Future Energy Consumption

Concerns over energy security, the environment, sustainability, and climate change means there is concerted attention by governments to engage the energy industry and energy users to shift to a more sustainable system. Ultimately, there is a trade-off between cost (to businesses and consumers), environmental impact (to ensure sustainability for current and future generations), and increasing social benefit through collaboration, utilising the latest technologies, and developing solutions which work for everyone.

To respond to the risks posed by climate and our subsequent obligations under the Paris Agreement of 2015, there is considerable emphasis being placed on transforming from a fossil fuel based to a low carbon society. The dual priorities are to continue to passively reduce demand for heat in homes, services and industry, and to supply that heat with technologies that are smarter, cleaner, highly efficient and increasingly from renewable energy sources.

A number of trends are expected to occur in relation to energy consumption in Ireland up to 2050 and beyond, specifically in the levels of demand for heat, in the sources through which heat is generated, in the infrastructure through which we deliver that heat and in the ways in which we operate and manage use of that heat.

Most fundamentally, demand for heat is set to fall in all sectors. A move towards ‘nearly zero’ energy (and carbon) buildings (NZEB), and for significant energy efficiency renovations of existing buildings, is currently being mandated under EU directives. This will present many choices, and may involve large-scale changes such as, for example, a major shift to heating by means of electricity from renewable sources. It will also provide challenges, such as providing ventilation systems which are both healthy and energy efficient.

As a source of heat generation, the dominant share from oil and gas is likely to decline steadily. Decarbonisation of energy supply will entail use of several alternative relatively mature renewable energy technologies, such as solar thermal, electrical heat pumps and biomass. As a major transitional trend towards more sustainable energy systems, there are indications that heating and ventilation powered by electricity will be increasingly generated from renewable sources (wind, biomass and possibly solar), and will become a preferred option over current forms of boiler central heating. For new urban areas or community developments, centralised heat and/or combined heat and power providing district heating from biomass may also become prominent. Technological developments will also facilitate convenience and support the economy, with ‘building management systems’ already well established in services and industrial buildings, while there are products already on the market to allow remote control of domestic heating systems. Such technologies, along with smart metering of electricity and gas and other ‘smart grid’ technologies, are set to transform the way we experience and interact with heat technology supplies and control systems within our buildings.

These changes will involve a major cumulative investment across our society over a period of decades, and will need to be promoted by a combination of policies: regulation, incentives/disincentives, technology, and promotion. The magnitude of change means both a significant investment cost, and significant benefits in the form of buildings and services which are healthier, more comfortable, more affordable to operate, more productive and more environmentally sustainable. Further details of Ireland's transition to a low-carbon economy can be accessed from the Ireland 2050 website here.

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