Is Renewable Energy Political?
What has politics got to do with Renewable Energy? Do Governments deliver what the public want? Can Renewable Energy thrive without political support? This article tries to address these issues.
In Ireland approximately 12% of gross final energy consumption comes from renewable sources. In Denmark that figure is 33%. Denmark has already exceeded its 2020 target, while Ireland is unlikely to hit its target, of 16%, and may well fall short by as much as 3 percentage points. While Ireland has a larger land area, the population numbers are similar, the land usage and agriculture are comparable, yet Denmark has nearly three times as much renewable energy than Ireland. Why?
The answer is political commitment. In the early 1980’s after a period of rising oil prices, Denmark committed to a new Energy Strategy, State of Green. That paradigm has led Denmark to believe that it can transition and become a green and resource efficient economy, entirely independent of fossil fuels by 2050. Meanwhile Ireland lags in 20th place in the European list of renewable energy consumption.
There is much academic analysis to indicate that while there are many determinants affecting the transition to renewable energy, including natural resource, culture and the availability of state owned assets, the political influence is the most significant factor. It is generally accepted that political systems that have fewer political constraints, have fewer access points through which powerful status quo veto players can slow the progress of clean energy reforms.
“Political will and the right mix of policies—not vast resource potential—have made wind and solar power the world’s fastest growing energy sources over the past decade,” says Worldwatch research associate Janet Sawin, author of Mainstreaming Renewable Energy in the 21st Century. In many countries, clear government commitments to renewable energy, over an extended period of time, have overcome barriers and created the demand for these technologies, that has led to dramatic growth, advancing renewable technologies and driving down their costs.
However, do Governments lead, or reflect the views of their voters. In the UK, a poll carried out by the Co-Op, in 2015 showed that even Conservative voters would overwhelmingly support a local wind farm, if it was owned and controlled by the community. Nearly four-fifths of those surveyed want the Government to do more to help communities generate their own power and keep the profits.
Ireland is still awaiting the roll out of the Renewable Energy Support Scheme (RESS) and the Support Scheme for Renewable Heat (SSRH). Both are part of the Government’s new National Development Plan 'Project Ireland 2040' - released in February, and which covers measures in energy efficiency, renewable electricity, agriculture, transport and climate adaptation. The SSRH is awaiting EU State Aid approval, while the RESS is heavily dependent on the Public Service Obligation (PSO) levy, which taxes electricity customers and uses the funds generated to incentivise and develop renewable energy (primarily wind and biomass) as well as peat.
Sustainable economic growth and security of energy and water supply are among the greatest global challenges today. The impression from the political manifestos, at the last general election in February 2016, was that most of the parties were committed to addressing climate change, increasing the use of renewable energy, maximising the bioenergy resource in Ireland, etc, but what has happened since then?
The SEAI continues on its journey “.. towards a more energy efficient and sustainable Ireland.”. They have a range of programmes and support measures for businesses and communities, and research. However, the pace of implementation is affected by political constraints. With political will we could solve many of our emissions, transport, and geopolitical problems, rather than create more.