Science & Technology in Action

13th Edition

Tomorrow's energy scenarios


In order to help plan and operate the future transmission system, EirGrid have developed four different ‘future possibilities’ or scenarios to help plan the system with future uncertainties. These scenarios are summarised in this lesson.

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The full lessons along with a supporting toolkit are available in three different formats, A4, A3 and as a Powerpoint deck.

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Contains the full lesson along with a supporting toolkit, including teachers’ notes.

Lesson excerpt

One of EirGrid’s roles is to make sure that Ireland’s electricity transmission grid is appropriate to meet future needs. How it does this will depend on what path we choose to meet our national energy demand while complying with our international commitments.

Ireland’s energy

Following the economic downturn in 2008, Ireland’s primary energy use dropped about 20%. Then in 2015 there was a significant increase in energy use. Economic activity increased by 4.8% and there was a corresponding increase in energy use (4.9%) and in carbon dioxide emissions (5.8%). About 88% of the energy was derived from fossil fuels. Renewable energy accounted for about 25% of the country’s total electricity needs or about 9% of our total energy requirement. This is more than half way towards meeting the 2020 target of producing 16% of our total energy from renewable sources. (SEAI 2016 Report: Renewable Electricity in Ireland 2015.)

Ireland’s energy and emissions targets

In 2015, the Irish government released a white paper entitled ‘Ireland’s Transition to a Low Carbon Future 2015 – 2030’. It outlined further steps towards reducing dependence on fossil fuels over the coming years so that we can meet both the energy and emissions targets for 2020, 2030 and 2050 to which we are committed. These are described below.

The 2020 target

The EU has set a target that 16% of Ireland’s energy consumption must come from renewable sources by 2020. In order to achieve this, the government split the renewable energy target into three sectors – 40% from electricity, 12% from heat, and 10% from transport.Based on the progress made to date, it is likely that Ireland will meet its electricity target by 2020 or very shortly afterwards.

The 2030 target

The EU has set a target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40% in 2030 compared to 1990 levels. In order to achieve this, EU-wide targets have been set for power generation, large industrial plants and aviation while each EU member state has been given individual targets in the areas of agriculture, heating and transport. Ireland has been allowed some flexibility with regard to some of these targets and so there is some uncertainty as to what the final target will be. We may see up to 65% of electricity coming from low carbon generation by 2030. Between 1990 and 2015 our greenhouse gas emissions actually increased by almost 25%.

The 2050 target

The EU ambition is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80-95% by 2050, compared to 1990 levels. The targets for 2020 and 2030 are milestones along that path. It is likely further energy and emissions targets will be set in the future.

True or False?

  1. Following the economic downturn in 2008 Ireland’s primary energy use dropped about 2%. false
  2. In the future the percentage of primary energy going to electricity generation is expected to fall. true
  3. Primary energy is energy coming directly from the Sun. false
  4. About 50% of Ireland’s energy supplies come from renewable sources. false
  5. Half of our imported fuel is used for transport and half for electricity generation. false
  6. By 2020 40% of our electricity supply should be generated from renewable sources. true
  7. By 2030 our greenhouse gas emissions should be down to 1990 levels. false
  8. By 2050 the demand for electricity is forecast to drop by 28%. false
  9. By 2030 there will be a 200% increase in the use of heat pumps. false

Glossary of terms

typically, material of biological origin that can be used directly or indirectly as a fuel
a high-speed, high-capacity data transmission system that can operate over telephone lines, but is not confined to them
Data centre
A facility housing computer systems and associated components.
Emissions targets
agreed target to reduce emission of greenhouse gases
Fossil fuels
coal, oil or natural gas that result from the fossilisation of ancient plants or animals
Greenhouse gas
compounds of the atmosphere that contribute to the greenhouse effect by absorbing terrestrial radiation
Heat pump
a device or system to transfer heat from a source (e.g. the ground) to where it is required (e.g. a house)
a conductor used to link two or more electrical networks
the unit of work and energy; one joule (J) is one newton metre; a joule of work is done when a force of a newton acts through a distance of one metre; names after James Prescott Joule
a kilowatt hour (more correctly written kW h); a quantity of energy equal to 3, 600, 000 joules (3.6 MJ)
low carbon generation
generating electricity in ways that reduce or eliminate the release of carbon dioxide
megawatt; a measure of power; a million watts
Primary energy
the total energy input; in the case of electricity much of the energy input is lost as heat during generation and transmission
renewable energy sources (hydro, solar, wind...)
switching the fuel type in electricity generation (usually to reduce carbon emissions)
a story or sequence of steps
Transmission grid
a network of pipes for the purpose of conveying oil or gas from place to place