Transport is often the largest source of final energy demand in Ireland. But in 2020 it was the second largest — accounting for 34% of final energy demand and reducing by 26%.

Interrupted growth of transport sector demand in 2020

Since 2014, the transport sector had been the largest energy demand, but in 2020 it fell below the heat sector. Since the transport sector is the most sensitive to the economy, it grows or reduces sharply in response to economic growth or contraction. This sensitivity is obvious in 2020 and also evident over the last three decades.

Energy demand from transport increased by a massive 183% between 1990 and 2007. It then decreased by 27% between 2007 and 2012, and increased again by 25% between 2012 and 2019. The yearly 2012--2019 increases were abruptly interruped by the pandemic, after the 2019 demand had risen to within 9% of the 2007 peak.

The graphs below show trends in energy for transport, broken down in different ways.

Final energy by mode of transport

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Transport by mode (ktoe),Private car,HGV,LGV,Aviation (Domestic),Aviation (International),Public Passenger,Rail,Navigation,Gas Pipeline,Fuel Tourism,Unspecified
2005,1891,1112,0,27,832,157,45,50,2,387,581
2006,2006,1076,0,31,959,160,45,81,2,407,673
2007,2085,1145,0,28,1017,168,47,64,1,521,640
2008,2111,1056,405,27,945,204,50,66,1,253,327
2009,2057,785,374,22,746,182,44,64,1,212,377
2010,2013,688,348,16,772,165,44,65,2,229,258
2011,2047,632,340,8,692,154,44,56,4,230,219
2012,2055,629,329,5,581,149,42,59,4,169,154
2013,2103,581,355,5,671,142,42,58,3,210,177
2014,2156,622,373,5,744,136,38,72,3,241,130
2015,2158,626,378,5,842,133,39,71,4,387,142
2016,2122,735,360,6,864,133,40,86,21,384,217
2017,2078,748,354,6,1016,130,42,76,20,163,436
2018,2068,734,343,6,1098,138,42,84,23,185,474
2019,2080,789,334,6,1110,139,44,89,17,245,381
2020,1637,725,301,2,396,117,36,104,15,80,461
Source: SEAI

Private cars

Private cars are the transport mode with the largest energy use. Their share of the transport final energy increased from 40% to 42% in 2020, despite their actual energy in ktoe falling by 21%.

Aviation and HGV

Energy used for air travel decreased by 64% in 2020, falling to its lowest level since 1996. In 2019, aviation accounted for 21% of energy used for transport, second only to private cars. In 2020 however, aviation accounted for 10%, ranking fourth behind private cars, HGV freight and unspecified.

Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) freight was the next largest use of transport energy at 19%. Energy use by HGV freight and aviation have been the most sensitive to changes in the economy.

Buses, coaches and rail

Public and private bus or coach transport increased their share of transport energy demand from 2.6% to 3.0%, between 2019 and 2020. Rail also increased modestly from 0.8% to 0.9% over the same period.

Private car activity

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Private Car Activity (billion km driven per annum),All Private Cars,Private Petrol Cars,Private Diesel Cars
2005,28.3,22.4,5.9
2006,29.9,23,6.9
2007,31.3,23.4,7.9
2008,31.7,22.8,8.9
2009,31.1,21.4,9.7
2010,30.8,19.8,11
2011,31.6,18.7,12.9
2012,32.1,17.6,14.5
2013,33.3,17,16.3
2014,34.5,16.2,18.3
2015,34.9,15.1,19.8
2016,34.8,13.6,21.2
2017,35.1,12.3,22.8
2018,35.1,11.1,24
Source: SEAI and National Car Test Service

Increase in kilometres driven

We use vehicle-kilometres (vkm) to measure the activity of private cars. This is the sum of all kilometres driven by all private cars. The total number of kilometres driven by private cars in 2018 did not increase from the previous year, however it was still 11% higher than at the celtic tiger peak in 2008 and a massive 51% higher than in the year 2000.

Petrol to diesel shift

In the past, private cars ran mostly on petrol while commercial vehicles used diesel. From the mid 2000s, the share of diesel private cars began to increase. Changes to annual car taxation in 2008 accelerated this trend. The kilometres driven for petrol cars decreased by 51% between 2008 and 2018. In turn, the number vehicle-kilometres by diesel cars increased by 170%.

Carbon intensity of new cars

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Carbon intensity of new cars (gCO2/km),All new cars
2005,166.11
2006,161.69
2007,163.97
2008,157.93
2009,143.47
2010,133.63
2011,128.12
2012,124.52
2013,120.71
2014,117.16
2015,114.34
2016,112.53
2017,111.97
2018,113.19
Source: SEAI and DTTAS

CO2 emissions for new cars

For the average new car purchased, CO2 emissions per kilometre fell by 32% between 2007 and 2017, reaching 112.0 g CO2/km in 2017. This was due to car taxation changes, and EU obligations for manufacturers to reduce fleet emissions. In 2018 the average CO2 emissions per kilometre increased again by 1%. This was the first increase since since 2007, and is partly due to the increasing share of SUVs.

New test procedures

A standardised laboratory test procedure determines the carbon emissions ratings of new cars. The on-road factor is the difference between test emissions and emissions in real world driving conditions. Evidence shows that the on-road factor has increased dramatically in recent years. Real world fuel consumption and carbon emissions are now much greater than test values.

From September 2018 a new test procedure known as the WLTP is used for all new cars. The new procedure, the Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehice, aims to reduce the difference between test results and real world performance.

Final energy by fuel

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Transport energy by fuel (ktoe),Diesel,Gasoline,Jet Kerosene,Fuel Oil,LPG,Natural Gas,Liquid Biofuels,Electricity
2005,2378,1822,857,18,1,2,1,5
2006,2590,1849,988,0,1,2,3,5
2007,2759,1886,1043,0,1,1,22,4
2008,2615,1798,970,0,1,1,56,5
2009,2378,1636,767,0,1,1,77,4
2010,2236,1478,787,0,1,2,93,4
2011,2221,1399,699,0,1,4,98,4
2012,2224,1272,586,0,1,4,85,4
2013,2365,1197,675,0,1,3,102,4
2014,2515,1134,748,0,2,3,116,3
2015,2727,1075,846,0,3,4,128,4
2016,2951,1003,868,0,3,21,118,4
2017,2955,904,1021,0,2,20,161,5
2018,3084,824,1103,0,2,23,154,5
2019,3124,781,1116,0,2,17,188,7
2020,2700,578,398,0,1,16,174,8
Source: SEAI

Petrol and diesel

The amount of petrol consumed in Ireland reduced by almost 59% between 2007 and 2019 because of the shift to diesel cars. The increase in diesel use for private cars was mostly offset by lower diesel use in freight. Diesel use was 13% higher in 2019 than 2007. During the first year of the pandemic in 2020, both petrol and diesel use fell compared to 2019. Petrol's fall was a dramatic 26%, while diesel's fall was a significant 14%. Petrol is called "gasoline" in energy statistics and in the above charts. SEAI publishes the monthly deliveries of gasoline and diesel within Ireland at:

Renewables and electricity

Renewable transport fuels have grown from a low base to 3.6% of transport final energy use in 2019. This is almost all from biofuels blended with petrol and diesel. Electricity remained at just 0.1% of transport final energy demand in 2019. Most of this was from Luas and DART light railways, but electric road vehicles are growing strongly from a low base. Since fossil-fuel energy use fell in 2020, the steady energy use of renewable fuels and electricity increased their shares to 4.5% and 0.2% respectively in the same year.

Heavy Goods Vehicle activity

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Heavy Goods Vehicle Activity (Million tonne km),Delivery of construction materials,Import & export,Delivery of goods to wholesalers & retail,Delivery of materials to factories,Carriage of Agri-products,Other
2005,4195,4018,3925,1213,912,3889
2006,4170,3745,3396,1364,964,3682
2007,4226,4689,3716,1582,1028,3466
2008,3380,4425,4011,1457,991,3023
2009,1610,3438,2591,1180,773,2478
2010,1224,2728,2583,981,884,2524
2011,980,2708,2642,910,784,1918
2012,995,2973,2272,875,735,2045
2013,978,2374,2261,818,821,1885
2014,975,2350,2621,986,896,1945
2015,965,2335,2587,1129,912,1915
2016,1474,2378,3187,1588,959,1977
2017,1653,2498,3419,1254,996,1940
2018,1905,2246,3545,1245,1053,1451
Source: CSO

Recent growth

Activity of Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGV) is best measured by tonne-kilometres (tkm). Tonne-kilometres are the weight of the freight that is transported multiplied by the distance it is transported over. The CSO track HGV activity in their annual “Road Freight Survey”.

HGV activity has been increasing since 2013, although there was a slight reduction in 2018. Delivery of goods to wholesalers and retail outlets was the largest source of freight energy demand in 2018. The next largest was the transport of goods for import or export. Despite the growth since 2013, freight activity in 2018 was 39% below the peak in 2007. 

Impact of the construction sector

There was a rapid increase in overall HGV tonne-kilometres between 2000 and 2007. A sharp decline followed between 2007 and 2013. Delivery of construction materials contributed most to this pattern. Construction traffic only returned to growth in 2016, and in 2018 was still 55% below the 2007 peak.  We expect to see an increase in energy use from this sector as house-building and major infrastructure projects ramp up, though it may never reach 2007 levels. In 2018, import and export freight was still 52% below the 2007 peak.

Transport energy in Ireland

See the downloads below for more information on transport energy.