Science & Technology in Action

13th Edition

Preparing for future electricity needs


In order to meet future energy needs in a sustainable way we must lessen our dependence on imported fossil fuels, reduce our carbon emissions, and embrace the transition to a sustainable, low carbon future. The transition to a low-carbon future must ensure security of supply and competitiveness.

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Lesson excerpt

Future energy requirements in Ireland

Over the next eight years or so the demand for electricity in Ireland (NI and ROI) is expected to rise by between approximately 8% and 27%, based on economic assumptions. The current total annual demand is about 37 TWh (terrawatt-hours; 1 TW = 1012 W = 106 MW). It is expected that there will be a large increase in the establishment and expansion of data centres in Ireland and that this will be the main contributor to the increased demand for electricity. Relatively small increases are anticipated in residential, industrial and commercial demand over the same period.

How is the demand met at present?

In 2016 the total (all-island) demand was 37.6 TWh. Of this 25% was generated from renewable sources (mainly wind) and 75% from fossil fuels (principally natural gas). The peak demand occurs during winter weekday evenings while the minimum usage occurs during summer weekend night-time hours. Severe winters have a significant effect on demand as happened in 2010 and 2011.

A low carbon future

The Government White Paper entitled Ireland’s Transition to a Low Carbon Energy Future, 2015-2030 set out “a vision for transforming Ireland’s fossil fuel-based energy sector into a clean, low carbon system by 2050”. Fossil fuels are composed of carbon compounds, especially hydrocarbons, and when they are burned they produce mainly carbon dioxide and water. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution (ca. 1760) the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere rose from 280 to 400 ppm.

True or False?

  1. Over the next eight years electricity demand is expected to double. false
  2. In 2016 the total (all-island) electricity demand was 37.6 TWh. true
  3. About 35% of our total energy comes from renewables. false
  4. The establishment of data centres will cause a slight increase in electricity demand. false
  5. About 75% of our current energy comes from fossil fuels. true
  6. The burning of fossil fuels has increased atmospheric CO2 by 20%. false
  7. The 2020 targets require a 20% reduction in our total energy use. false
  8. The 2020 targets require a 20% improvement in energy efficiency. true
  9. To meet the 2020 targets we need at least 250 MW of extra wind power each year. true

Glossary of terms

methane produced by the decomposition of biological material (biomass) such as animal slurry
typically, material of biological origin that can be used directly or indirectly as a fuel
the maximum amount
Capacity factor
The ratio of a plant's actual energy output to its output at full capacity
Data centre
A facility housing computer systems and associated components.
by-products (e.g. of combustion) that are released into the environment
Enhanced greenhouse effect
the extra warming of the Earth's surface and lower atmosphere due to additional greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere
Fossil fuels
coal, oil or natural gas that result from the fossilisation of ancient plants or animals
Greenhouse effect
the warming of the atmosphere due to absorption of infra-red radiation from the ground; the atmosphere is transparent to visible light, much of which is absorbed by the ground which radiates energy at longer wavelengths (infrared and microwaves)
compounds containing hydrogen and carbon only
Landfill gas
gas generated by the decay of refuse in a landfill; mainly methane
liquid petroleum gas
megawatt; a measure of power; a million watts
non-ETS emissions
emissions not included in the Emissions Trading System
parts per million
energy derived from resources that are self-sustaining for all practical purposes cannot be depleted
renewable energy sources
Solar PV
solar photovoltaic cells/installation; generation of electricity directly from sunlight
terawatt-hour; a thousand million watt-hours; 3.6x10^12 joules
White Paper
an official government proposal or report on an issue.