09 May
  • By Nía Murray

Ireland and the Renewable Energy Directive

The impact of fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) on the environment is well-known – the greenhouse effect; global warming; climate change; acid rain. The effects that fossil fuels have on public health is lesser known however. When fossil fuels are burned they produce greenhouse gases such as sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, which lead to respiratory ailments such as asthma, nasal congestion, pulmonary inflammation and bronchitis. Furthermore, the production of smog (ground-level ozone) can burn lung tissue and leave people susceptible to chronic respiratory diseases. The combustion of fossil fuels also produces emissions that some may consider minor, such as soot. Yet the emission of soot has been cited as the reason behind 13,200 deaths, 9,700 hospitalizations and 20,000 heart attacks in the US alone, because it causes serious respiratory diseases and premature death. The most surprising by-product of fossil fuels is mercury, an element renowned for its toxicity. The mercury emitted by fossil fuels often “settles on the ground and washes into bodies of water, where it accumulates in fish…. The consumption of [this] mercury-laden fish by pregnant women has been associated with neurological and neurobehavioral effects in infants.”

For reasons such as these, the European Union has decided to reduce their use of fossil fuels, instead favouring renewable energy sources, such as solar power, wind power, hydropower and geothermal power. On the 23 April 2009, all member states of the European Union agreed to the Renewable Energy Directive (RED). The RED established certain rules for the EU in order to help countries to achieve the 20% renewables target by the 2020 deadline. Each individual country has also set their own targets to achieve, these range from Malta’s 10% to Sweden’s 49%.


Every EU country publishes a progress report every two years showing what steps they’ve taken towards the 20% goal.  The 2017 progress reports reveal that “the EU as a whole achieved a 16% share of renewable energy in 2014.” Furthermore, in 2016, an estimated 17% of the EU’s gross final energy consumption was renewable energy. These achievements in renewable energy production have led the EU countries to agree to a new renewable energy target for 2030. RED II was published on 30 November 2016 and aims for at least 27% gross final energy consumption to be renewable energy in 2030, which would make the EU “a global leader in renewable energy.”

Ireland’s target for 2020 is for 16% of its energy consumption to have been produced using renewable sources. From 2005 to 2014, the amount of renewable energy produced in Ireland grew from 3.1% to 8.6%. This was a sizeable increase but was still below the targeted 11% that was planned for 2014. Unfortunately, it is appearing as though Ireland won’t meet its 16% renewable energy goal by 2020. If this does happen, the government will have to either purchase compliances or pay a fine, the cost of which is 230-610 million euro.


The country has made incredible progress in regards to electrical usage, with almost a quarter of electricity in Ireland generated from renewable energy sources. However, electricity only accounts for a fifth of overall energy consumption. Aside from the energy that’s consumed as electricity, there is also thermal energy (heating) and transport. Thus, the 25% renewable electricity is only 5% of the energy used nationwide. Studies carried out by UCC indicate that in order to achieve the 16% target, there would need to be a more combined effort to increase the amount of renewable energy in all three areas of energy consumption. In the area of electricity, it would be necessary for 40% to be renewable energy, while 16% of thermal energy and 10% of transport energy would also need to be created using renewable sources.

This will prove particularly difficult in the area of thermal energy. The conversion from fossil fuels to renewable sources for electricity and transport is largely under the control of big companies whose decision will affect all their customers. In regards to thermal however, the decision must be made by each individual consumer to switch to renewable sources of heat. As a result, a far larger number of people need to be convinced to change their heat source. Currently, it is unclear how the government could succeed in this task – or if they are considering this strategy at all. If this is true, the responsibility falls to the regular citizens to do their part for the environment and switch to an environmentally friendly energy source.



Nia Murray

Nia is a student at Maynooth University where she is studying English, Spanish, history and classics for her Bachelor’s Degree. She has volunteered to help combat loneliness amongst the elderly, to raise money for various charitable causes as well as work to raise awareness for the Irish language.

Nia believes in performing one random act of kindness daily, such as giving a generous tip or complimenting a stranger. Her hobbies include going to the cinema, travelling, creating bad puns, bullet journals, and slowly making her way through her bucket list.