Renewable Energy in Ireland

Evan Burke
November 12, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2017

Fig. 1: Wind turbines near Kilmore Quay, in the Southeast of Ireland. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Ireland is a country whose energy consumption relies heavily on fossil fuels. In 2016, 88.8% of Irish energy came from Oil, Natural Gas, or Coal. [1] However, Ireland's only indigenous fossil fuel is peat; all other fossil fuels are imported. [2] By contrast, Ireland possesses multiple different sources of renewable energy, and efforts are starting to be made to shift the country away from fossil fuels, both as an economic benefit resulting from a smaller energy budget, and as an environmental one. [2] This report aims to give an overview of the state of renewable energy resources in Ireland, and steps that are being made to harness them.

Efforts to Develop Renewable Energy

In 2007, the Irish government published "Delivering a Sustainable Energy Future for Ireland", a white paper outlining a plan to develop renewable energy infrastructure in the country. The white paper set targets of energy generated from renewable resources at 15% of total electricity consumption in 2010, and 33% in 2020. [2] Goodbody et al. report that in 2010 renewables generated 14.8 percent of Irish electricity, nearly meeting the 15% threshold. [1] Ireland's most recent progress report on its National Renewable Energy Action Plan submitted to the European commission in 2016 put the share of electricity generated at 22.7% in 2014. [3] Clearly, progress has been made, but Ireland has more to do to meet its goals.

Sources of Renewable Energy

Ireland's climate provides excellent opportunities for wind energy, using turbines like the ones pictured in Fig. 1. The country has an estimated technical resource of 6.13 × 109 Wh per year, about four times the European average; however Ireland currently uses less than one percent of its wind resource. [2]

Ireland also has exceptional potential to develop an energy sector from biomass. The country has the best growing climate in Europe based on Paterson's Climate Index, and possess large areas of forest and farmlands, in addition to access to a large number of animal byproducts, all of which can be used for biomass fuel. [2]

Ireland also has potential to develop technology to use mechanical motion or fluid pressure of ocean waves to generate electricity. The west coast of Ireland has the best wave energy resource in Europe, with annual average power levels of 76 kWh. [2] Ireland also possesses significant tidal resources along its east coast and in the Shannon estuary. [2] Technologies for both of these sources of energy are still in early development, but in 2014, the Strategic Environmental Assessment for the Offshore Renewable Energy Development Plan found that 1.5 × 109 W of wave and tidal generation could be sustainably developed in Irish waters. [3]

Solar energy potential in Ireland is somewhat limited, due to the lack of direct sunlight that the country receives during the year. Energy generation through concentrated solar power isn't a realistic possibility given the weather conditions, so the majority of solar energy in use in Ireland is devoted to lower-energy applications in private homes, like water and space heating. [2]

Future Prospects

Ireland has one of the most suitable climates in Europe for the harnessing of renewable energy, and though it has already made strides to reduce its energy dependency on fossil fuels, the possibilities for renewable energy in the country go far beyond the infrastructure currently in place. Connoly demonstrated the technical feasibility of an energy system in Ireland based 100% on renewables in 2011. [1] Such a framework will take a long time to implement, however; environmental concerns and a lack of financial incentives for the development of renewable energy still present significant roadblocks for a significant overhaul of Ireland's energy system. [2] Still, under obligations to the European Union and the Paris Accords, Ireland will likely continue its development of its renewable energy sector into the future.

© Evan Burke. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] I. D. Connolly et al., "The First Step Toward a 100% Renewable Energy System for Ireland," Appl. Energy 88, 502 (2011).

[2] F. O'Rourke, F. Boyle and A. Reynolds, "Renewable Energy Resources and Technologies Applicable to Ireland," Renew. Sust. Energy Rev. 13, 1975 (2009).

[3] "National Renewable Energy Action Plant (NREAP), Ireland: Third Progress Report," Government of Ireland, December 2015.