A new report - published the same week as statistics reveal significant growth in Irish energy use - has warned of the threat Brexit poses to Ireland’s energy security.
Uncertainty surrounding Britain’s post-Brexit status could hinder projects which aim to end Ireland’s “relative isolation” from the continental European energy market, according to the report by the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA), says.
“Brexit could impact negatively on security of supply”, the report reads, noting that only one high voltage link connects Ireland’s single electricity market with Britain.
“Each aspect of Ireland’s energy trilemma – competitiveness, sustainability and security of energy supply – could be heavily affected by the referendum vote calling for the UK to depart the EU”, the report notes.
“The lack of greater interconnection is a major concern” for Ireland’s highly concentrated energy market, while a proposed EU plan which would see Ireland, Britain and France clustered into a single regional electricity market, is now up in the air.
With Britain out of the EU, Ireland’s connection to France would run through a ‘third country’ – something that would involve regulatory complications.
Senior energy fellow at the IIEA, Helen Donoghue, told The Business Post: "Now with Brexit, a lot of uncertainty will have to dealt with as regards to the long-term development of our energy systems, and then there were will be issues with regards to day-to-day operations."
Donoghue previously served as principal administrator of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Energy, and was one of those who oversaw the EU’s 2050 energy roadmap.
While the all-island single energy market is not threatened by Britain’s departure, 85 per cent of Ireland’s gas supply comes from Britain. EU law currently requires Britain to compensate for supply disruptions in Ireland, but a post-Brexit environment leaves Ireland wide open to energy crises, and that’s even considering the upcoming availability of gas from the Corrib pipeline.
EU energy policy, without insisting on a one-size-fits-all policy, has allowed member states, including Ireland, to rely mainly on their neighbours.
If EU regulation were no longer in place, a whole new range of uncertainties would come into the picture
Although Ireland’s energy policy is very much focused on increasing efficiency and developing our own renewable energy resources, we’ve still embraced the ability to depend on our nearest neighbour when it comes to the security of our energy supply.
That's because even the most-developed 21st century energy strategies rely on access to gas to some degree.
"If that EU regulation were no longer in place, a whole new range of uncertainties would come into the picture,” said Donoghue.
“In very concrete terms, you have to link the two things: our dependence – our willingness to depend on resources coming from and through other countries – has been absolutely underpinned by the legislation and the regulations provided in the EU context."
Energy systems of the future aren’t just focused on the essence of renewable power, but also on the distribution of Ireland’s energy resources. “Renewables in electricity systems – if you rely on them – imply the need for greater efficiency and greater flexibility,” says Donoghue.
“Flexibility can come from more flexibility on the demand side, with citizens and communities, and it can also come from storage, where we have players in the storage area, like with Gaelectric, that are doing very interesting things.”
That was something placed at the centre of last year’s government white paper on Ireland’s transition to a low-carbon energy future – putting a new focus on citizens and communities as active participants in Ireland’s energy sector.
"Ireland is relatively well advanced on electricity systems with a big reliance on renewables,” said Donoghue.
“We're relatively far ahead when it comes to building in the necessary flexibility and the general idea that more local resources and more local actions from communities and citizens need to be taken on board.”
But will the threat Brexit poses to our energy security act as a spur to speed up this process?
“All one can really say in energy policy is that people are always thinking about the longer term,” said Donoghue.
“The dependence on using our own, more local resources – both energy resources and an increased readiness of citizens to be active in the energy field – will give us more domestic options,” she said. And that, she notes, is a positive in any case.