The BIG Issue
The current changes in the planet’s climate are transforming the world. Each of the last four decades has been warmer than any previous decade since 1850 and the last two decades has included 18 of the warmest years on record. Extreme weather events, such as forest fires, heatwaves and floods, are becoming more frequent in Europe and elsewhere. Evidence for warming of our climate system is beyond dispute. There is unequivocal evidence that human influence has warmed the climate at a rate that is unprecedented in the last 2,000 years. It is also becoming increasingly clear that the weather and climate extremes now being experienced are being driven by climate change which is caused by our actions. Observations show that global average temperatures have now increased by more than 1°C since preindustrial times. Scientists warn that without urgent action, global warming is likely to be more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels by 2060, and could even be as much as 5°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. The atmosphere and oceans have warmed, the amount of snow and ice has reduced and sea levels have risen as the concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) have increased. The impacts of climate change are now affecting every part of the world. Projections of future global and regional climate change indicate that continued emissions of GHGs will cause further warming and further changes to our climate. The evidence now suggests that as global temperatures increase the extremes of weather and climate we experience will also increase. Climate change will have a devastating impact on nature, bringing about irreversible changes to many ecosystems, with a consequent loss of biodiversity and the ecosystem functions and services that human well-being depends on. Higher temperatures and extreme weather events will result in huge costs to Ireland’s and the EU’s economy and society.
Irelands emissions to date
Ireland’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have undergone considerable shift in the three decades since 1990. According to the Environmental protection Agency (EPA) inventory data, the rate of emissions reduction was modest up to 2008, with efforts to decarbonise constrained by strong economic activity. Since 2011, emissions have trended upwards again with an overall peak in emissions reported in 2018. Agriculture is the largest source of emissions, representing 37.1% of total national emissions in 2020, based on provisional estimates. The transport and energy industries (primarily power generation) sectors represent 17.9% and 15.0% respectively, of total GHG emissions in 2020. The transport sector has been the fastest growing source of GHG emissions, showing a 100 per cent increase between 1990 and 2020. These three key sectors - agriculture, transport and energy industries - consistently have the largest share of emissions.
The ENERGY issues
Source: SEAI - This graph shows the energy balance for Ireland in 2020
On the left are the primary energy inputs to the Irish energy system. Primary energy includes the raw fuels that are used for transformation processes such as electricity generation and oil refining. The sum of all primary energy is the Total Primary Energy Requirement (TPER). Fossil fuels accounted for almost 86% of all energy used in Ireland in 2020.
On the right are the sources of demand for final energy. Final energy includes the energy used directly in the different sectors such as transport, residential and industry. Final energy does not include energy lost during transformation processes such as electricity generation. The sum of all final energy used in all sectors is known as Total Final Consumption (TFC). Transport has been by far the largest source of energy demand in Ireland since 2000. Also on the right is the energy that is lost during transformation processes such as electricity generation and oil refining. The electricity system has become much more efficient since 2000 but is still only just over 50% efficient. This means that almost half of all the energy used to generate electricity is lost before it gets to the final customer.
Source: SEAI - Primary energy by fuel
Source: SEAI - % Share - Primary energy by fuel
Primary energy peaked in 2008 and declined between 2008 and 2014, due to the recession. Following the economic recovery, primary energy returned to growth in 2015 and 2016. It remained flat in 2017, grew 1.6% in 2018, then declined 0.8% in 2019. In 2020, the pandemic caused primary energy to fall by 8.7%.
Oil continues as the dominant energy source, holding a 45% share of primary energy in 2020, but shrinking from 49% share in both 2018 and 2019. Consumption of oil fell by 16.5% in 2020, descending to 34% below 2005 consumption. Oil is mostly used for transport, followed by heating. The falls in 2020 oil consumption occurred in the transport sector, especially aviation, followed by road transport.
Natural gas is the next largest energy source and accounted for 34% of primary energy in 2020, increasing from 30% in 2018 and 31% in 2019. Most natural gas is used for generating electricity. It accounted for 57% of energy inputs to electricity generation in 2020, up from 56% in 2019 and 54% in 2018.
Total renewable energy increased by 9% during 2020. Wind is the largest source of renewable energy, accounting for 56% of all renewable energy in 2020. It grew by15% in that year. As a share of primary energy, renewables accounted for 13.3% in 2020, up from 11.2% in 2019 and 10.0% in 2018.
Renewables are on the up but there is one green energy source that does not appear in Irelands green energy make-up…..GEOTHERMAL ENERGY
Geothermal energy is free, clean and ultimately, inevitable for Ireland’s, Europe’s and the worlds transition to CO2 neutral energy.
The heat generated from the earth is far greater than that required by the world’s population. It is also constant and can therefore produce clean renewable power and heat regardless of the weather conditions at surface. Geothermal is a clean, natural and sustainable energy source and just as important to that, it has a very small surface footprint. It can support the electricity grid with dispatchable power and provide decarbonised heat.
General Geothermal Theory
The inside of the Earth is very hot. Below the solid crust that we live on, the temperature is about 1000 degrees centigrade, rising to 6000 at the core. As hot as the surface of the sun, so wherever you are on the planet, the rocks get hotter, the deeper you go.
This is called the geothermal gradient.
In some volcanic regions (Iceland, New Zealand) the geothermal gradient is very high, and the energy can be harnessed by drilling shallow holes or wells to bring hot water or even steam to the surface. Ireland isn't volcanic, but beneath the surface in certain areas, for example Connacht & Clare, there's a huge volume of Granite. Because of its chemical composition, the granite produces extra heat, which means the temperatures underground are the highest in the west of Ireland.
The key is to confidently identify these areas and the appropriate depths, because aside from the natural heat gradient, natural fractures in the rock allow water to move through load and cross core structures. Water has been circulating underground like this for millions of years.
Teirmeach’s Geothermal Energy Solution
Teirmeach Energy has assembled a vastly experienced, cross functional team to bring this technology to Ireland and beyond. See Our Team
Irelands climate action plan
Geothermal in Ireland
EU 2050 Climate plan
Energy Policies of IEA countries: Ireland
Eirgrid Smartgrid Dashboard – system information
EirGrid Group plc - Smart Grid Dashboard
Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland
Climate Trace – CO2 footprints around the planet and more:
About the Author
Dr Brian O’Connell
Having just returned to Ireland after 15 years around the world in the Oil & Gas Industry, I see a future for Geothermal Energy in Ireland. Quick description, Physics degree in UL, PhD in Geophysics In NUIG, worked oil & gas industry around the world for 15 years & just completed a MSc in Smurfit, Renewable Energy and Environmental Finance. Degrees are easy, geoscience is not. https://www.linkedin.com/in/brian-oconnell-phd-91178840/