Developing renewable energy is central to Ireland’s climate change strategy. It contributes to security, cost competitiveness and sustainability goals.

Renewable energy targets

Ireland had a target for at least 16% of gross final energy consumption (GFC) to come from renewables by 2020. This is commonly referred to as “the overall renewable energy share (RES) target” and was a mandatory target under the EU Renewable Energy Directive (RED). The actual overall renewable energy share in 2020 was 13.5%, meaning that Ireland did not meet its 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)

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Renewable Energy Share (RES) by mode,RES-E (normalised),RES-T,RES-H
2005,1.3,0,1.5
2006,1.6,0,1.5
2007,1.8,0.2,1.5
2008,2.1,0.4,1.4
2009,2.8,0.6,1.7
2010,3.2,0.8,1.8
2011,3.8,0.9,1.9
2012,4.3,0.8,2
2013,4.5,0.9,2.1
2014,5.1,1.1,2.4
2015,5.5,1.1,2.4
2016,5.8,1,2.4
2017,6.6,1.4,2.5
2018,7.2,1.2,2.5
2019,8,1.5,2.4
2020,9.3,1.5,2.7
Source: SEAI

This graph shows the growth in renewable energy as a share of GFC. In 2020 the overall renewable energy share in Ireland was 13.5%, compared to the 2020 target of 16%. This means that Ireland failed on its overall RES target for 2020.

Renewable electricity accounted for 69% of all renewable energy used in 2020, up from two thirds (66.8%) in 2019.

Renewable energy share in transport (RES-T)

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,% RES-T including weightings,% renewable transport from the perspective of the overall RES target
2005,0.0,0.0
2006,0.1,0.1
2007,0.5,0.4
2008,1.3,1.0
2009,1.9,1.6
2010,2.5,2.0
2011,3.8,2.2
2012,4.1,2.1
2013,5.0,2.4
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
2020,10.2,4.6
Source: SEAI

Ireland had a target for 10% of energy consumed in road and rail transport to come from renewable sources, often referred to as the RES-T target. This was also a mandatory target set by the Renewable Energy Directive. Ireland reached 10.2% RES-T in 2020, achieving its target.

Weighting factors

The Renewable Energy Directive allows the following weighting factors when calculating the share of renewable transport energy for the specific RES-T target:

  • 2 for second generation biofuels and biofuels from waste
  • 5 for electricity from renewable energy sources consumed by electric road vehicles
  • 2.5 electricity from renewable energy sources consumed by rail transport

These weightings make it easier to meet the RES-T target but do not count towards the overall RES target.

In 2020, the RES-T % share, including weightings, was 10.2%, up from 8.9% in 2019. When we use the methodology for the overall RES target, we find the share of renewable transport was just 4.6% in 2020.

Renewable energy share in transport (RES-T) by fuel type

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Renewable Energy Share of Transport (RES-T) by fuel (%),Biodiesel,Biogasoline,Pure Plant Oil,Renewable Electricity
2005,0,0,0,0
2006,0,0,0,0
2007,0.4,0.1,0,0
2008,0.8,0.4,0.1,0
2009,1.3,0.6,0,0
2010,1.6,0.8,0.1,0
2011,3.0,0.8,0,0
2012,3.2,0.8,0,0
2013,4.1,0.8,0,0
2014,4.5,0.7,0,0
2015,5.1,0.8,0,0.1
2016,4.3,0.8,0,0.1
2017,6.6,0.8,0,0.1
2018,6.4,0.8,0,0.1
2019,8.0,0.8,0,0.2
2020,9.1,0.9,0,0.3
Source: SEAI

 

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 87.6% of transport's renewable energy use in 2020. Bioethanol accounted for 11.0%. This is partly because of the higher consumption of diesel compared to petrol. All biodiesel qualifies for the factor 2 weighting but only about half of bioethanol qualified in 2020.

After including the weightings, biodiesel accounted for 88.9% of transport's renewable energy use in 2020.

Electricity in transport

Renewable electricity in road and rail transport also counts towards the RES-T target. However after applying the weightings, it accounted for just 2.6% of renewable transport energy use in 2020. 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)

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Renewable Energy Share of Electricity (RES-E) by fuel (%),Wind  (normalised),Hydro (normalised),Biomass,Other
2005,4,2.7,0,0.9
2006,5.4,2.6,0,0.9
2007,6.4,2.5,0,1.1
2008,7.6,2.5,0.1,1.3
2009,10.4,2.6,0.2,1.6
2010,11.9,2.6,0.4,1.8
2011,14.3,2.7,0.5,1.9
2012,15.5,2.8,0.9,2.3
2013,16.6,2.7,1.1,2.4
2014,18.8,2.6,1.2,2.7
2015,21.5,2.5,1.0,2.4
2016,22.3,2.5,1.6,3.0
2017,25.4,2.4,1.8,3.2
2018,28.2,2.3,2.2,3.4
2019,31.3,2.4,2.1,3.4
2020,33.5,2.4,2.4,3.7
Source: SEAI

Electricity generation has been the most successful of the three modes for the development of energy from renewable sources. Renewable energy sources are now the second largest source of electricity after natural gas. (See SEAI Key Statistics on Electricity here.) Ireland had no mandatory target for renewable energy share in electricity for 2020, but we set ourselves an ambitious national target of 40%. Renewable electricity forms the backbone of Ireland’s strategy to achieve the overall 16% renewable energy target for 2020.

In 2020, 42.0% of electricity came from renewable sources. Electricity generated from hydro and wind varies depending on rainfall and wind conditions. To even this out, the Renewable Energy Directive averages the wind and hydro output over a number of years. This technique is known as normalisation. Using this methodology, the renewable energy share in electricity (commonly known as RES-E) was 39.1% in 2020, falling just short of the 2020 target.

 

Wind generation.

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. Wind accounted for 86% of renewable electricity generated in 2020. 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)

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Renewable Energy Share of Heat (RES-H) by fuel (%),Wood (industry),Wood (other),Tallow,Renewable waste,Biogas,Solar Thermal,Ambient
2005,2.0,0.3,0.9,0.0,0.1,0.0,0.1
2006,2.0,0.3,1.1,0.0,0.1,0.0,0.1
2007,1.8,0.6,1.1,0.0,0.1,0.0,0.2
2008,1.6,0.6,0.7,0.0,0.1,0.1,0.2
2009,1.7,0.8,0.7,0.1,0.2,0.1,0.3
2010,2.0,0.8,0.7,0.1,0.2,0.1,0.3
2011,2.1,0.8,0.6,0.2,0.2,0.2,0.4
2012,2.2,1.1,0.3,0.4,0.2,0.2,0.4
2013,2.3,1.2,0.3,0.5,0.2,0.2,0.5
2014,2.6,1.3,0.8,0.6,0.2,0.3,0.5
2015,2.6,1.1,0.6,0.7,0.2,0.3,0.6
2016,2.5,1.3,0.4,0.8,0.2,0.3,0.7
2017,2.8,1.1,0.5,0.9,0.2,0.3,0.9
2018,2.6,1.0,0.5,0.8,0.2,0.3,0.9
2019,2.5,0.8,0.5,0.8,0.2,0.3,1.1
2020,2.1,0.8,0.7,0.9,0.3,0.3,1.2
Source: SEAI

Ireland had no mandatory target for renewable energy share in heat (RES-H), but we set a national target of 12% RES-H by 2020 to contribute to the overall renewable energy target. The contribution of renewable energy to heat grew from 3.4 % in 2005 to a peak of 6.7% in 2017, but then reduced to 6.3% in 2020. This reduction was because the use of fossil fuels for heat increased at faster rate than the use of renewable energy for heat after 2017.

Ireland failed to meet our national renewable heat target, reaching just over half of the 12% target. Since heat is a large share of final end use, Ireland's low share of renewable heat is the main reason that we failed to meet our 2020 renewable energy targets.

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

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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
Source: SEAI

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.

Success of Renewable Electricity

Eighty-four per cent (84%) of CO₂ emissions avoided by the use of renewable energy in 2020 were from renewable electricity. Wind generated electricity alone was responsible for 68% of all avoided CO₂ emissions, avoiding 4.5 MtCO2.

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.

 

Go to latest Renewable Energy in Ireland report