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Pat O’Doherty on how ESB is leading the charge in reducing carbon from the electricity system

At ESB, we have always believed in the power of electricity as an enabler of positive change in society. This is truer than ever now given the critical role that clean electricity will play in delivering Ireland’s low carbon future.

by Pat O'Doherty, Chief Executive of ESB

Significant progress has already been made to remove carbon from electricity generation in Ireland. Since 1990, the carbon intensity of electricity in Ireland has halved however, further steps are needed to remove carbon from electricity generation which currently accounts for just under a fifth of Ireland’s carbon emissions. 

This has been driven by various policy measures including  the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, which requires large carbon emitting sites, such as electricity generators, to progressively ratchet down their emissions to achieve carbon neutrality by around 2050

Progress is Happening

The progress that has been made in reducing carbon from electricity has been enabled by significant investment in Ireland’s electricity network. This has created smarter, more resilient networks, that are capable of facilitating a growing number of distributed energy assets like batteries, wind farms and electric vehicles on the system. 

System stability has been improved to the point that in 2016, more than 27 per cent of Ireland’s electricity was generated by wind - the second highest penetration of wind generation in Europe. This is a remarkable achievement given the island nature of our system.

But this is only the start. Over the next decade or so, Ireland will go from having a few thousand EVs and heat pumps using the network to hundreds of thousands, and from thousands of smart meters and contactable devices and sensors to millions.

The number of distributed generation and storage devices on the system will also increase dramatically. In the future, the flexibility needed to balance the system will increasingly be enabled through flexible demand mobilised through active customers, rather than flexible generation. 

These will present new demands on the network that have to be anticipated and planned for now.

Renewable Energy

Over the next decade, we will completely transform our generation portfolio, replacing old plant with a mixture of renewables and high efficiency gas.

This will cut the carbon intensity of our generation mix by over two thirds and provide flexible back up to allow more renewables come onto the system.

By 2030, about 40 per cent of our generation will be from renewable sources.

Recent developments to support this include a new strategic partnership with Bord na Mona to develop solar projects on disused peatlands, the acquisition of a stake in the Galloper offshore wind farm off the Suffolk coast and the opening of a new office in Glasgow to build out our onshore renewable business in Scotland. Later this year, we will open our first biomass plant in Tilbury, Docks in London, using waste wood. 

Customer Initiatives

The willingness of ordinary people to adapt their lifestyles, adopt new technologies and participate actively in the new energy landscape is critical to meeting national targets.

At ESB, we are developing new customer solutions to help people make better energy choices and manage their energy use more efficiently. 

We have built a very strong digital capability within ESB to support the development of customer focused innovations and other services which will increase efficiency and transform the way that consumers interact with the electricity system.

For instance, our Smart Energy Services business unit which will deliver €150m in energy efficiency savings to large energy customers by 2020. 

Beyond 2030

While renewable technologies are advancing all the time and will continue to grow as a proportion of overall energy generation, no single technology has emerged as a replacement for large scale thermal generation.   All existing options – CCS gas, solar, onshore and offshore wind, nuclear, ocean, biomass and interconnection - have limitations, either in terms of affordability or energy security.

Despite rapid innovation in hybrid renewable / battery / solar projects, ‘renewable baseload’ at scale is still a long way off so high efficiency gas will be necessary as a transition fuel to meet interim targets and solve a variety of technical and grid balancing requirements. Beyond 2030, ESB anticipates a combination of renewable generation and gas with CCS will be needed to displace carbon from the system and maintain security of supply.

Looking ahead, electricity will play an even bigger role in people’s lives than it has in the past.  We therefore need to work together as an industry to ensure that business models remains fair, inclusive and customer led, and that customers enjoy a seamless, integrated and outstanding experience. 


This is an excerpt from Pat O’Doherty’s speech at the Energy Ireland Conference on Tuesday June 19.