weighting factors, biodiesel made up 86.9% of transport's renewable energy use in 2021. Bioethanol accounted for 11.2%. This is partly because of the higher consumption of diesel compared to petrol.
Electricity in transport
Renewable electricity in road and rail transport also counts towards the RES-T target. Without weighting factors, it accounted for just 1.9% of renewable transport energy use in 2021. Most of this energy use was by DART and Luas electric railways, but electric vehicle numbers are growing strongly from a low base.
Renewable energy share in electricity (RES-E)
Renewable Energy Share of Electricity (RES-E) by fuel (%),Wind (normalised),Hydro (normalised),Biomass,Other 2005,4,2.7,0,0.4 2006,5.4,2.6,0,0.4 2007,6.4,2.5,0,0.5 2008,7.6,2.5,0.1,0.6 2009,10.4,2.6,0.2,0.7 2010,11.9,2.6,0.4,0.7 2011,14.3,2.7,0.5,0.7 2012,15.5,2.8,0.9,0.7 2013,16.6,2.7,1.1,0.7 2014,18.8,2.6,1.2,0.7 2015,21.5,2.5,1,0.7 2016,22.3,2.5,1.6,0.7 2017,25.4,2.4,1.8,0.7 2018,28.2,2.3,2.2,0.7 2019,31.2,2.4,2.1,0.7 2020,33.5,2.4,2.4,0.7 2021,32.5,2.3,2.5,0.8
Ireland has no mandatory national target for RES-E for 2030, nor was there one for 2020, but RES-E forms the backbone of Ireland’s strategy to achieve the overall renewable energy target for 2030. Ireland’s National Energy and Climate Plant (NECP 2021-2030) includes a planned RES-E of 70% in 2030, while Ireland’s Climate Action Plan 2021 (CAP 21) includes a target to increase the share of electricity generated from renewable sources “up to 80% where achievable and cost effective, without compromising security of electricity supply.”
The Government set an ambitious national target for RES-E of 40% for 2020. Ireland fell just short of this target, achieving 39.1% RES-E in 2020, but despite this, electricity generation has been the most successful of the three modes for the development of energy from renewable sources. Renewable energy (when aggregated) is now the second largest source of electricity after natural gas.
RES-E decreased from 39.1% in 2020 to 36.4% in 2021. Approximately 568 GWh of electricity was generated by biomass fuel (i.e. biomass, landfill gas and biogas) that, under REDII, must be verified as sustainable in order to be counted towards RES-E and overall RES in 2021. The absence of verification for this biomass fuel accounts for 1.7 percentage point decrease in RES-E for 2021. It should also be noted that although the quantity of (normalised) renewable electricity increased by 1.8%, this was more than offset by a 4.2% increase in gross final consumption of electricity
In the last century, hydro was the largest contributor to renewable electricity in Ireland. Since the early 2000s electricity production from wind energy has increased dramatically. Electricity generated from wind has a particular technical characteristic, it is known as "non-synchronous" generation. Incorporating a large share of non-synchronous generation is a big challenge to grid stability. Achieving this has required the Irish grid operator, EirGrid, to become a world leader in this area.
Renewable energy share in heat (RES-H)
Renewable Energy Share of Heat (RES-H) by fuel (%),Biomass (not verified),Biomass,Renewable waste,Biogas,Solar Thermal,Ambient 2005,0,3.2,0,0.1,0,0.1 2006,0,3.4,0,0.1,0,0.1 2007,0,3.5,0,0.1,0,0.2 2008,0,3.1,0,0.1,0.1,0.2 2009,0,3.5,0.1,0.2,0.1,0.3 2010,0,3.5,0.1,0.2,0.1,0.3 2011,0,3.6,0.2,0.2,0.2,0.4 2012,0,3.6,0.4,0.2,0.2,0.4 2013,0,3.8,0.5,0.2,0.2,0.5 2014,0,4.6,0.6,0.2,0.3,0.5 2015,0,4.4,0.7,0.2,0.3,0.6 2016,0,4.2,0.8,0.2,0.3,0.7 2017,0,4.4,0.9,0.2,0.3,0.9 2018,0,4.2,0.8,0.2,0.3,0.9 2019,0,3.9,0.8,0.2,0.3,1.1 2020,0,3.7,0.9,0.2,0.3,1.2 2021,1.6,2.4,1,0.3,0.3,1.3
Although there is no mandatory target for RES-H set in REDII, Ireland’s NECP 2021-2030 sets out a planned RES-H of 24% by 2030 to help deliver the overall mandatory target of 34.1% renewable energy. Under REDII, Ireland, along with all other Member States, must endeavour to increase the share of renewable energy in heating and cooling by an indicative 1.1 percentage points as an annual average calculated for the periods 2021 to 2025 and 2026 to 2030.
The figure above shows the contribution from renewable energy to heat or thermal energy uses as a share of overall heat use. RES-H fell from 6.3% in 2020 to 5.2% in 2021; this decrease can be attributed to the transition from REDI to REDII and the introduction of new sustainability and verification criteria for biomass fuels.
In 2021, approximately 79 ktoe of heat was generated by biomass fuel (i.e. solid biomass and biogas) that, under REDII, must be verified as sustainable in order to be counted towards RES-H and overall RES in 2021. The absence of verification for this biomass fuel accounts for a decrease of 1.6 percentage points in the RES-H for 2021.
Renewable heat use in Ireland is dominated by the use of solid biomass. Increased use of wood waste as an energy source in wood processing is the reason for most of the growth since 2000. In the residential sector there has been a large increase in the number of air source heat pumps in recent years leading to an increase in the use of renewable ambient energy.
CO₂ emissions avoided through the use of renewable energy
Avoided CO? from renewable energy,Wind (E),Hydro (E),Solid Biomass (H),Landfill Gas (E),Liquid Biofuels (T),Renewable Wastes (E),Solid Biomass (E),Solar Thermal (H),Biogas (H),Ambient (H) 2005,0.58,0.33,0.22,0.07,0,0,0.01,0,0.03,0.01 2006,0.84,0.37,0.24,0.07,0.01,0,0.01,0,0.03,0.01 2007,0.91,0.31,0.28,0.09,0.07,0,0.01,0.01,0.03,0.02 2008,1.1,0.44,0.26,0.1,0.17,0,0.02,0.01,0.03,0.02 2009,1.33,0.4,0.28,0.1,0.23,0.01,0.06,0.02,0.04,0.03 2010,1.22,0.26,0.24,0.11,0.28,0.02,0.11,0.03,0.04,0.03 2011,1.57,0.3,0.23,0.1,0.3,0.03,0.14,0.04,0.04,0.03 2012,1.43,0.33,0.18,0.1,0.26,0.11,0.19,0.04,0.04,0.03 2013,1.66,0.25,0.21,0.09,0.31,0.12,0.24,0.04,0.04,0.04 2014,1.89,0.29,0.28,0.09,0.35,0.12,0.28,0.04,0.04,0.05 2015,2.44,0.32,0.23,0.1,0.39,0.14,0.2,0.05,0.04,0.06 2016,2.19,0.27,0.24,0.1,0.36,0.15,0.21,0.05,0.05,0.07 2017,2.7,0.27,0.2,0.09,0.49,0.23,0.2,0.05,0.05,0.09 2018,3.15,0.27,0.22,0.08,0.47,0.34,0.18,0.05,0.05,0.12 2019,3.88,0.37,0.2,0.07,0.57,0.33,0.19,0.05,0.06,0.15 2020,4.49,0.39,0.23,0.07,0.53,0.35,0.24,0.05,0.07,0.18
Renewable energy reduces CO₂ emissions
The replacement of fossil fuels with renewable zero-carbon energy sources is essential for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions such as carbon dioxide (CO₂). It also improves energy security by reducing our reliance on imported fossil fuels.
The amount of CO₂ avoided through the use of renewable energy increased five-fold between 2005 and 2020, reaching 6.6 million tonnes of CO₂ (MtCO2) avoided in 2020. This was equivalent to the CO₂ emissions of over half of all Irish homes.
The estimated amount of CO2 avoided through the use of renewable energy decreased slightly to 6.2 Mt CO2 in 2021, with 4.0 Mt CO2 avoided by wind energy
Success of Renewable Electricity
Decarbonising the electricity system combined with increased electrification of heat and transport, for example through electric vehicles and heat pumps, is a crucial part of the strategy to decarbonise the energy system. The use of renewable electricity ensures that switching to electric vehicles and heat pumps results in significant reductions in CO₂ emissions compared to the fossil fuel alternative.
Renewable energy in Ireland
For more information on renewable energy see our latest Renewable Energy in Ireland publication.
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