Academic review refutes claim that gas is essential to Ireland's energy security
Study published as consultation closes on plan Minister says heralds 'a revolution in how we live'
November 12 2018, 05:24pm
The Stop Climate Chaos Coalition  has published new research  which finds the best way to ensure Ireland's energy security is the rapid development of indigenous renewables combined with energy storage technology. This would allow Ireland phase out all fossil fuels, including fossil gas, in line with our commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement. The study contradicts a report from the Irish Academy of Engineering in July which claimed that fossil gas is essential to Ireland's energy security . This new research comes on the closing day of a government consultation for what Minister Bruton describes as a new "all of Government plan" to tackle climate change which will "require a revolution in how we live" .
Lead author of the report, Professor Barry McMullin of the School of Electronic Engineering of DCU, said:
"The report of the Irish Academy of Engineering is mistaken in severely underestimating the rate at which carbon emissions from the Irish energy system must now be eliminated and in its discounting of the technical and economic feasibility of such rapid decarbonisation.
"Based on Ireland’s large natural resource of renewable energy coupled with the use of large-scale energy storage, rapid fossil fuel phase out is not only technically feasible, but can progressively eliminate the security-of-supply risks associated with all imported fossil fuels, while simultaneously decarbonising at the scale and urgency demanded by good faith participation in the Paris agreement."
Commenting, a spokesperson for the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition, Oisin Coghlan said:
"This study is very timely. The recent UN climate science report concludes we need to reduce our climate pollution to zero by 2050. There is no way to achieve that if we continue to invest in and depend on fossil gas. As Minister Bruton prepares a new climate and energy plan for Ireland, this research lights the path to a fossil free energy system that is secure, sustainable and affordable.
"Too often in the past Ministers say business-as-usual is not an option and then their Department writes a plan that is based on little or no disturbance to business-as-usual. Minister Bruton has said we need a revolution in how we live to tackle climate change. This report makes it clear that that revolution means getting off all fossil fuels, including gas."
This new research was commissioned by the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition in response to the paper published by the Irish Academy of Engineering in July 2018 called "NATURAL GAS: Essential for Ireland’s Future Energy Security". Today's report is an independent analysis of the issues by four academics. The lead author is the DCU Professor of Engineering Barry McMullin, and the co-authors include Prof Kevin Anderson, chair of energy and climate in the School of Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering (MACE) at the University of Manchester. Stop Climate Chaos has sent the report to the Department of Climate Action and Environment as part of its submission to the consultation on Ireland's new National Climate and Energy Plan .
1. Stop Climate Chaos is the civil society coalition campaigning for Ireland to do its fair share to tackle climate change. The Coalition’s 33 members include overseas aid and development, environmental, youth and faith-based organisations. https://www.stopclimatechaos.ie/about/
2. The new study by Prof Barry McMullin et al is online here: https://www.stopclimatechaos.ie/download/pdf/is_natural_gas_essential_for_irelands_future_energy_security_scc_study_november_2018.pdf
3. The report of the Irish Academy of Engineering is here: http://iae.ie/publications/iae-report-on-security-of-irelands-gas-supply/
5. The Stop Climate Chaos Coalition submission to the 1st NECP consultation is here: https://www.stopclimatechaos.ie/download/pdf/stop_climate_chaos_coalition_submission_to_dccae_1st_consultation_on_necp.pdf
6. The Key Findings of the study are:
- The IAE report severely underestimates the rate at which CO₂ emissions from the Irish energy system must now be eliminated — assuming good faith action on the basis of the Paris Climate Agreement. This fundamentally undermines the analysis presented.
- We agree fully with the IAE that reliance on imported natural gas already raises very serious security-of-supply concerns for the Irish energy system.
- However: any energy policy involving the displacement of other fossil fuels specifically in favour of natural gas, even on a “transitional” basis (a so-called “natural gas bridge”), as suggested by the IAE, would greatly escalate that security-of-supply risk while simultaneously failing to achieve the required speed of decarbonisation of the Irish energy system. This arises from relying — by design — on a single, high carbon, fuel (natural gas) for critical stability and inter-seasonal balancing of the electricity system, while tacitly assuming progressive electrification of significant proportions of current transport and heating energy demand. Given limited (and rapidly depleting) indigenous natural gas supply, this would introduce, by design, a potential single point of failure for almost the entire energy system in the case of any major international natural gas supply disruption, while simultaneously inhibiting the required scale and speed of energy system decarbonisation.
- In contrast, we argue that by far the best way to address both Irish energy security and the pressing need for rapid decarbonisation is to constrain and reduce energy consumption (through efficiency measures and/or absolute reductions in energy services) and to directly exit from the use of all fossil fuels, including natural gas, as quickly as is safely feasible, replacing them by indigenous zero- or (potentially) negative-carbon energy resources to the maximum possible extent.
- In the specific case of Ireland, there are clearly identifiable pathways to transition the great majority of its energy requirement to proven indigenous zero- or negative-carbon energy sources (primarily wind, solar, and sustainably cultivated indigenous bioenergy). This does require, inter alia, the development of large scale (multi-TWh) energy storage facilities to buffer variability on at least an annual basis. We find that such energy storage is technically feasible, using well proven conversion and storage technologies, through the use of gaseous and/or liquid “electrofuels”: hydrogen, ammonia, possibly synthetic hydrocarbons (with carbon cycling), all produced primarily from indigenous variable renewable energy sources.
- Finally, within the known physical constraints of the Paris Climate Agreement (the “Global Carbon Budget”) we find that there is no credible case to be made for bringing new fossil fuel resources into production: any such additional production would inevitably add to total global atmospheric concentration of CO₂. Short term, not to say fundamentally misplaced, concerns in relation to national energy security cannot ethically be addressed by compromising climate stability for generations to come (cf. Boyd 2018): therefore neither current energy security concerns, nor, especially, a deliberate choice to further impair future energy security (through a mistaken “gas bridge” decarbonisation strategy) can be taken as valid arguments against the immediate cessation of new Irish offshore fossil fuel exploration which has been proposed in the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development (Amendment) (Climate Emergency Measures) Bill 2018.