Tuesday 25 January 2011

Renewable Energy or Electricity? Conference report

The national renewable energy summit took place in Dundalk last month. I was invited to represent the bioenergy sector in the energy debate.
I'll share my perspective on this conference, which was well organised and attended.
Eamon Ryan gave probably his last conference speech before his sudden departure as Minister for Energy. He defended his track record on energy, highlighting in particular the 15% growth in renewable energy in Ireland under his tenure and the advances in bringing electric vehicles to Ireland. He argued the case for continuity of energy policy across the political spectrum.
Policy aspirations he mentioned, which are now redundant unless acted on by his successors, included a new Refit for farm-based microgeneration. He acknowledged the outstanding Refit III delay and said it would be addressed.

Brian Motherway of SEAI spoke about recently launched bioenergy and ocean energy roadmaps. The contrast between the two is stark. While in the long term (2050), you can conclude that bioenergy will become the biggest single primary energy source, the roadmap contains scant data about the jobs and investment potential. This is partly due to the diverse nature of bioenergy technologies and difficulties modelling this. The ocean energy roadmap paints a picture of an exciting industry with 50,000 jobs potentially created by 2030 and up to 30 GW of ocean energy coming online by 2050.
Others spoke about electricity grid infrastructure and the difficulties for regulation of the grid with large amounts of unpredictable generators (mainly wind) coming online.

From the bioenergy perspective I was pleased to bring attention to the sector potential and need for policy focus. Two thirds of energy is used as heat or transport, and I asked those present to consider energy policy being lead according to end-use, not based primarily around electricity generation.

Biomass offers robust proven solutions for heat and transport. The 12% renewable heat target will be met mainly from bioenergy sources.

Notwithstanding the introducion of electric vehicles, the target to displace 10% of fossil fuels in transport by 2020 will be substantially met by biofuels. The example of bringing electric vehicles to Inis Mor in recent weeks is a good one. The truck that brought them to Galway port and the boat that transferred them to the island run on diesel.

It is easy for policy makers to overlook bioenergy for electricity as it will never deliver the impressive generation capacities expected from wind and ocean energy. I emphasised the following :
  • Bioenergy technologies offer dispatchable (i.e. predicable) power output
  • Many bioenergy technologies use waste as feedstock, allowing diversion from landfill
  • Biomass feedstocks can be integrated in existing peat and coal-fired power stations
  • Proven and reliable technology exists for handling biomass feedstocks
In terms of policy needs I said the carbon tax is a blunt but effective instrument, and in the absence of grant supports, this is the best way to stimulate the market for carbon-free bioenergy for heat and transport.
I stressed the need for additional work on the modelling of the socioeconomic contribution from bioenergy.
I also highlighted the need for simplified public procurement of bioheat through energy contracting.
I pointed out that our existing biofuel policy will not promote the use of Irish-origin biofuels