A new entrant into the Irish electricity market

A new entrant into the Irish electricity market- Panda Power

This new green entrant to the Irish electricity market is eyeing up a slice of the energy cake.

A recycling company called after a Chinese bear has entered the electricity market promising to supply only green energy to Irish consumers at a discounted rate which could save them almost €160 a year.

Truly we live in interesting times.

Earlier this week the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) gave the green light to Panda Power to become the fifth supplier of domestic electricity in the Republic.    

Its introductory unit price of 15.47 cent represents an 18 per cent reduction on standard prices and makes it the cheapest supplier in the market, although not by a whole lot.

All of the companies offer substantial discounts to new and switching customers and incentivise them further to set up direct debits and opt for online billing.

The key phrase in that sentence is “new and switching”. While discounts are available, they are not given as standard. This goes some way towards explaining why Irish consumers pay more than most for electricity.

How much more? The Republic had the third-highest household electricity prices in the EU in the second half of 2014, according to Eurostat figures last week.

The report found that Irish consumers have to pay an average of €25.40 per 100 kilowatt hours while the average price across the EU is just €20.80.

There was a 5.4 per cent increase in household electricity prices in Ireland between the second half of 2013 and the second half of 2014, the third-biggest after France and Luxembourg. The EU average increase for the same period was 2.9 per cent.

One of the reasons we pay more than most countries in Europe is that all the suppliers know we will stand for it because we can be remarkably passive when it comes to shopping around for better value.

Panda is hoping to attract as many as 150,000 customers in the first phase of its rollout, but that figure may be optimistic given Irish consumers’ general apathy with regard to making switches.

All told, only 15 per cent have switched in the last 12 months, which means the vast majority of us are paying for our electricity at the highest possible rate.

It might be helpful to add some numbers to that sentence. About 1.6 million Irish households are paying €150 a year more than they need to for their electricity.

That means that, collectively, we are wasting a staggering €240 million every year by not being more proactive when it comes to switching electricity provider.



UK is only one of three EU Countries to miss renewable energy targets

UK is one of three countries in the EU that has missed Renewable Energy Target

Britain misses interim target for 2013/14, and is also projected to miss binding goal of getting 20% of energy from renewable sources by 2020.

The UK is one of just three EU countries to have missed a European goal of using more energy from green sources such as wind and solar power.

The European commission said that the UK had missed its 2013/14 interim goal towards hitting the EU’s binding target of getting 20% of energy from renewable sources by 2020. The other two countries were Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

A progress report for all 28 member states, published on Tuesday, also projected that the UK would miss its final target in 2020, along with the Netherlands, France, Luxembourg and Malta.

However, most countries are on track to hit their contribution to the renewable energy target, with Sweden, Denmark and Estonia set to considerably exceed it, the report suggested.

The UK’s share of energy from renewable sources – which includes heating as well as electricity – was 5.1% for 2013/14 rather than the 5.4% it should have been, according to the commission. Britain must source 15% of energy from renewables by 2020.

The UK and other laggards are told in the report to “assess whether their policies and tools are sufficient and effective” to meet the 2020 target, which was adopted in 2009″.

 An EU source said: “There are still five years to go [to meet the target], there is still time. We are not saying they [those countries lagging now] are going to fail. We are saying look into your policies and adjust them.”

A spokesman for the European Wind Energy Association said: “It’s encouraging to see that the EU as a whole is on track to meet the 2020 target. Member states have shown ambition to meet this objective but it’s clear that some countries need to pick up the pace, notably the UK, Netherlands and France.”

The commission’s report found that the EU as a whole currently sources 15.3% of its energy from renewables, leading it to say that the bloc is on track to hit its 20% by 2020 target.

Miguel Arias Cañete, the EU climate commissioner, said: “The report shows once again that Europe is good at renewables, and that renewables are good for Europe. We have three times more renewable power per capita in Europe than anywhere else in the rest of the world.”

The new Conservative government in the UK has made it clear it intends to put a halt to the development of more windfarms on land, which are widely-seen seen as the cheapest form of renewable energy. As well as making it easier for local communities to block onshore windfarms, energy secretary Amber Rudd is reportedly looking to end subsidies for them a year earlier than expected too.


New renewable electricity generating plant for Mayo set to open in mid-2017

New electricity generating plant for Killala set to open in mid-2017

Veolia has been awarded a €450 million deal to operate a wood-fuelled biomass power plant in Killala, Co Mayo.

The company said it secured a 15-year contract from Mayo Renewable Power to operate the new 42.5-megawatt heat and power plant, which will produce enough electricity to supply 68,000 homes.

In addition to operating and maintaining the power production plant and the adjacent fuel processing plant, Veolia will also be supplying the total biomass fuel requirement for the facility.

The facility will use similar technology to that applied at Veolia’s biomass facilities at Merritt and Fort St James in British Colombia, Canada, which are among the largest plants in North America.

The new facility is due to start operations in mid-2017. Full construction activity is to commence immediately. Construction group John Sisk & Son is to build the plant and the project will create up to 350 jobs at its peak. The generating station will employ 30 people once it is up and running.

Ireland is aiming to get at least 40 per cent of its power needs from renewables by 2020.

“This facility is Ireland’s largest independent biomass power plant and for Veolia represents the largest of its kind under our management in Ireland and the UK,” said Estelle Brachlianoff, Veolia’s senior executive vice president for UK and Ireland.

Veolia has been operating in Ireland since 1990 and currently employs 500 staff across its three business activities in water, waste management and energy.

US-backed Mayo Renewable Power last week confirmed that it has secured finance for the project, which is expected to cost €180 million from its equity backer, US firm, Weichert Enterprise, along with loans from three banks, AIB, Ulster and Barclays.


A clash between birds and Green Energy

A clash between birds and Green Energy

As renewable energy gains traction here, environmentalists are working to mitigate the negative effects wind and tidal projects can have on certain species

We are on target to meet our renewable energy obligations for 2020.

However, the rollout of new energy infrastructure comes with consequences, particularly for migratory birds. Climate change serves as the single biggest threat to bird species worldwide. Research has shown declines of up to 90 per cent in certain populations and total reproductive failure in others as a result of climate change.

In order to mitigate climate change, renewable energy must be prioritised. Under the European Union’s Renewable Energy Directive, Ireland is obliged to ensure that 40 per cent of electricity is generated from renewable resources by 2020.

Wind energy will be the main player, accounting for over 85 per cent of total renewable generation, according to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland.

The authority estimates that Irish wind could supply 2.5 per cent of EU electricity demand, create 20,000 jobs and generate €15 billion for the Irish economy by 2050. But more often we hear about the negative effects of turbines and power lines, particularly for birds.

Collision is the hazard most often cited, but, according to Dr Shane McGuinness, a member of the policy and advocacy team at Birdwatch Ireland, displacement, habitat loss and barrier effects pose a much greater threat. These can pose a significant problem for migratory birds that must follow certain paths to reach specific breeding sites.

“These factors are harder to quantify and so don’t get as much attention,” says McGuinness. “They cause birds to change their migration paths and so impose an excess energetic demand which is harmful.”

Double-edged sword

Any change to an environment will have an effect. “Tidal energy systems may disturb fish schooling areas where seabirds come to feed. Solar energy would also have a much greater impact in terms of habitat modification but most solar in Ireland is at lower level,” says McGuinness.

Renewable energy is a double-edged sword for birds, but measures are being taken to safeguard our migratory species.

Certain design features can prevent collisions from occurring, says Siobhán Egan, policy officer for Birdwatch Ireland. “There are guidelines about how far apart wires should be on power lines, for example. You can also use round discs to make them more visible, or scaring devices.”

Migration superhighways

In order to minimise the other three threats, Dr Ken Boyle, chair of the master of science degree in sustainable development at Dublin Institute of Technology, says responsible site selection is key.

“We know what the migration routes are, and they are the areas that should be avoided,” says Boyle.

Before a site is approved, an environmental impact assessment must be undertaken by planning authorities and environmental experts. To assist the planning process, Birdwatch Ireland has developed a wind-energy bird-sensitivity mapping tool, which highlights areas that are particularly sensitive for birds. The tool maps areas most sensitive to disturbance, based on certain key criteria.

However, Egan stresses that it is not intended to create a no-go area for wind turbines. “We support renewable energy. One reason we embarked on the mapping project is because we were frustrated that we were finding ourselves objecting to wind energy development,” she says.

Although the mapping tool may be one step in the right direction, she feels it can be improved upon if more survey work is done. “We couldn’t include some of the most vulnerable species on the map because we were deprived of data. For example, we didn’t have all of the information about the flight lines of the whooper swan.

“We are pushing for work to be done to plug these information gaps. Otherwise, we might be working in an information vacuum, which is very dangerous for everyone involved.”

Heavy investment is being pumped into tidal energy research, which is predicted to begin commercial production in 2017. Bearing this in mind, Birdwatch Ireland plans to develop a marine sensitivity map to highlight areas sensitive to seabird disturbance.

“We would like to get ahead of the curve with that. With wind, we are kind of chasing the tail of the industry,” says McGuinness, who has been working on the mapping tool with Birdwatch Ireland for the last nine months.

They also hope to create a sensitivity map that focuses on electricity transmission, but this depends on future resources.

For Dr Boyle, long-term monitoring after construction is crucial in order to fully understand the effects of energy systems on migratory birds.

However, he feels that energy production isn’t the only thing we need to consider. “Reducing energy demand is as important as our desire to generate more energy. That will be critical in the next few decades.”


Swansea Bay Tidal Energy Scheme Wins Planning Permission

Swansea Bay Tidal Energy Scheme Wins Planning PermissionThe Tidal Lagoon will funnel enough water to fill 100,000 Olympic sized swimming pools daily through turbines

The energy and climate change secretary has given planning permission to one of the most ambitious and potentially expensive “green” energy schemes ever seen in Britain.

Amber Rudd agreed the £1bn project to provide power for 150,000 homes from a tidal lagoon at Swansea Bay, although she has become embroiled in a separate but connected row over a super-quarry to provide stone for the Welsh project.

Mark Shorrock, chief executive of Tidal Lagoon Swansea Bay, said his marine power project was a “game-changer” that should trigger a much wider industry in tidal energy around the UK.

“The tidal lagoons that follow – at Cardiff, at Newport, elsewhere in the UK and overseas – must each make their own compelling social, environmental and economic case to proceed. But they have a pilot project to guide them and a blossoming technical and industrial network to support them.”

Planning permission is essential to the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon scheme but its future ultimately depends on a separate decision by the department on subsidies.

Should the UK be subsidising the world’s first tidal lagoons?

Company begins approval process for project that could power 1.5m homes in Wales, but concerns remain over enormity of scale and extremely high electricity costs.

The Conservative party has made clear that it wants to end subsidies for onshore wind schemes but is understood to see opportunities for jobs and exports from the potentially more costly Swansea Bay scheme.

But energy and climate change and Wales office minister Lord Bourne, who announced the green light for the scheme, said: “We need more clean and home-grown sources of energy, which will help to reduce our reliance on foreign fossil fuels. Low-carbon energy projects like the tidal lagoon in Swansea Bay could bring investment, support local jobs and help contribute to the Welsh economy and Swansea area.”

Photograph: Stephen Meese/Alamy

Photograph: Stephen Meese/Alamy