Europe is facing an energy crisis caused by numerous global factors: the phasing out of fossil fuels (especially from Russia), reduced natural gas storage, the war in Ukraine, and the post-COVID economic recovery. Gas prices rose almost 600%, and electricity prices to an average of 45c/kWh. Though uncertain, these high prices are unlikely to reduce significantly before winter ends.
Don Moore of the Irish Academy of Engineering recently warned: “I would hope that we might scrape through the winter but the consequences of rolling blackouts in our system, even if only a small chance, would be catastrophic. We’ve put ourselves in this position: the worst-prepared country in Europe – and that is saying something”.
Ireland may now have to cut consumption to prevent power cuts if emergency generators are not ready in time. In December, the EU electricity agency ENTSO-E warned that Ireland faces 14.56 hours without electricity this winter – over double the duration first predicted in October (6.25 hours). The situation is looking worse.
The state now considers forcing large energy consumers (e.g., data centres) to rely on their own power supply instead of the national grid. That may be one solution to the crisis, but how can other consumers, like citizens, react?
As Chairman of the South East Energy Agency, I am committed to helping everybody use energy more efficiently and to avail of renewable power.
We help homeowners to plan and manage energy upgrades and grants, including Individual Energy Upgrade Grants, a fully funded Energy Upgrade, and via our One-Stop-Shop. We provide similar services for renewable energy communities, supporting over 50 at different stages of their journey.
In October, we launched additional support for local authorities as part of the national #ReduceYourUse campaign. Carrying out 67 site visits in 20 separate areas, we presented 20 reports to various councils and building owners, and delivered 3 Energy Awareness Open Days to citizens and local administrators.
The focus of that effort was practical measures which reduce energy use, like lowering the temperature to 19°C indoors, turning heating off 1-2 hours before a building is vacated, and addressing minor maintenance and housekeeping tasks. These actions are neither expensive nor difficult to implement, but they do require an understanding that energy efficiency is achievable through behavioural change.
Now assessing the impact of the campaign, it already looks like our agency will have succeeded in reducing participants’ consumption by the targeted 15%. If we all achieved the same, both within businesses and our homes, that alone would be enough to avoid the power cuts which have been forecast. Together, we can make a difference.
John Carley is FEDARENE’s Vice-President for Circular Economy. He is also Chair of the South East Energy Agency (IE).
This interview is part of our publication “Sustainable Regions in Action 2023”. Find out more by clicking here to discover best practices from FEDARENE members as well as an overview of our activities.