Maintaining Energy Security, an added imperative for accelerated decarbonisation?


In our Zoom for Thought on April 12th, 2022, UCD Discovery director Professor Patricia Maguire spoke with Professor Andrew Keane, director of the Energy Institute, about, "Maintaining Energy Security - an added imperative for accelerated decarbonisation?" In case you missed it, here are our Top Takeaway Thoughts and a link to the video.


Energy transition


The Energy Institute brings together a diverse range of academics, researchers and students to tackle the challenge of achieving a net zero carbon energy system “hopefully by 2050 at the latest”. This energy transition goal “provides a really rich set of research questions from a range of disciplines”. 


War in Ukraine


The invasion of Ukraine by Russia has led to devastation for the people of Ukraine. Ireland and other countries are feeling a knock-on effect in terms of fuel shortages and increases in fuel prices and energy bills.

“One of the factors that is protecting us even a little is the fact that we have decarbonised our electricity to a certain extent. We hit 40% of renewable electricity in 2020. Without that renewable energy we would be way more exposed to the volatility in the gas price. So while electricity prices are going up, it is in fact renewables that are providing us some diversification and some degree of protection from the rising gas prices.”

This reinforces the wisdom of moving away from fossil fuels and increasing renewable energy. 

It is “somewhat inevitable that we are going to have to suffer an increase in emissions to maintain our energy security in the short term”. For instance, Moneypoint power station is “burning a lot of coal these days to keep the lights on”. Hopefully this will be “a blip” on the road to full decarbonisation by 2050.  


No quick fix


There are no fast solutions to building energy infrastructure that will have a significant impact. 

“It takes years to build a wind farm or a solar farm or any major energy infrastructure. But the solutions for the future are absolutely the right solutions. And if only we were a little bit further down the track, or we had done more in previous years, we would have a greater degree of protection to what's going on at the moment.”




The challenges of energy transition are greater than any one discipline can solve. 

“It is so important that disciplines work together. Engineers, economists, scientists - all of these and more are members and partners of the Energy Institute. It is good to have a healthy, vibrant community of researchers and others who can inform and support each other.” 


Cheapest energy


The energy not used is the cheapest - so fuel efficiency is key. 

Once you have installed wind farms or solar farms there are no fuel costs associated. But the cost of installation must be taken into account.

Nuclear power helps keep the cost of electricity lower in Britain but there is a longer-term cost and impact of managing the waste. 

“Increasingly renewable energy is the cheapest. If you look at the cost trends over the past several years of solar PV and wind the cost is only going in one direction: decreasing.”


Helpful changes


Turning down the thermostat will reduce your heating bill and slower driving reduces fuel costs. Although these consumer changes are helpful, large industries must also play their part and governments must enact green policies. “We've seen some of that with the reduction of public transport fares and the large retrofit programme that was announced a few months ago.”


Storing green energy


The storage question is “really important. And it will be increasingly important as we push the levels of variable renewables, in Ireland's case, mainly wind, onto the grid”.

It is possible to store electricity in batteries. Large lithium ion batteries are part of the solution. 

“But they are not the full solution, because when we get to an almost fully renewable electricity system, we're going to need enough storage that can run the system maybe for a day or a couple of days. We all know the weather can at times in Ireland be pretty much zero wind across the island. It's not that frequent, but when it does happen, it happens and needs to be accounted for. So we need new forms of what we are calling long duration energy storage.”

. “There are a lot of interesting new battery technologies. Iron oxide batteries are another emerging one. The long duration energy storage question is one of the research questions that we are tackling at the moment. I don't have an answer to it yet, but the storage question is central to getting to that net zero carbon grid.”


Data Centres


Data centres are “really large energy users. But they are using electricity for the most part, which is the cleanest energy to date.” But data centres “can also be part of the solution. I think they can probably provide some system-balancing services. I think they should be asked to step up more and provide those solutions”.

Their location in Ireland is “part of the success of the IDA in attracting major global tech companies. So while the data centres might not have that much employment associated with them, I think their presence cannot be viewed in isolation without considering the thousands of employees in the Irish economy associated with those companies”.


Offshore wind


The development of offshore wind in the Irish Sea is “absolutely central to our 2030 targets”. We are “at an early step on the course and the challenge will be accelerating the progress and maintaining that course”. We will not see wind turbines in the Irish Sea “for at least another three to four years”. Wind energy will “further decouple us in terms of electricity from gas”. Though electricity is the way forward, “not everything can be electrified”, for example, aviation. 


This article was brought to you by UCD Discovery - fuelling interdisciplinary collaboration. 



Andrew Keane is Director of the Energy Institute at University College Dublin and Director of the SFI Energy Systems Integration Partnership Programme (ESIPP). ESIPP brings together multiple disciplines to address research challenges facing the energy sector, in particular as we accelerate the decarbonisation of our energy systems. Andrew's research interests include the impact of new energy resources on the power system from the residential network up to the high voltage transmission system. Current research topics focus upon the impact and opportunities presented by renewable and distributed energy resources on the electrical network.

Previously, he has served as Head of the School of Electrical & Electronic Engineering at UCD and held positions in industry with ESB Networks in Dublin and Smarter Grid Solutions in Glasgow. In 2015 he co-founded NovoGrid a grid automation company developing software solutions for renewable generators and utilities. He is a Senior Member of the IEEE and past chair of the IEEE Power and Energy Society UK and Ireland Chapter. He has published over 100 peer reviewed publications, including over 50 papers in leading journals