IIEA ESB Take Charge Conference
Thursday 23 November 2017
Speech by Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment
Mr Denis Naughten T.D.
Thank you for inviting me to be here this afternoon but I am conscious that as we are here, people in Laois are suffering because of extreme flooding. The Government's emergency relief plan is in operation with members of the Defence Forces, fire crews and council staff on the ground saving houses, businesses and farms. My thoughts are with those families evacuated from their homes, and to the business owners who face difficult days and weeks ahead.
Coming from the Midlands I am well aware of the devastation that can be caused by flooding and as a country we all saw the impact of severe weather when storm Ophelia hit.
I would like to take this opportunity again to thank and commend those ESB emergency crews and their international colleagues that worked around the clock in dangerous conditions to restore power to hundreds of thousands of homes after storm Ophelia.
Your conference today is timely, and your title and theme, Take Charge, is apt. I understand the aim of your discussions is to explore how to link Ireland's low carbon energy future in a practical way into the lives of people.
As ESB recently celebrated their 90th anniversary, it is an opportune time to look forward to how we adapt to an evolving energy landscape. While Government and Industry can provide the framework and tools, it is the people themselves who use these tools that will drive forward our smart and low carbon energy future.
People cannot be commanded, they must be consulted. As Minister for Climate Action I must enable people to take action themselves. The change that is required, requires people to become the agents and the authors of action.
Ireland relies on high emissions and imported fossil fuels to meet over 88% of our energy needs. This costs around €5 billion.
That's a cost we cannot afford in cash, and which our planet cannot afford at all. If the money that Ireland spends on energy imports can be redirected to energy efficiency and smarter energy services it will replace imported fossil fuels with local jobs and opportunities for Irish companies.
The word 'global' in global warming, accurately summarises the incontrovertible science underlying that imminent threat. It is also in its vastness, potentially daunting, even discouraging.
How can any one country, especially a small one, make a difference? How can any one of us meaningfully act to make a difference?
Energy efficiency and climate action are inextricably linked. Using less energy and using it more efficiently is the most cost-effective way to combat climate change. Efficiency is about us using limited resources more responsibly, and more economically. It is not just a different way of doing, it is a different way of thinking.
We have a huge task compounded by unique challenges in Ireland.
The National Climate Mitigation Plan was agreed by government and published last July.
It was considered in the context of the first full day Cabinet meeting on Climate and Climate related issues. This was a significant move by Government. It was the first full day Cabinet meeting on a single policy topic in several years.
The Mitigation Plan represents a concerted whole-of-Government approach to reducing Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions.
European policy drivers
The next wave of energy policy drivers will come from the EU's Clean Energy Package published last year.
In this package, the European Commission highlights the importance of ensuring that the move to a clean energy system will benefit all Europeans by reaping the tangible benefits of access to more secure, clean and competitive energy.
The energy systems of the future requires the creation of a significantly more responsive system. A system that will meet the needs of micro-generation.
Energy supply companies must be prepared to combine supply and demand and offer services and products that people will use willingly.
I look forward to studying the detail of ESB's report being launched today on Ireland's Low Carbon Future - Dimensions of a Solution.
I welcome the fact it states an uptake in existing technologies such as heat pumps and electric vehicles, will make significant inroads in decarbonising our energy system. It also looks at how the role of the electricity system will change over coming decades and focussing in particular on how we can make the adjustments necessary to decarbonise our energy system.
I welcome this analysis and it will help inform the development of our National Energy and Climate Plan 2021 – 2030 as part of the new Clean Energy package currently being finalised in Brussels.
Community-led electricity and energy projects offer a real opportunity for local economic growth.
The Better Energy Communities scheme funded by my Department and administered by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland is an example of a government project that is revitalizing communities.
This has brought hundreds of community groups together to take control of their energy usage and make the system work for them with lower bills, warmer homes and local jobs. I am announcing today that the scheme will continue next year, bigger and better than ever before.
I secured €28 million for this Scheme next year.
This is a significant budget increase and marks a new record level of funding for community energy. There are incentives for communities that focus on clean and renewable energy.
Every application that incorporates solely renewable energy will receive bonus marks at project evaluation. Further bonus marks will be awarded for those projects that meet exceptionally high air quality standards. Already more than 100 community groups have agreed to become a sustainable energy community and have a partnership agreement with SEAI.
I am giving a guarantee to community groups today that every single group that agrees a partnership agreement with the SEAI will be guaranteed funding for their local energy projects. If you can provide the local knowledge, time and people, the Government will support you with mentoring; energy expertise; and guaranteed funding to support your local energy projects.
Behavioural Economics Unit
Achieving a low carbon energy future requires an understanding of the reasons behind why people are not yet fully engaged with energy saving. This understanding is a fundamental part of schemes and programmes that encourage behavioural change.
This year I secured funding to establish a Behavioural Economics Unit within the SEAI. This unit is focused on examining how to influence peoples' behavior through evidence based programmes. This is being closely monitored and evaluated and the results will be used in a measurable way to better target the energy efficiency grant schemes that my Department funds.
National Broadband Plan
Just as by building Ardnacrusha nearly ninety years ago, electricity unlocked the potential of a young country, broadband will unlock our potential today as Europe's youngest population. It will facilitate innovation, support ideas, foster creativity and help ensure the viability of communities in our globalised world.
A key social, economic and political priority for me is Broadband and delivering the National Broadband Plan in particular.
This plan will play an integral role revitalizing businesses and communities across provincial towns and rural Ireland.
Smarter use of energy by us all will go hand in hand with the roll out of high speed broadband across the country.
The big growth area in technology today is the Internet of Things. That is connecting ordinary everyday items from cookers to kettles to the internet. There are 6,500 million things connected to the internet today.
By 2020 that figure will be 50,000 million. That's 600 new appliances connected to the internet every second between now and 2020. That provides us with huge potential – to turn off and on heating remotely; to make smarter use of energy, to create smart homes.
Broadband is the essential connection that allows people take action, to deliver efficiency.
National Smart Metering Programme
The recent announcement of a new delivery plan for Smart Meters is welcome. In a phased rollout, around 2.3 million electricity smart meters will be installed by ESB Networks in homes and businesses nationwide, replacing old mechanical meters.
This will lead to greater energy efficiency by empowering people with information and control around their own energy use.
I believe smart meters and high speed broadband will lead to a profound change in our behavior in terms of how and when we consume energy in our homes and communities.
The energy markets are changing and greater accessibility to alternative and lower carbon intensive energy sources will present opportunities for householders and businesses to make more sustainable energy choices.
The greatest problems facing humanity may be global in scale. But their solutions are local, and the key to their implementation is personal.
We are all called on to be deciders, implementers and change makers, not passive observers.