Check Against Delivery
I am pleased to be here today in Galway at the annual Our Ocean Wealth Summit, showcasing the huge resource potential of Ireland's oceans.
Across Government and civil society, we are talking about the defining issue of our generation - climate change and our transition to a low carbon energy future.
People ask how can any one country, especially a small one, make a difference and more and more are asking - how can I meaningfully act to make a difference.
I think as a Department what we are really focused on is the issue of efficiency and we see ourselves as the Department of efficiency. Using the natural resources that we have here in Ireland in a sustainable manner to drive change, to transform rural Ireland to support employment and to protect our people and our planet for future generations.
We see at the moment changing economic circumstances within the euro zone now beginning to slow down and that's as a direct result of rising oil prices and what we must do in an Irish context and in a European context is decouple economic growth from oil availability and oil price.
Two weeks ago I was at the European Council of Energy Ministers and I urged my Ministerial colleagues to become as self-sufficient as possible in terms of energy within the European Union, focusing both on renewable energy and driving energy efficiency. This renewed focus is not just necessary to meet our climate targets or our Paris goals but from an economic perspective to ensure that EU economies will grow in a long term sustainable manner. Ireland and Europe has to break away from the constraining impact of fossil fuel.
Unique Challenges: Eirgrid need to be congratulated on the effort that they have been putting into this and the fact that in April of this year, they went live in relation to a 65% loading of variable renewable energy on our grid - something that has not been achieved anywhere else on this planet to date. That is the bench mark now right across the globe in relation to putting variable renewables onto the grid.
The objective is by 2020 to go up to 75% and that is a significant commitment, a significant engineering challenge that we are dealing with head on and being the global leaders in that area here in Ireland.
An isolated electricity grid like we have here in Ireland is something that we should be very proud of. I think that will progress significantly on foot of the investment that we are putting into the DS3 Programme, something that is globally significant in terms of what we are doing here in Ireland.
Onshore wind of course has been the single biggest driver of renewable energy to date; the Government however is focused on diversifying the energy mix out to 2030.
Technologies such as solar and offshore wind are becoming far more cost effective and cost competitive that they have been today and there is significant interest now from developers in relation to developing offshore wind energy projects in Irish waters.
There are huge opportunities in the offshore sector and I believe that offshore renewables are critical if we are going to achieve our 2030 objectives.
On the 14th June last agreement was reached with the European Parliament on the new Renewables Directive and on a binding renewable energy target for the EU for 2030 of 32%.
By then we expect to have 55% renewable electricity on the grid and if you look at the technical challenges we have between now and 2020 to have 40% renewables on our electricity grid you can see the challenge we are going have to increase that to 55% by 2030 - but we are determined to do that.
Meeting our 2030 ambition will be as much about opportunities as about challenges.
Offshore renewable energy can enable the generation of carbon-free renewable electricity, enhance security of supply, and also deliver green growth and jobs to the economy.
Ireland has one of the best offshore renewable energy resources in the world. Our offshore wind resources bring enormous potential. The potential from the technological advances around the world in offshore wind and offshore renewables in the last ten to fifteen years is huge.
Realising this potential is a strategic and game changing challenge. There are huge opportunities if we get it right.
We see the development progressively taking place, initially in the Irish Sea where there is already planning authorizations in place, the Celtic Sea and the Atlantic Ocean but it's not just wind it is also wave as well. We in Ireland have been very much to the fore in relation to offshore renewable research but we need to move from the learning by research to the learning by doing.
I recently attended the opening of the first ever purpose build offshore renewable tidal manufacturing facility in Cherbourg. This facility is based on research that was initiated here in Ireland and supported by the Irish Government, supported by Irish researchers.
We have potentially 50 gigawatts of energy and electricity in the offshore and we are now determined as a government to focus on that in terms of legislation and progressing the Maritime Area and Foreshore Amendment Bill.
I know that many of you are as anxious, as I am, to see the development of a strong, streamlined planning and consenting regime for offshore projects. The development of this legislation under the Maritime Area and Foreshore (Amendment) Bill has been slower than envisaged.
It is proving to be more complex than originally conceived. Rest assured that I am committed to continuing to work closely with Minister Murphy and the AG to ensure that publication of this bill becomes a reality as soon as possible.
We also need to do more about how we actually zone and progress the development in the offshore area and of course dealing with the issue of grid. But it is not just about landing that electricity on to this island but it is about the export of that electricity as well.
As you know EirGrid is currently proposing a Electricity Interconnector between Ireland and France and will submit and investment request for the Celtic Interconnector Project to the Energy Regulator later this year. This would be a direct link from Ireland to the European Union internal electricity market. It will improve energy security; it will allow for the incorporation of our renewables on to the EU grid and allow us to actively participate in the EU single electricity market.
But with the huge potential that we have in the offshore of 50 gigawatts – that's not going to be enough and we are now exploring the opportunities of going much further than that; of actually bypassing the island of Ireland and connecting from the Atlantic sea board right directly into the European Grid.
But all of that cannot be unlocked unless we have a funding stream to support that. The Renewable Electricity Support Scheme is key to driving that forward. I expect to get a Government decision in the next couple of weeks that will allow me to seek state aid approval for a new Renewable Electricity Support Scheme and we hope to get that approval in the second half of this year.
One of the most innovative measures that we announced as part of Project Ireland 2040 is the Climate Action Fund, where we have ring fenced half a billion euro and that will open up for applications in the coming weeks. This is a very innovative fund in that is a blank canvas; we are not setting rules and regulations in relation to it.
People don't have to come forward with projects that meet certain criteria; the sole objective here is to improve energy efficiency and to reduce our overall emissions as an economy. It allows people in this room that have good ideas to come forward with those projects, it allows people internationally that want to try out an initiative to come to Ireland and use Ireland as the test bed for that.
It will support projects ranging from wave energy off our West Coast, to electrifying our bus fleet, to heating our homes and businesses using farm and food waste. The opportunities are endless there and I would encourage people to put their thinking cap on, to think about innovative solutions that may be up to now there hasn't been the opportunity, there hasn't been the public funds to unlock that. I believe that this fund will stimulate ideas and deliver concrete projects that will contribute to achieving our 2030 climate goals.
We recognise the recent significant developments in this sector, and I acknowledge the role played by this industry in bringing us to this point.
I believe that offshore energy allows us to move forward and in the right direction and to start to deliver on 2030 and beyond.
Go raibh míle maith agat.