March 6, 2009


Posted in Your Ideas · 12 comments ·

In order to get out of this mess we need our economy to grow. Here are a few ideas on how to stimulate the economy. The next crisis that will hit the world in the not to distant future will be an energy crisis. Ireland will be particularly vulnerable in this regard. I have a particular interest in renewable energy. Ireland imports over 80% or its energy, spending billions or euro in the process. This is mainly Oil and gas. To run our cars generate electricity and heat out houses. My idea to generate jobs and replace imported energy for heating our houses. This will be done by replacing oil and gas with biomass i.e. wood pellets and wood chip. There are already a number of instillations in the country but they are small in relation to the overall number of houses. The government should set a target to convert 50% houses to run on biomass heating within the next 5 years. This would require a stimulus package. Given the state of the government finances this will be difficult to do. Perhaps they could defer some taxes like vat or corporation tax for a period of 2-3 years, this would help with cash flow within business.
It is a win win situation, jobs would be created in the instillation of new heating systems, Sustainable Jobs would be created in the production and distribution of fuel. As imports would be replaced billions would be kept in the country. There would be taxes generated by worker in the sector as well as vat receipts from the sale of the products (This would be revenue neutral as it would replace taxes from oil and gas.). As the fuel is carbon neutral it would reduce the amount that would have to be spent in the purchasing of carbon credits under the Kyoto Protocol. I believe this will be a growth sector over the coming years. The government should do their best to accelerate it growth.

  1. Deco

    What about tidal power ? There is a long list of coastal towns in Ireland who could operate their own co-operative electricity companies based on Wave energy or tidal power. Using battery storage systems they could store any surplus power and use later, or sell to neighbouring districts.

    Just look at the Irish coastline. Wexford, Dundalk, Youghal, Ballina, even Galway could operate such a proposal.

    No need for the ESB. Just the local townspeople start a co-operative and contribute 500 Euro per share. Then draw up a project to power their town, at a supply rate that they can agree upon. Then release a tender process, review the entire tendering options, select an option, and then commission the power plant. Everything done completely transparent.

    The townspeople can then own the electricity company, and can get a dividend from their own electricity consumption. In all likelihood such a co-operative would charge lower electricity prices, than the monolithic ESB. The ESB no longer functions as an organization in the public interest. Let the people of these coastal towns have the option to supply their own electricity, and cut out the ESB !!!!!

  2. gibbonm

    Hi Deco
    Thanks for the reply. It is true that we should be looking to other forms for generating electricity. Ireland’s energy used is divided into 3 main areas electricity, heating and transport. My suggestion is aimed purely at the heating sector. As regards the electricity sector there are a number of options, tidal as you suggested, The easiest option would be to build a nuclear power station, however this is expensive to build, expensive to decommission, and there is the big issue or waste, which has to be stored for millennia. However there are other options. Ireland should be looking to exploit its natural resources, in terms of energy, wind is our biggest resource. Particularly on our west coast. The main problem with wing is its intermittent nature too much wind one day, not enough the next. Typical wind farms have a capavity factor of 35% i.e. in any one year a wind turbine will only generate 35% of installed capacity i.e. a 1Mw turbine will on average produce 350kw. So how do you solve this problem, at this present moment existing power stations take up the slack when there is no wind, but there is another better way, Pumped storage, this is when a turbine is producing electricity that there is no demand for when this happens the excess energy is used to pump water into a reservoir, when the wind dies this water is then released to generate electricity. Here is a link to a very interesting article, with details on how it could be applied to Ireland.
    I think this would be the best option for Ireland to pursue. We use our own natural resources, and once it is paid for it will mean very cheap electricity.
    The final part is Transport, virtually all out transport fuel, petrol and diesel is imported, there is a very small fraction of Biofuels produced in Ireland. Are Biofuels the answer, in a word NO. we would have to cover every square inch of the country in oil seed rape and grain, and use all this to make fuel, and we still would not have enough to meet our needs, and no food is produced I don’t think that this is a viable option. We could start to use electric vehicles, this may work for short journeys and you also have to have a secure electricity supply. This is one area where I do not have a solution for. I know that there is some very interesting research being done at the university of limerick in the field of Carbon dioxide re-synthesis, This is where carbon dioxide is taken from the Air and via a series of chemical reactions it is converted back into hydrocarbons that can be used as fuel, I theory it works, Shell use a similar technology to produce its Gas to liquids fuel, Sasol on south Africa use a similar process to manufacture Aviation fuel, so it is possible.
    My suggestion was for a quick easy fix for the economy, but in terms of energy we need a clear long term plan, along with large investment in infrastructure, and it needs to be done sooner rather than later. Lets hope that it is sooner.

  3. Deco

    gibbonm – there is a powerful vested interest – the careers of a bunch of people in the ESB who are there because they knew some minister or political magnate like Cullen or Dempey.

    We need the implementation of competition policy with regard to the rate that Eirgrid (another political quango) and the ESB pay for electricity that they are supplied.

    The ESB are committed to preventing the type of electricity generation model that I described above from taking place. The Green minister is happy with expensive electricity – the Greens think fossil fuels are too cheaply priced – therefore the Greens think they are doing something positive by having the most expensive electricity in Europe. Yes – I know – what idiots !!!

    Maybe if some local group started a co-operative for tidal power generation for their town that would change things. This already exists in Denmark(wind), Spain (solar) and parts of London(incinerate waste to generate power).

    In Ireland, you can be certain the gombeen element will prevent it from happening. The energy we need blowing over everybody’s heads. But the market is rigged to protect the ESB hierarchy of managers and a small clique of unions. Holding a nation back.

    What was it Yeats said that Ireland was a sow that ate her own farrow ??? Just look at the ESB….it still applies to this day…

  4. gibbonm

    Hi Deco
    While i think that it is true what you are saying about the ESB and the unions, but i think that there are some moves in the right direction, The creation of Eirgrid. this separates the generation and supply side of the electricity market. and should lead to more generators being added to the system, Also a feed in tarriff for microgeneration has been set at 19cent/kwh (I think this is correct but i could be wrong), so anyone can erech a small wind trubine and sell electricity back to the national grig. There is also the entry of bord gais into the electricity market, which should help drive down prices. However electricity prices here are still to high and need to drop significantly, this should be top of the governments agenda

  5. liam


    I was intending a post on exactly this topic but you’ve got it covered. I certainly think this is by far the most important thing we can be doing, regardless of the current economic bump.

    By the way, deregulation might well have the benefit of taking on the vested interests in ESB but the assumption that choice is de facto the best thing for the consumer is not valid. (

    Anyway my two cents below:

    Ireland is relatively efficient in energy use, but is massively dependant on energy imports, and will only become more dependant in the future.

    Over 50% of our energy comes from imported oil and petroleum products, and regardless of what Corrib produces, long term plans for gas supply (about 30% of energy) include LNG imports as well as direct feeds from the UK (our biggest source of NG), which in turn come from Norway and Scandinavia increasingly, from Russia. ( despite BG’s optimism, North Sea gas is very much in decline) The rest comes from burning bogs and imported coal. There needs to be a practical and pragmatic assessment of the options that Ireland has for future energy security.

    The state need to get some scenario planning done and work up several options that will meet demands in the future. No one solution is likely to be the ‘magic bullet’ rather a collection of technologies are likely to be combined (including, and in the very long term exclusively, renewables) and in the short term its hard to imagine that any credible plan cannot include nuclear. Wind, solar and wave will not save us in the short to medium term (but are very important nonetheless).

    The realities of nuclear:
    - Its the safest form of energy supply in human history, despite all the propaganda we have been subjected to over Sellafield (which is rooted in a petty anti-Englishness rather than scientific fact).
    - Ireland already uses nuclear power:
    – Indirectly through every product or service we buy from nuclear-powered countries
    – Directly through the existing UK-NI interconnect, and substantially so through the planned UK-ROI interconnect as part of the pan-European electricity grid
    - Ireland likely has access to significant indigenous supplies of uranium (but govt. policy currently prohibits its exploitation)
    - Uranium based nuclear is capable of supplying the energy equivalent of total global energy needs for about 20 – 30 years at best, so its not a sustainable option, however new technologies such as thorium based nuclear are encouraging and potentially limitless (but unfortunately unproven tech at present). Ireland should have a toehold in this area.
    - Nuclear is not cheap. Its right now more expensive than burning dinosaurs, but we’re certainly at peak oil… (and probably gas too). The capital spent on propping up the banks would be far better spent on subsidising energy costs as part of Ireland’s return to competitiveness
    - It will take 20 years to develop the skills and expertise, but we can outsource it to say the French or the Japanese who are experts in this field and we could do that tomorrow while we get our universities up to speed producing scientists and engineers.

    I haven’t spoken at all about the potential of wind wave and even solar, as well as biofuels. Certainly the first two we have abundant capacity in, and for wind in particular given our low population density, we could do something significant here. But we need to be careful, particularly with biodiesel/bioethanol (Less so with second-generation techniques such as algae derived biofuels) partly because of the land use problem, partly because of the source material problem: modem agriculture is essentialy the process fo turning oil (petrochemical nutriants and fertiliser) in to food. So GM foods is another bogey man we have to get over and integrate in to The Plan.

    I also haven’t spoken of the demand-side: electric trains, not diesel, and more of them so we don;’t need to use cars so much. Passivehaus bulding design regulations, closed-loop recycling processes etc etc are all important here.

    I’ve looked at the energy plans (where they exist) of most of the political parties and I haven’t seen anything of any consequence. Most are, frankly, greenwash ( Nobody has any actual figures associated with their plans which leads me to believe it has not been studied in any significant way. And thats why I’m throwing this out there. I don’t advocate any particular approach, I’m only interested in whats practical.

    I’m also aware that there have been posts on using green tech, renewable etc, and while this is all good stuff, none of it will work in isolation and therefore The Plan requires coordination at state level.

  6. liam

    I just read the Times article you linked. Very interesting, a well understood technique, which we already use in the Wicklow Mountains. However:

    Prof. Shvets suggests that Ireland’s energy consumption is 24B kWh (what strange units!!) which might be more conventionally represented as 24 TWh. According to the IEA ( our total energy consumption is nearer 180 TWh, a seven-times difference.

    I guess that Prof. Shvets is counting electricity consumption only, but ESB figures are not terribly enlightening either and are in fact contradictory:
    see and add up the station capacity (excluging Turlough Hill as its a storage facility, not a generation facility) and you don;t even get close to the capacity figure quoted here: Even if I could discover what actual capacity was, I have no idea how to convert installed capacity in MW for each of those stations to delivery capability in kWh.

    In any case, he is almost certainly leaving out energy use in transport, the biggest energy candle.

    The point is, we can’t do anything without understanding the numbers. everything else is waffle.

  7. Garry

    Just to provide some clarity on the numbers…. a 100W bulb requires 100W of energy to light it, you need to keep on giving it that 100 Watts as long as you want to keep it lit…..
    A WH or Watt hour is a way to measure power to bill for it. A kWH is enough power to keep 10 100W bulbs lit for an hour, (or one lit for 10 hours). A kWH is a unit of electricity.

    So a 1TW power station is enough to provide 1TW of continuous power, or 25TWH. With oil/gas/nuclear/hydro thats a pretty safe assumption, they have good solid energy inputs and output is predictable.

    back to the 100W bulb. You cant give it 200W for an hour and then slack off. Its analguous to walking on a treadmill which is set at a constant speed, you either keep up of fall off…

    Our electricity demand is not linear, so the total figures on kWH are not evenly distribuited throughout the day or even the year. So ESB etc manage this and bring power on and offline to meet the demand. Turlough Hill is the example where at peak they use it as a generator, at off peak it is a drain on the system, (pumping the water back up the hill)

    Prof. Shvets suggests that Ireland’s energy consumption is 24B kWh ..,. Over what time? If its a year, then average demand is 24/365/24 TW … Generational or import capacity needs to be higher than this to meet peak demand. Note also power transmission is lossy… the laws of thermodynamics never rest.

    Hopefully that clears up the numbers or at least lets ye look at them in more detail.

    When ye look at wind, note that the installed generational capacity cannot be very different to the actual generated power at any point in time. airtricity used to publish their actual generation performance in daily graphs which were very educational in this regard… They removed them from the site. I’ll let ye work through the numbers and draw your own conclusions.

  8. Garry

    sorry at least one typo there

    should read
    So a 1TW power station is enough to provide 1TW of continuous power, or 24TWH.

    24 hours in a day, assuming continuous peak operation

  9. Garry

    And one other very interesting fact to put some human scale on our energy requirements…

    A reasonably fit man working out in a gym will produce about 200W of power… or in other words a 5 hour workout with no breaks will give you a unit of electricity…..

  10. liam

    Garry, thanks for pitching in. The problem is not the power/energy thing, its that the Prof assumes that Ireland’s energy needs are met 100% by electricity, where as in fact electricity provides about 1/7 of our total energy needs.

    Re power/energy, yes very true in theory, but in practise hard to judge what actual capcacity is. never mind consumption from these figures. But if we assume that ESB’s biggest figure (4651MW) is peak power, then we might reasonably expect that minimum sustainable output would average about 50% of that peak power (based on nothing in particular other than it ‘feels’ about right, and you never NEVER actually get peak power and you never sustain anything close to peak power for meaningful periods of time).
    ~= 20TWh annually (for an assumed load factor of 50%), which is not far off 24TWh (average actual load factor of 60%)
    Therefore, he is probably only counting electricity consumption, not cars, trains, infrastructure and bureaucracy. etc etc…

    You have to count all uses of energy when counting energy use, if that makes sense. the Shvets plan would reduce our dependency on imported energy by about 15%, not 100%, which I think is significant.

  11. Garry

    A valid point. I agree a plan is desperately needed. Ideally, an EU wide Manhattan project to provide energy security.

    I believe PR and politics are driving policy in electricity policy while ignoring the numbers (which are not that hard to derive), and its all appearing to work because its all being subsidised by the oil/gas backbone.

  12. liam

    Let put all of these millions and billions in to a slightly more digestable format. Currently we transform 116kWh per person, per day including cars/trains/flight (incl. freight), heating and lighting, appliances, agriculture and manufacturing.

    I’m not sure about food. But the average human needs about 1500 kcal a day to function normally, which is about 1.7kWh per day, so food consumption (as opposed to production) is small (amazing though that we consume about 70 times what we did as an agrarian society: we have the energy lifestyles of 19th century aristocrats but its affordable because of the ridiculously cheap cost of dead dinosaur domestics).

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