Saturday August 8, 2020

We need the necessary innovation to decarbonise Ireland’s energy system.

‘Reducing carbon emissions in Ireland has to focus on all sectors’

28th January, 2020

Brian Mullins, Head of Regulatory Affairs with Gas Networks Ireland on the challenges ahead for Ireland’s energy market

What's your name?

Brian Mullins

What’s your current job?

Head of Regulatory Affairs, Gas Networks Ireland. In essence my role is to ensure that all regulatory obligations and initiatives are delivered for the business. This is particularly important as we roll out new innovations such as renewable gas, compressed natural gas and hydrogen.

How long have you held the position?

I took up my current position in August 2018. I have been with the company for fifteen years in a number of roles across the networks and supply side of the gas business.

Can you describe your daily work routine?

My role is engaging and varied. My key responsibilities include market development, market operations and regulatory compliance in Ireland, Northern Ireland, the UK and Europe. My key activities include:

-Leading the market processes around the delivery of gas e.g. facilitating customers changing supplier, dealing with supplier issues and engaging new suppliers into the Irish gas market and supporting the innovative technologies which will help us to achieve a carbon neutral gas network.

-Monitoring developments in Europe and ensuring the company is compliant with various licences, legislation and European frameworks.

What is your professional background?

I graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce from University College Cork (UCC) and went on to complete a Masters in Economics (MEconSc) also at UCC.

I joined the company’s first graduate programme and spent my first nine years in a number of gas trading roles in the supply side of the gas business. In 2013, I moved to the networks side of the business where I worked across a number of senior regulatory roles with Gas Networks Ireland before taking up my current position in August 2018.

Tell me about yourself away from work?

I am a proud Cork man married to an (equally proud!) Kerry woman. Deirdre and I have two young boys, Éanna (aged 1) and Iarla (aged 3), so home life is hectic at the moment!

My hobbies include music, soccer and cycling.

Tell us something very few people know about you?

I was lead singer in an ‘upcoming’ band in college. Unfortunately, artistic differences precluded us from reaching the dizzy heights of stardom…

You are speaking at the forthcoming Power Summit in Croke Park. What is the focus of your talk?

The Power Summit is timely given current developments in Ireland’s energy market. Natural gas not only supplies 700,000 customers directly, it also provides the fuel for on average 52% of Ireland’s electricity. My presentation: “Moving Ireland towards a cleaner energy future”, will address the following:

-The strong interdependence between the gas and electricity markets in Ireland

-How the gas network is delivering a cleaner energy future for Ireland, for now and into the future capable of transporting renewable gas and hydrogen

-The opportunity that technologies such as renewable gas, hydrogen and carbon capture and storage give us to decarbonise Ireland’s energy system.

What do you see as the main challenges ahead for Ireland’s energy market within the next 5 years?

I see two key challenges for Ireland’s energy system in the years ahead:

-Achieving 70% renewable generation by 2030: Ireland has made excellent progress in introducing renewable energy onto our grid. We have the second highest deployment of wind energy in the EU. This is only possible because we have the flexibility of gas to back up that generation. Moving to 70% will require continued use of natural gas to support the grid when renewables are not available. Approximately 52% of electricity generated in 2018 was from natural gas, which underlines the critical role of gas in Ireland’s energy mix. In practice, the reliance on gas for electricity generation requirements can be as high as 92% at times, depending on the prevailing conditions for renewable generation.

-Secondly, we need the necessary innovation to decarbonise Ireland’s energy system. We need to understand that electricity makes up less than one third of Ireland’s energy use. While great progress has been made to decarbonise electricity, there has been less focus on addressing emissions in other sectors of the economy including industry, agriculture, heating and transport. There are a number of solutions available to address Ireland’s climate targets and in practice a mixture of technologies will be required. When I look at the contribution that the gas network can make, there are huge opportunities to innovate with initiatives such as the injection of renewable gas on the network, the development of a Compressed Natural Gas fuelling network across the country to support the transition of the Heavy Goods Vehicles sector, and the development of new technologies in Ireland such as Carbon Capture and Storage. Up to 100% of the CO2 emissions from gas powered electricity generation can be captured through CCS, meaning Ireland can continue to benefit from the reliability of the gas network in a low carbon future. Our parent company, Ervia, is actively assessing the feasibility for CCS in Ireland.

Can you comment on Brexit and the possible outlook for Ireland’s gas market?

Brexit is an issue which Gas Networks Ireland has been closely monitoring and working on since the UK announced its decision to exit the European Union. Our assessment is that the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union will not impact on security of gas supply to the island of Ireland. Ireland’s gas network supplies Ireland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man and there is a high level of interconnectedness and interdependence between Ireland and the UK in energy matters.

While there is the potential for some regulatory divergence between the UK and the EU in the years ahead, we are confident that given the interconnected nature of our islands and our energy systems, this can be managed.

Brian will be speaking at the Power Summit on Januray 31 in Croke Park, Dublin.

For more details see www.powersummit.ie

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