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,1.3
Other Renewables and Wastes,Total Fuel Inputs,5
Wind,Total Fuel Inputs,13.5
Natural Gas,Total Fuel Inputs,51
Coal,Total Fuel Inputs,18.3
Peat,Total Fuel Inputs,10.3
Oil,Total Fuel Inputs,0.8
Total Fuel Inputs,Electricity Transformation losses,44.9
Total Fuel Inputs,Gross Electricity Consumption,55.1
Gross Electricity Consumption,Electricity from Natural Gas,28.2
Gross Electricity Consumption,Electricity from Wind,13.4
Gross Electricity Consumption,Electricity from Coal,6.6
Gross Electricity Consumption,Electricity from Peat,3.9
Gross Electricity Consumption,Electricity from Hydro,1.3
Gross Electricity Consumption,Electricity from Other Renewables and Wastes,1.6
Gross Electricity Consumption,Electricity from Oil,0.3
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 45% of all fuel inputs in 2017. Therefore the electricity generation efficiency was 55%. This means that just over a half 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
2005,2043.87,1422.48,498.62,179.7,793.56,0,175.8
2006,2411.17,1216.99,462.53,233.4,686.49,0,152.9
2007,2736.92,1171.53,458.82,269.58,398.27,0,114.41
2008,2810.62,991.35,578.17,340.97,355.38,0,38.72
2009,2758.79,774.91,568.28,392.69,214.46,0,65.68
2010,3024.83,867.5,492.02,368.02,137.49,0,40.45
2011,2498.51,913.07,480.66,516.1,54.77,0,42.15
2012,2269.76,1160.11,558.61,526.22,55.88,18.36,35.56
2013,2098.17,970.32,507.46,561.16,43.45,22.86,192.83
2014,1972.99,942.06,549.67,630.73,60.27,24.52,184.82
2015,1899.44,1126.91,554.02,749.22,86.23,24.81,57.91
2016,2341.6,1101.22,521.94,746.89,68.41,24.94,0
2017,2423.46,867.63,488.73,883.91,33.95,56.39,0
Source: SEAI

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

Importance of natural gas

Gas accounted for 51% of energy inputs to electricity generation in 2017. 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 in 2016 and 2017. This was partly due to increased electricity exports to the UK and to reduced generation from lwind and hydro in 2016 and to reduced coal use in 2017.

Coal and peat accounted for 29% of fuel inputs to electricity generation in 2017. 19% of all energy inputs to electricity generation were from renewable sources in 2017. 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. This may cause an increase in the amount of fuels 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
2012,45.6
2013,48.4
2014,49.1
2015,49.1
2016,47.7
2017,49.1
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 just 49%. This means that 51% 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
2005,995.36,161.12,549.45,210.7,287.24,0,175.8
2006,1185.51,212.83,506.02,183.87,243.72,0,152.9
2007,1329.82,240.37,472.91,186.75,165.08,0,114.41
2008,1437.59,308.5,442.2,236.87,146.89,0,38.72
2009,1401.64,353.37,344.37,226.1,78.93,0,65.68
2010,1557.52,320.68,305.71,187.39,51.87,0,40.45
2011,1327.17,466.43,339.25,183.16,20.1,0,42.15
2012,1215.98,452.04,432.09,209.65,20.28,4.28,35.56
2013,1129.16,483.97,368.3,196.21,16.24,5.63,192.83
2014,1086.61,549.61,340.28,214.66,22.22,5.99,184.82
2015,1063.6,675.65,419.2,216.57,34.99,6.37,57.91
2016,1318.24,645.85,403.83,199.34,25.18,6.26,0
2017,1348.47,763.42,313.43,186.14,12.2,13.7,0
Source: SEAI

Natural gas was the largest source of electricity generated, accounting for 51% of all electricity generated in 2017. The amount of electricity generated from renewables grew from just 2% in 2000 to 29% in 2017. Renewables make up a much larger share of electricity generated than fuel inputs, as wind and hydro-power are 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
Source: SEAI

Higher efficiency

In conventional electricity generation, we typically lose 60% of input energy as waste heat. Combined Heat and Power (CHP) systems channel this extra heat to generate 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 2017 7.3% of Irelands electricity was generated through CHP.

CO₂ emissions intensity of electricity

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Carbon dioxide intensity of electricity generated; gCO2/kWh ,Coal,Peat,Oil,Gas,Wastes (non-renewable)
2005,230,100.81,104.21,200.92,0
2006,191.15,88.33,86.68,229.59,0
2007,176.82,83.78,48.69,251.22,0
2008,146.15,105.52,42.48,253.12,0
2009,121.42,110.68,27.03,263.23,0
2010,133.44,93.36,16.96,286.2,0
2011,145.52,93.98,6.86,242.64,0
2012,187.31,111.64,7.03,222.41,1.59
2013,154.68,102.1,5.43,203.02,1.96
2014,146.76,109.02,7.55,189.49,2.09
2015,170.6,104.43,10.4,177.46,2.05
2016,163.39,97.31,8.1,209.58,2.01
2017,126.21,89.33,3.93,212.66,4.45
Source: SEAI

Trend in electricity CO2 intensity

Carbon dioxide intensity of electricity has reduced since the 1990s. This is due to increased use of higher efficiency gas turbines and zero carbon renewable generation. We are also using less high carbon intensity fuels in low efficiency processes such as coal, oil and peat generation.

Coal and peat

Coal and peat continue to be used for power generation. In 2017 coal and peat accounted for 49% of carbon emissions from electricity generation, despite only accounting for 19% of electricity generated.The result of this is that the carbon intensity of the Irish electricity was the fourth highest in the EU in 2016, despite all our progress on using renewable energy.

Energy in Ireland

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