Renewable Energy Policy: Could Ireland Set the Precedent?

  • February 20, 2018
  • Rachel Murphy

Progressive renewable energy policy is likely not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Ireland. But a couple of weeks ago, the Irish parliament voted on historic legislation to divest public money in fossil fuel holdings from the country’s Strategic Investment Fund – the vote passed 90 to 53. Once the bill is reviewed and approved by the financial committee, Ireland could become the first country in the world to divest sovereign wealth from coal, oil, and gas in what many consider a landmark decision.

The vote was followed by the completion of Ireland’s first capacity market auction where Enel X, through its US demand response services company EnerNOC, was awarded the delivery of 217 MW of demand response resources. The demand response program will service commercial and industrial (C&I) customers and improve the flexibility, stability, and efficiency of the Irish transmission grid as it aims to keep up with the capacity needs of the country’s growing tech community – Google, Facebook, and Twitter each have large campuses in the Irish capital.

On this side of the pond, the political environment has been somewhat more challenging for the renewables market on both a state and federal level. While recent policy decisions regarding the Section 201 solar trade case were in line with the market’s expectations, other policy proposals like the Base Erosion Anti Abuse Tax (BEAT) provision and the proposed infrastructure bill have the potential to dampen renewable energy investment and the proliferation of the market segment.

But it’s not all bad news. Despite the political challenges facing the clean energy sector, the market continues to look promising. In 2016 alone, the wind and solar workforces increased by 32 percent and 25 percent, respectively. As of 2017, there were approximately 2.2 million energy efficiency and 348,000 solar and wind workers nationwide. In fact, the solar and wind industries are creating jobs 12 times faster than that of the rest of the U.S. economy.

C&I customers continue to be one of the leading drivers of the industry and not just regarding demand response. A growing number of companies – like Facebook and Google – are turning to renewable energy because it makes business sense. Yes, renewable energy investment helps to meet sustainability goals and improves brand perception among customers and investors, but it also allows businesses to lock-in rates in a long-term contract, leading to cost savings and increased revenue certainty.

Additionally, declining wind and solar prices, rising demand in many segments, promising technological advances like storage solutions and blockchain and new and growing sources of demand are helping to expand the industry and demonstrate not just the viability, but the economic case of renewable energy.

This can’t come soon enough. Aging infrastructure, the electrification of new sectors like transportation and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and the increase in catastrophic weather events are putting a strain on our grid, making it more important than ever to address how we manage and deploy our energy system. Policy changes should be creating a grid that is dynamic, scalable, and responsive and it makes economic sense for renewable energy to play a more significant role in this.

Not so long ago, Ireland held a precedent-setting referendum and legalized same-sex marriage by popular vote – the world followed suit. Yes, the dynamics of energy economics and policy are complex. But, in the case of renewable energy investment, I’m hoping that history will manage to repeat itself, and that Ireland will set the blueprint for progressive renewable energy policy in the years to come. After all, it would be great to be known for more things than Bono and beef and cabbage.

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