Plan to replace imported gas with cheaper biomethane from Irish farms

EPA’s latest best-case scenario projections for Ireland show greenhouse gases will only be reduced by 29% compared to legally binding target of 51% by 2030

Irish consumers will over the coming decade be able to avail of cheaper zero-carbon gas generated from grass and organic wastes that will increasingly replace imported fossil gas.

Wide-scale development of anaerobic digesters to generate large volumes of biomethane on Irish farms is one of a series of measures agreed by the Cabinet on Tuesday to scale up climate actions at a faster pace.

This is to address a large overshoot of carbon emissions across the economy, confirmed by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) latest projections which show in a best-case scenario greenhouse gases will only be reduced by 29 per cent – compared to a legally binding target of 51 per cent by 2030. The analysis also indicates an EU “effort-sharing” target for 2030 of reducing emissions by 42 per cent based on 2005 will not be met.

Minister for Climate and Energy Eamon Ryan presented to Cabinet a memo detailing how Ireland is at risk of hitting climate-tipping points as governments “have not reduced emissions quickly enough to prevent the climate system moving into an uncharted and irreversible state”.

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Acknowledging there was insufficient progress to reduce emissions, he said at a media briefing that a wide range of additional measures were not modelled by the EPA, but these could close the gap and were detailed in a revised national energy and climate plan (NECP), to be published later this week for consultation, and submitted to the European Commission next month.

Key measures to accelerate decarbonisation confirmed in the NECP include:

  • Development of 200 anaerobic digesters under a new national biomethane strategy up to 2030 that will provide a new income stream for farmers processing grass, slurries and food waste. It represents one of the most significant “land use” changes ever undertaken in Irish agriculture. Zero carbon gas from this source can replace 60 per cent of household gas use a year and greater than 50 per cent of our overall gas use in 2038. It will also provide a new clean energy source for heat-intensive industries. The new sector will receive €40 million in seed funding, but also additional supports, while private industry and data centres are expected to acquire the renewable gas.
  • Pivoting from road freight to rail freight by 2030 with opening of new lines or reopening closed lines linked to major ports. This is in response to indications that transport is likely to be the sector with the biggest emissions problem, “with no easy solutions”.
  • Deployment of carbon capture and storage technologies in incinerators/waste-to-energy plants, in cement manufacturing facilities and within heavy industry, which are traditionally heavy emitters – “deliverable by the end of this decade”.
  • Faster scale-up of onshore wind and solar PV deployment, especially in business and communities, and offshore wind with a view to generating 20 gigawatts of renewables by 2040; more than double current power demand.

“We have to act now and we have to act fast. We cannot put climate on the back burner. If we do, it will cost us all more and it will cost the most vulnerable in our society most,” Mr Ryan said.

Not reflected in the EPA projections were huge strides in reducing emissions, he said, which were also improving people’s quality of life. “Retrofitting numbers are continuing to surge... 700 homes a week are going solar. Public transport numbers are growing faster than ever before and our energy system is rapidly installing wind, solar and interconnection to decrease emissions, despite a growth in use.”

The NECP was another step on the road to net zero by 2050, the Minister said, while the EU had acknowledged Ireland had particular problems decarbonising when it had a rising population and strong economic growth.

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