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Climate Action and Rural Dwellers- What’s happening?

There is no significant body of work (internationally or nationally) on climate change and emissions issues for rural areas and yet there are important differences in energy use patterns and emissions (read more discussion on this here). This post gives a brief overview of some of the issues for rural dwellers addressed in the Climate Action Plan.

The majority (65%) of the Western Region population (and a significant proportion of the national population (37%)) lives in rural areas[1]. The focus of much WDC policy analysis is on the needs of, and opportunities for, rural areas in the Western Region in particular in relation to issues which may not have been considered in detail in policy making. Rural areas are places of employment and make an important contribution to the economy.  Rural development (see for example Action Plan for Rural Development) is a government policy (see for example the National Policy Objective 15 National Planning Framework).

At the same time climate change mitigation is a key government priority, and it is essential that the needs, impacts, options and opportunities for rural dwellers (the term ‘rural dwellers’ is used here as the focus here is on people living in rural areas rather than agriculture) are given consideration and actions developed to focus on particular issues for them.

It is recognised (see here) that increasing carbon taxes particularly affect rural areas while the options for rural dwellers to change their behaviour are limited.   Rural dwellers have different energy needs and often have reduced or more costly choices than their urban equivalents. Rural individuals are thought to have a larger carbon footprint than their urban counterparts (see more discussion here) and need greater access to cleaner energy choices. At the same time the sources of clean energy for all citizens are largely rural based.

It is therefore important that we understand the situation for rural areas including the issues that must be the focus of change, the long term options, the opportunities and challenges and the scale and scope of the actions required to reduce rural dwellers emissions and increase the use of renewable energy in rural areas.

Actions for Rural Dwellers in Climate plan

 There are few actions in the Climate Plan which are specifically focused on rural dwellers although many of the actions are certainly relevant.  I briefly outline the specific actions below and then consider some of the other actions which will have particular implications for rural people.

 

Funds

Both the urban (URDP) and rural (RRDP) regeneration and development funds, announced as part of Project Ireland 2040, are awarded on a competitive bid basis.  These are now to include specific evaluation criteria in relation to potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (Action 15).  It is not yet clear what these criteria will be but it should mean that they further enable investments which have a specific mitigation or adaptation focus to be funded, and that projects not directly related to climate action are at least climate friendly.

 

Transport

There is a specific focus on the need to address rural issues under the transport heading (e.g. Action 94 to review public and sustainable transport policy and publish a public consultation on public/sustainable transport policy, including rural transport).  This does recognise that rural needs may be different, while Action 100 addresses the need for a vision for low carbon rural transport and commits to “Develop a new rural transport strategy”

This new rural transport strategy is to include:

  • a comprehensive assessment of rural travel demand, and methodologies for determining same
  • set a target for modal shift and emissions reductions for 2021-2025
  • develop proposals for an integrated public transport network
  • develop a pilot scheme for a city and its regional hinterland to develop a best practice model pilot a car sharing initiative such as a vehicle bank in rural Towns

 

Electricity/Electrification

The changes which may be needed in domestic electricity connections and their capacity with the move to increased electrification is to be considered under Action 174 involves the introduction, as required, of new urban and rural domestic connection design standards and infrastructure sizing and design standards to reflect the demand of domestic scale low-carbon technologies

 

Broader Policy with implications for Climate Actions

Action 179 commits to ‘Undertake public consultation to inform future Rural Development Strategy’.  This is a broad commitment but it is to be hoped that climate action and the move to a low carbon economy will be inherent in the new rural strategy, with both specific actions addressing the climate agenda and broader actions aligned with the move to a low carbon rural economy.

In addition the Western Development Commission (WDC) under Action 160 is undertaking a study of the transition to a low carbon rural Western Region.  This is discussed in more detail below.

 

Other Actions relevant to rural dwellers

There are of course other actions with the potential to be significant for rural dwellers.  For example Action 150, which focuses on supporting the development of Local Authority climate action leadership and capabilities, should bring climate action to a more local level in terms of planning, projects (such as Smart Green Mohill) and providing leadership.  Local Authorities will also be working closely with the Climate Action Regional Offices (CAROs).  Local authorities, especially those with significant rural populations have a potentially very significant role to play in driving Climate Action in rural areas.

A number of other key actions in the Climate Action Plan 2019 not specifically relating rural dwellers are outlined briefly below, to highlight the wide ranging impacts and actions necessary for climate change mitigation with a focus on the Built Environment, Transport and Electricity.

 

The Built Environment (Energy Efficiency and Heat)

The built environment accounts for more than 12% of Irelands GHG emissions, and the energy used in buildings accounts for more than a third of our energy demand[2]. so increasing efficiency in the built environment and changing the way we heat our buildings are both significant climate  actions.

Increasing energy efficiency is covered in detail in the Climate Action Plan with a focus on the energy standards for new build, energy efficiency rating in homes and other buildings, regulation (Action 60 and 61 on oil and gas boilers) and retrofitting to improve energy efficiency  (see for example Actions 43-51).  Meeting the high-level target to complete half a million retrofits is a challenge but it should have important  benefits in rural areas, both in terms of improving energy efficiency and comfort and heat for many rural dwellers, as well as in the potential for up skilling and employment throughout the country.  The issues of financing and cost have yet to be addressed in detail.

The Support Scheme for Renewable Heat (SSRH- Action 69) is largely for commercial and larger users and is likely to be particularly attractive in rural areas which are not connected to the natural gas grid.  It will increase demand for local biomass, which provides important rural economic benefits[3] while increased use of anaerobic digestion will provide on farm opportunities.

The way buildings are heated has  important rural dimensions.  Homes in rural areas are more likely to use oil boilers, or rely on solid fuel (including peat which is a significant source of heat energy in some counties) For homes the focus in the Climate Action Plan is largely on the installation of heat pumps (600,000 heat pumps to be installed of which 400,000 are to be in existing buildings).  Given that heat pumps are not suitable for many existing dwellings so other heating options must also be explored.  The use of other renewable energy sources may be particularly appropriate in rural dwellings with more space for storage and with easier access to wood fuels and other renewable energy.

There is significant future potential for renewable heat in rural areas, but rural dwellers tend to have lower incomes than urban dwellers and already have higher levels of fuel poverty, so despite the potential for change, many lack the financial resources to switch to low carbon or carbon free alternatives.

 

Transport

Transport efficiency is also important, in terms of the energy used (from whatever source) for powering vehicles, in relation to the number of journeys being made, and the loading of vehicles (with people or freight).  Breaking the direct link between journey numbers and economic growth will be essential to successful climate action.  There are opportunities for rural dwellers (and others of course) for more home working and e- working in hubs and other locations.  Likewise there is significant potential for car sharing and the co-ordination of it both locally and countrywide though specific apps (see Bla Bla Car for example, which is particularly popular in France (read more about it here) and through social media (see this example from Clare).

The Climate Action Plan has a number of specific actions in relation to EV charging (see for example Actions 72-75) and to a CNG network (Action 76).  It is crucial that both of these networks are rolled out all over Ireland so that the adoption of EVs and CNG fuelled vehicles is easy in all rural locations, and that the links between more urban areas and rural areas are seamless.  CNG vehicles must be able to deliver and pick up loads in all parts of Ireland; visitors (e.g. tourists, friends and those in business) who are using EVs must be able to travel to all parts of Ireland confident of an available, reliable charging network.

Public transport and cycling also have an role to play in rural areas and the options for promoting these in ways tailored to the needs of rural dwellers should form an important part of the new rural transport strategy to be developed (Action 100).

Electricity

Ensuring that ESB Networks and EirGrid  plan the network and deliver on connecting renewable energy sources to meet the 2030 target of 70% renewable electricity (RES-E) capacity will mean more grid development in rural areas.  This will be essential to meeting climate action targets and enabling significant electrification of heat and transport.  The use of local rural energy sources is important to Irelands move to a low carbon economy, so it will be important that the financial, employment and enterprise benefits of using local rather than imported energy are felt throughout rural areas.  This will be important to increasing local acceptance of this infrastructure.

Ensuring that the Community Framework to accompany the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS) is established and that there are “measures in place to ensure that the community benefit fund is equitable and there is strong citizen participation in renewable projects” (Action 28) is also essential.

Developing an enabling framework for microgeneration (Action 30) will potentially have benefits for all areas but there are clear opportunities for rural dwellers, although, as with many climate action measures, they are likely to be of most benefit to those who can afford to make the investment.

Transition to a low carbon rural Western Region- what will it mean?

The Actions under the Climate Plan discussed above give a brief flavour of some of the issues and opportunities for rural areas in the transition to a low carbon economy.  The WDC is currently undertaking a short study of the transition of the region to a low carbon economy.  Action 160 in the Under Citizen Engagement, Community Leadership and Just Transition in the Climate Action Plan Action 160 is to “Assess the economic and employment implications of the transition to a low-carbon economy”.  There are eleven pieces of research and studies which are counted as ‘Steps Necessary for Delivery’ under this action, including the one to be carried out by the WDC “Study of transition to a low carbon economy: impacts for the rural western region.”

This will be an initial scoping of the issues affecting rural dwellers in the Western Region.  The focus is on the three aspects of energy use which can have significant climate implications: Heat and energy efficiency in the built environment, Transport and Electricity.  This study examines issues relating to those for rural dwellers and it is hoped that we will, in future, be able to examine these issues as they affect rural enterprises, the changes they will need to make, the opportunities they may embrace and the employment issues associated with these changes.  Further into the future we may examine the issues for agriculture in the region, given the often extensive pattern of farming and the prevalence of part time farming.  Land use change and natural solutions are also important to rural areas and might in future be considered from a Western Region perspective.

In the short term, however, the focus is on the changes which must be made in energy use and the implications of these for rural dwellers.  These will be the subject of my forthcoming blogs with more detail on the targets, actions and the needs of and opportunities for rural areas.

 

Helen McHenry

[1] This is based on the CSO definition of the population outside settlements of 1,500 or more.  Other definitions show a higher proportion living in rural areas.  See this post for a detailed discussion on “What is rural?”.

[2] Thermal/heat energy is the second largest of the three modes of energy. It accounted for 37% of the final energy demand in 2017 https://www.seai.ie/publications/Renewable-Energy-in-Ireland-2019.pdf

[3] See here for discussion.  The benefits are highlighted although the values are dated https://www.wdc.ie/wp-content/uploads/reports_WoodEnergyStratEconomic-Impact.pdf  (PDF 3MB)

Carbon Tax: Use of revenue to address climate action issues in rural areas

The WDC made a submission to the Department of Finance Consultation on the options for the use of revenues raised from increases in carbon tax.

A detailed consultation paper was prepared by the Tax Division of the Department of Finance which provided background information on carbon tax revenues, proposed changes in the rate of the tax and possible implication of these increases for users.  They also outlined a number of options for the use of revenues from the tax.

The ESRI has also done a number of studies on distributional effects of carbon tax and revenue recycling options and noted that the carbon tax disproportionately affects lower income households and rural households.  I hope to look at these studies in more detail in a future post.

As regular readers of the blog know, the Western Region (the area under the WDC remit) is a largely rural region which takes in some of the most remote parts of the state. Using the CSO definition 64.7% in of the population live outside of towns of 1,500 or more. Using the definition in Ireland 2040 the National Planning Framework 80% of people in Western Region live outside of towns of 10,000. Thus WDC work has a particular focus on the needs of, and opportunities for, more rural and peripheral areas.  The five most rural counties in Ireland are in the Western Region (Leitrim, Galway county, Roscommon, Donegal and Mayo, and the Western Region also has a higher share of the population living in smaller towns.

In this submission we therefore concentrated on issues for rural areas and our region.  Climate action for rural dwellers is not often discussed in policy and there is no significant body of work (internationally or nationally) on climate change and emission issues for rural areas in developed countries and yet there are important differences in energy use patterns and emissions in rural areas.  Hence, the main focus of the submission was on key climate matters for rural dwellers including energy efficiency; home heating; transport; and stimulating rural enterprise.

The WDC emphasised that a portion of the revenues from increases in carbon tax focus should focus on addressing issues for rural areas, and on actions to ensure that rural areas are in a position to benefit from a move to a low carbon economy.  There are many opportunities to do so and targeted programmes would enable rural dwellers to make a fair contribution to national goals for renewable energy and to actions to mitigate climate change.

 

You can view the submission here.

 

Helen McHenry

Energy and Climate Action- the WDC View of the Draft National Plan

The Western Development Commission (WDC) has just made a submission to DCCAE on the Draft National Energy and Climate Plan 2012-2030 (NECP).  The development of clear energy and climate action to 2030 is essential to achieving the national goal of a low carbon economy in Ireland by 2050.  The WDC recognises that energy and climate action will bring important opportunities for our largely rural region, but at the same time it will bring challenges that we would wish to see addressed in the NECP.   The WDC made a detailed submission to the previous consultation on the draft NECP (November 2018), therefore in this submission we only addressed specific issues arising from this draft of relevance to our region and our remit.

The Draft National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP)

The NECP usefully brings together and summarises energy and climate policy.  However, much of the focus is on current policy and, while there is a recognition that it will be difficult to meet targets with the policy that is currently in place, there is little information about the additional policies or regulations which will be needed to ensure we achieve targets.

The Plan recognises that heating is a particular issue in rural areas (p4) but there is no specific commitment or policy to address the needs of rural areas either in relation heating or transport.  Nor is there a recognition that there are unique opportunities for rural areas from the low carbon economy.  We believe that specific rural focused policies could be introduced for this. This would have benefit both in terms of achievement of EU targets and in relation to the development of the rural and regional economies.

Similarly the NECP acknowledges that the dispersed population pattern results in particular challenges in terms of transportation options.  Again there is no specific commitment or policy to address the needs of rural areas.   The National Policy Framework on Alternative Fuels Infrastructure for Transport in Ireland 2017-2030 notes that it is likely that in future electricity will fuel the majority of passenger cars, commuter rail and taxis while natural gas and biofuels will play an increasingly important role for larger vehicles like HGV and buses.  While we would agree with this, we believe that services such as EV charging points and CNG fueling points must be widely available in rural areas where population is dispersed.  Without these services being available and reliable, rural dwellers could be reluctant to adopt the new technologies and it could deter visitors who might be concerned about the availability of charging/fueling points.  In the case of HGVs and buses, lack of refueling options could increase costs of delivery or services in more rural and peripheral regions.

Electricity transmission network

In relation to the development of the electricity transmission network there is no mention of the issues noted by EirGrid in the recently published Systems Needs Assessment (Nov 2018) in the West (high need for grid development), North West (high need for grid development) and Midland (moderate need for grid development).  These need to be included. A study recently commissioned by the WDC, which we blogged about here reviewed the transmission network and current planned renewable generation to identify areas of the Western Region that have transmission capacity for new renewable generation. It found that North Mayo/West Sligo and Co. Donegal have no capacity for new generation without substantial transmission investment. Sligo/Leitrim, South Mayo and West Galway has limited capacity and will require transmission investment in the future. The WDC believes that significant investment is needed in these areas, so that the current and contracted renewable generation requirements are met and that there is potential for further future connections to ensure areas of best resource can produce most.

Gas transmission network

There is a need to review the natural gas network coverage to ensure that it is future proofed to meet the needs of all key urban centres (currently large settlements such as Sligo and Letterkenny are not connected).  There is important potential for decarbonisation in the gas network, through the future use of biogas, and through the transmission of gas for CNG refueling.  There are also economic benefits for urban centres which are connected to the natural gas network.  In the context of the NECP the broader government criteria for developing the transmission network should be reviewed.  This should include information from the study of wider benefits of connecting regions to the natural gas which has been undertaken for DCCAE but which has not been published.

Electric Vehicles

We welcomed the target of 500K EVs by 2030 but to help achieve this charging investment needs to be early and widespread. This will not just benefit those living in rural areas but will be important for those for those visiting for business or pleasure.  Lack of charging points could in future become a disincentive for visitors and could further concentrate tourism and other economic activities in areas near larger urban centres.

Built environment

We agree energy efficiency is important and welcome the ambition to increase the number of homes with a BER rating of B and above.  However, the most recent BER ratings data from the CSO shows that currently only 15% of homes assessed nationally have a rating of B or above.  In the Western Region only 10% achieve this and it is as low as 7% in Roscommon.  This highlights the need to specifically address energy efficiency and home heating issues in more rural and less well-off regions.  For dwellings in the in lowest rating categories and the costs and difficulties of achieving upgrade to a B rating are most significant.

Most homes in our region use oil for heating.  There needs to be a specific effort to encourage change in rural areas which are oil dependent.  While many of the incentives are for the installation of heat pumps it should be remembered that the use of wood biomass for heating brings very significant local economic benefits.

Transport

Employment is only one factor generating trips and the National Travel Survey shows that majority of travel is associated with non-work trips.  The importance of these non-work trips and the potential for change in this demand needs to be more central to climate action planning.

Rural people are reliant on car based transport, they have little available public transport and tend to travel greater distances. Therefore clearly rural dwellers’ transport demand patterns need to be central to planning for climate action. There must be detailed consideration of transport issues for smaller settlements and rural areas.  The majority of the population will continue to live in the historical settlement pattern and spatial planning will not change that pattern significantly to 2030 or even in the longer term (to 2050). Thus the NCEP needs to focus on current spatial patterns.

In conclusion, the WDC believes that it is essential that part of the NECP should have a specific focus on issues for rural areas, and on actions to ensure that rural areas are both in a position to benefit from a move to a low carbon economy and to meet the challenges of doing so.  This will enable them to make a fair contribution national goals in relation to renewable energy and to actions to mitigate climate change.

 

Read our full submission here

 

 

 

Helen McHenry

Electricity Generation and Demand in the Western Region- A Renewable Story

The Western Region has some of the best resources for on shore wind generation in Europe, and in the future, as technology improves, for offshore renewable energy.  The draft National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP) submitted to the EU and published yesterday (19.12.18) made a number of commitments for 2030 in relation to electricity generation and use, including the following:

  • Renewables in our power system will rise from 30% to at least 55% with a broader range of technologies likely to be deployed, e.g. offshore wind, solar, biomass
  • Coal and peat will be removed from electricity generation which will almost halve the emissions from the electricity sector.
  • Penetration of electric vehicles into our transport fleet will build to around 20%.

These will all have a significant impact on how we will generate and use electricity.  It is therefore useful to understand the current pattern of generation and demand in the Region before considering options for the future.

The Western Development Commission (WDC) has recently conducted[1] a review of electricity transmission infrastructure in the Western Region. It examined current and future needs for transmission infrastructure in the Region, and considered how increased renewable electricity generation, along with new ways of using and managing electricity and new methods of improving the use of existing transmission infrastructure might impact on need for investment.  We have published a summary of its findings in WDCInsights Electricity Transmission for Renewable Generation- What’s needed in the Western Region?

In this post the focus is on current and future renewable generation connections in the Region.  Next year, when we have had the opportunity to review the draft NECP and consider the “all-of-Government” Climate Action Plan to be completed in early 2019, it will be clearer what renewable generation connections will be required further into the future, and from that, what further transmission investment will be important.

 

Electricity Generation in the Western Region

The Western Region already has a significant connected renewable generation; almost half of the generation in the Region is renewable (Figure 1).  There is 1,371MW of conventional generation. This capacity is mainly across Moneypoint coal fired power station in West Co. Clare (863MW), Tynagh gas fired power station in East Co. Galway (404MW) and Tawnaghmore oil fired peaking plant in North Co. Mayo (104MW). In 2017 these power stations generated 4,390 GWh, which was approximately 15% of the national demand in 2017.

Figure 1: Generation in the Western Region

Source: www.esb.ie, www.eirgrid.com and MullanGrid Consulting

There is 165MW of hydro generation in the WDC region. This capacity is mainly at Ardnacrusha hydro station in Co. Clare (86MW) and the Erne stations (65MW) in Co. Donegal.  On shore wind generation makes up the rest of the renewable electricity generation in the Region (the locations are discussed further below).

In the future with the ending of coal fired generation as committed to in the draft National Energy and Climate Plan, the vast majority of renewable electricity generation in the Western Region will come from onshore wind and other developing sources including solar and potentially offshore wind and marine generation.

 

Demand and Generation connections in the Western Region

There is substantially higher capacity of both renewable and conventional generation compared to demand in the region.  Renewable generation currently connected (1,343MW) produces approximately 3,750GWh of renewable electricity. Considering total peak demand of 651MW and assuming the nation-wide demand capacity factor of 65%, the total demand in region is approximately 3,700GWh.  It can be concluded that on an annual basis the Western Region is currently producing enough renewable generation to meet 100% of its own demand.   By 2020 the Region will definitely be a net provider of renewable electricity to the rest of Ireland making a significant contribution to the 2020 RES-E targets.

Figure 2 shows the levels of connected renewable generation in the region (1,343MW) and conventional generation (1,371MW) as discussed above.   Maximum demand (at peak) was estimated by MullanGrid as 651 MW with minimum demand 164MW.

Figure 2: Current Generation and Demand in the Western Region

Source: www.esb.ie, www.eirgrid.com and MullanGrid Consulting

By 2020 there could be approximately 1,760MW of renewable generation connected in the WDC region, 1,595MW of wind generation and 165MW of hydro generation. There is a further 1,000MW of renewable generation in the WDC region that will have contracted or been offered connections by mid-2019 (as shown in Figure 2 above) and there is 173MW of further potential on shore wind connections in the short term (as allocated under the Enduring Connection Policy Phase 1 (ECP-1)). Clearly the potential for renewable generation and the opportunities the Region provides are significant.

 

Generation and Demand at County level

It is interesting to look briefly at the patterns of generation and demand at county level in the Western Region (Figure 3).  Donegal, which has the third largest connected capacity of on shore wind generation in Ireland, is clearly significant force in the Region’s transition to renewable electricity.

It currently has 480 MW of connected renewable generation with significant hydro generation (75MW) and 405MW capacity of wind generation with a further 254MW of contracted generation.  Galway and Clare and the next most important counties for renewable generation, with Ardnacrusha making a significant contribution (86MW) in Clare, while most of Galway’s renewable generation (286MW) from wind.  These counties have high levels of contracted wind generation which will be connected in the short term.   Mayo currently has 83MW of connected wind capacity  but has 406MW of contracted generation to be connected.

Figure 3: Generation and Demand in Western Region counties

Source: www.esb.ie, www.eirgrid.com and MullanGrid Consulting

In all Western Region counties currently connected renewable generation is well above the average county demand[2].  Table 1 below gives the detail of the connected, contracted and ECP-1 capacity in each county in the Western Region alongside the estimated demand in each county (although Sligo and Leitrim are considered together).

Table 1: Connected, Contracted and future renewable generation and Demand in Western Region counties.

Source: www.esb.ie, www.eirgrid.com and MullanGrid Consulting

 

Transmission Capacity

The transmission system has been essential in enabling the Western Region to achieve these relatively high levels of renewable generation.  There has been substantial investment in the transmission network in the Region[3] the majority of which, recently, has been in upgrading the existing electricity transmission network to provide additional capacity.  However, to allow for the continued growth of renewable generation in the Region, further investment in new transmission infrastructure is required.

There is capacity in the current transmission system for more renewable generation in areas of the Western Region including large parts of Co. Roscommon, Co. Clare and Co. Galway.  However there is concern about the pace and scale of development of new transmission circuits elsewhere in the Region.  The areas of particular concern in the medium term are Co. Donegal and North Mayo.  In Donegal, by 2022, it is expected that the connected renewable generation will have exceeded the capacity of the existing transmission system.  While the planned North Connacht project[4] will provide critical infrastructure for currently connected and some of the planned renewable generation in development in North Mayo/West Sligo, it will not provide ffor further renewable generation in the area. In the medium to long term there could also be a need for new transmission circuits to Co. Sligo/Co. Leitrim. Considering the extended timelines (at least 10 years) to deliver new transmission infrastructure it is essential to take a long-term view of the generation needs and potential in these areas.

It is important that there is a three-pronged approach to developing the transmission grid in the Region:

  1. Upgrading existing transmission infrastructure;
  2. New transmission infrastructure;
  3. Implementing smart grid solutions.

Although new transmission infrastructure is the most challenging to deliver it is critical for the development of more renewable generation in the Region.  Other factors that will impact on growth of renewable generation are the planning process and the public acceptance of onshore wind generation. Recent new transmission projects have faced strong local opposition and a lack of local political support.

To achieve long term ambitious climate action increased renewable electricity generation will be essential. Therefore further investment in transmission grid with sufficient capacity for new generation connections is crucial.

 

Helen McHenry

 

[1] The Electricity Transmission Infrastructure Review for the Western Development Commission was conducted by MullanGrid Consulting.

[2] This is a simple average of minimum and maximum demand.

[3] EirGrid and ESB Networks, regulated by the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities (CRU), invest in and develop the electricity grid.

[4] http://www.eirgridgroup.com/the-grid/projects/north-connacht/the-project/

Energy and Climate Action in the Western Region- what is the way forward?

The Western Development Commission (WDC) recently made a submission to the Initial Consultation on Ireland’s National Energy and Climate Plan 2021-2030 (NECP).  This consultation was based on the template for the draft plan which Ireland is required to complete by the end of the year. The draft plan, once completed, will itself be the subject of a separate consultation process.  The WDC response focused on areas on which we work and on issues of key importance to the Region including rural issues, renewable energy and biomass use and electricity and natural gas transmission infrastructure.  The full WDC submission is available here.

Rural Issues

The Western Region (the area under the WDC remit) is very rural. Using the CSO definition 64.7% in of the population live outside of towns of 1,500 or more. Using the definition in Ireland 2040 the National Planning Framework 80% of people in Western Region live outside of towns of 10,000. Thus WDC work has a particular focus on the needs of, and opportunities for, more rural and peripheral areas.

Not only is the Western Region is very rural, it is important to also remember in regard to this Plan, that Ireland is one of the more rural members of the EU. It is critical, therefore, that the NECP takes this pattern of living into account and addresses the opportunities it provides as well as the challenges. Climate action for rural areas is not often discussed in policy and there is no significant body of work (internationally or nationally) on climate change and emissions issues for rural areas in developed countries and yet there are important differences in energy use patterns and emissions, in rural areas. While it is often acknowledged that rural dwellers have higher individual emissions the ways of addressing these are not usually explored partly because emissions reductions may be more difficult to achieve in rural areas and partly because the focus is usually on larger populations and ways to reduce the emissions of individuals living in more densely populated areas.

It should be remembered that, as in other policy areas, urban/rural is a rather simplistic division, which ignores the ‘suburban’ and the differences between rural towns and the open countryside which all have distinctive emission patterns. It is also important to be aware that people’s carbon footprints are closely linked to their incomes and consumption patterns and so do not necessarily relate directly to their location (urban or rural). In fact research in Finland[1] has highlighted higher emissions from urban dwellers based on their higher consumptions patterns. Nonetheless, despite the difficulties with a simple urban/rural dichotomy, there are of course concerns specific to rural dwellers emissions that deserve consideration.

Electricity, heat and transport are the three forms of energy use and therefore the source of emissions, for residential and commercial users and so the different urban and rural use patterns for each of these should be considered.  For more discussion of rural dwellers and climate mitigation see this post.

The WDC believes that it is essential that part of the NECP should have a specific focus on issues for rural areas, and actions to ensure that rural areas are in a position to benefit from a move to a low carbon economy (and there are many opportunities for them to do so) and that rural dwellers make a fair contribution to national goals for renewable energy and to actions to mitigate climate change.

Renewable Energy and Biomass

The WDC has been active in developing measures to promote the use of energy (in particular heat) from biomass, assessing biomass availability and the development of supply chains for its local use. Our experience has shown that strategic policy interventions must recognise the wider market environment in order to design and deliver effective, value for money policy and identify actions which result in sustainable market growth.

The WDC has shown that the renewable heat market has the potential to create considerable levels of employment across the Western Region and to provide long-term stable markets for low value wood fuels which can compete with fossil fuels and stabilise energy prices for end users (see here for WDC work on renewable energy).

An OECD report Linking Renewable Energy to Rural Development contains a useful examination of policy options and actions in fifteen OECD regions. It shows how bioenergy can provide greater local and national economic benefits than other renewable energies  and notes that bioenergy policy interventions are typically most effective when delivered at a regional and/or local level where they can be tailored to local resources and conditions.

Energy efficiency

Energy efficiency is one of the most important areas to be addressed in our NECP and this will require strategies for public, private and domestic users. The WDC believes that the public sector should be a model for energy efficiency and for use of renewable energy in heat and transport. In doing so, as well as providing examples and participating in pilot actions, the public sector will be an important customer for businesses in the developing renewable energy or climate action sectors. Given the difficulties of matching supply and demand at local levels in emerging renewable heat markets, public sector investment in energy efficiency and making use of renewable energy in day to day activities will help to stimulate the development of businesses and allow  supply chains to develop securely.

The WDC also believes that it is very important to ensure that local communities are in a position to participate in energy efficiency and renewable energy development projects. Given that a complex mix of policy instruments will be required to incentivise and empower people to achieve 2030 targets, it should be remembered that the SEAI Better Energy Community Programme has delivered almost 10% of the overall Irish energy efficiency target. If there was a suite of additional community supports in addition to the grant aid even more could be delivered. Community groups often lack time, technical expertise, access to finance and financial expertise, bargaining skills, equipment and capacity to complete lengthy grant application documents.

Energy Infrastructure

Electricity transmission

The WDC believes that it is important that we make the most of our opportunities to generate electricity where the best resource is available. For this it is essential that there is investment in transmission infrastructure in areas which have the greatest potential resources.

The WDC recently commissioned a study[2] of current and future needs for electricity transmission infrastructure in the Region.  The Western Region has a significant capacity of connected renewable generation. By 2020 there could be approximately 1,760MW of renewable generation connected in the WDC region, consisting of 1,595MW of wind generation and 165MW of hydro generation. The Western Region is currently producing enough renewable generation to meet 100% of its own demand. By 2020 it will be a net exporter of renewable energy, providing approximately 15% of the total national demand and making a significant contribution to the 2020 RES-E targets.

The Western Region has some of the best resources for on shore wind in Europe, and in the future, as technology improves, for offshore energy generation. It is therefore important to the Region and to Ireland, as well as the rest of the EU, that there is development of significant electricity transmission infrastructure projects in Donegal and North Mayo[3] in order to make the best use of this resource. While there are opportunities to use smart grid technologies to maximise the use of existing transmission infrastructure, further investment in new infrastructure is also needed. Developing electricity transmission infrastructure is a slow process, so it is important that the NECP has clear objectives in this area which can then feed into any new Grid Development Strategy so that EirGrid can develop a transmission grid fit for a low carbon economy in the long term.

Gas transmission

A significant part of the north west of Ireland does not have access to the natural gas transmission grid. As has been discussed by the WDC elsewhere, the development of the gas grid can give rise to significant savings for both commercial and domestic users (see Why invest in gas? Benefits of natural gas infrastructure for the north west). As a lower emission fossil fuel natural gas can also contribute to a reduction in emissions by users who connect and, in the future with the development of renewable gas, there will be further opportunities to lower emissions through its use in place of natural gas.

In addition, a high level study commissioned by government (conducted by KPMG) last year into the Irish National Gas Network examined issues relating to the wider economic costs and benefits of potential extensions to the Irish natural gas network, including decarbonisation, air quality, climate and emissions and regional and rural development benefits. The findings of this study have not yet been published but they should feed in to the NECP. The WDC believes that further focus on the use of natural gas as a transition fuel and on the development of gas transmission in the north west should form a key part of the NECP.

Conclusion

In this post I have outlined some of the key points in the WDC submission to the NECP Initial Consultation.  The WDC believes that the renewable energy and climate action have the potential to create considerable employment across the Western Region and to provide long term stable markets for many low value biological outputs, as well as ensuring that much of the money spent on energy remains in Ireland.  However, in order to make this happen we suggest that high level targets in the NECP should be translated into a regional and local context so they can drive the delivery of a thriving low carbon economy and spread the benefits throughout the country.

 

Helen McHenry

 

[1] Heinonen J and S Junnila, 2011 A Carbon Consumption Comparison of Rural and Urban Lifestyles Sustainability 2011, 3, 1234-1249;

[2] This study was conducted for the WDC by MullanGrid and will be available shortly.

[3] In addition to the North Connacht Project which is currently planned in North Mayo and which is unlikely to have any spare capacity by the time it is commissioned