IMPACT CASE STUDY
Many of our most pressing global challenges – like climate change, pollution, fuel shortages and cost-of-living crises – are intrinsically linked with how we generate, distribute and use energy. To meet these challenges, Ireland must continue its progress toward becoming a renewables-led economy. UCD Energy Institute’s EMPowER project is conducting economic and technical modelling to help accelerate this transition. Through their research, the team are advising Government on the different factors that affect consumer uptake of new technologies, like heat pumps, electric vehicles and rooftop solar panels; the impact that these technologies will have on the grid; and Ireland’s ability to generate energy with higher shares of renewables. This directly informs Government strategy and targets, meaning decisions around climate action will be more effective and cost-efficient.
EMPowER is an interdisciplinary research project looking at the decarbonisation of electricity and consumer technology. The EMPowER team, led by Professor Lisa Ryan and Associate Professor Damian Flynn, uses economic and technical models to analyse specific scenarios at three levels:
Professor Ryan’s team have developed computer simulations to examine the decision-making process for potential consumers of electric vehicles (EVs), heat pumps, and residential rooftop solar panels. Take EVs, for example. The models look at various factors, like the cost of the technology and different grants policies proposed by Government, to estimate consumer uptake of these vehicles, including where EVs will be distributed across the country.
Through this work, the team studied Government targets for EVs and heat pumps, and found that they are achievable subject to certain conditions around factors like fuel prices, availability of technology, and the maintenance of grant levels. Many of their findings are outlined in this public policy paper.
Uptake of these three technologies will fundamentally change how we use electricity, which in turn will have significant implications for the national grid. So members of the EMPowER team, led by Professor Andrew Keane and Dr Alireza Soroudi, have created technical models to understand precisely how the grid will be affected by the electrification of heat and transport.
Led by Associate Professor Damian Flynn, the team are also modelling Ireland’s energy generation capability, to determine if the system will work with higher shares of renewables. They found, for instance, that it will be possible to meet the Government’s commitment to increasing the share of renewable electricity up to 80% by 2030, identifying specific requirements that will need to be met (around flexibility, energy storage, smart controls, etc.).
The project’s three strands are not independent of one another, however. The energy system is interlinked, and so is the research, with the findings in each strand informing the models in the other two. EMPowER produces comprehensive insights on how we can best achieve a low-carbon future, integrating economic, political, commercial and technical perspectives. This combination is critical for developing robust environmental policy.
Funded by the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications (DECC), the EMPowER project forms part of the Climate Action Modelling Group and is designed to give robust analytical support to the policymaking process. The models developed and used by EMPowER help policymakers assess the potential impact of different policy scenarios, so that they can better understand which are the most effective and economically efficient, thereby informing Government targets, strategies and grants policies.
Initially their work was in support of the National Mitigation Plan from 2016 and in support of the Climate Action Plan since 2018. We have been very satisfied with the work carried out to date. UCD Energy Institute provides multidisciplinary capacity in the disciplines of electrical and mechanical engineering, economics, consumer behaviour and policy, with particular strengths in power systems, consumers and electricity markets
— Noel Regan, DECC
But the policy impact of this work is not limited to the one Government department. For example, Professor Ryan, Dr Joe Wheatley and Dr Mary Doorly have also provided a report for the Department of Transport on decarbonising passenger cars, analysing the market for electric vehicles, and highlighting the conditions required for meeting a target of 845,000 EVs on Ireland's roads by 2030. In addition, to extend the reach of EMPowER's findings, Dr Doorley has translated several of the team's research outputs into policy briefs that are published as part of the UCD Energy Institute's Insights Series.
Members of the EMPowER team have played crucial roles providing technical expertise in the development of various Government policies. Professor Ryan and Associated Professor Damian Flynn co-chaired a working group to develop the chapter on electricity in the Climate Action Plan 2021, and are doing so again for the 2023 update.
Professor Ryan has provided technical support and analysis on the employment impacts of carbon budgets to the Climate Change Advisory Council, an independent body advising on Ireland’s transition to a sustainable, low-carbon economy. Her research also contributed to a project on the heat sector called ReHeat, and informed the Council’s Annual Review 2022.
“Prof Ryan also contributed fully and constructively to the work of the Carbon Budget Committee through the provision of modelling and analysis of employment impacts arising from the Carbon Budgets. These inputs and expert insights were of vital importance.”
— George Hussey, Manager of the Climate Change Advisory Council Secretariat
The research shows how Ireland can reach its ambitious decarbonisation goals in an economically efficient way. By helping the Government identify the most cost-effective measures, the EMPowER project is reducing expenditure and saving tax-payer money.
EMPowER research also demonstrates the implications of EV policy on the exchequer. With EVs estimated to make up 40% of investment in passenger cars in 2030, per-car tax revenue is forecast to fall by approximately 20%.
Ireland’s state-owned electricity companies benefit from the research as well. The findings are helping Eirgrid and ESB Networks to increase the efficiency and capability of the national grid. ESB Networks funded the EMPowER team to carry out a survey of consumer preferences on residential technologies, which provided the basis for modelling the decisions of households in simulations of future technology uptake.
Using findings from the EMPowER project, private companies in the energy space can invest more efficiently. They benefit from better insights into consumer preferences on clean energy technologies, and investment opportunities in the future power system.
The move to a renewables-led economy will have myriad social implications, affecting everything from employment to housing to taxation. It’s crucial that this transition does not exacerbate or create new forms of poverty or inequality. Research by Professor Ryan and her colleagues is contributing to this “just transition”. Several of their models assess the justness of different policy measures, establishing whether lower-income groups would be adversely affected. They discovered that grants for EVs will yield benefits for people across all income groups, and that people driving the most kilometres (rural households) will benefit the most from policies that encourage a shift to EVs. These findings feed into the policymaking process, via the DECC Climate Action Modelling Group and other channels.
Professor Ryan has shared EMpowER’s findings across dozens of media appearances, through articles in the Irish Examiner, Silicon Republic and the Independent, as well as appearances on RTÉ’s Six One News, Virgin Media TV’s Tonight Show, RTÉ Radio 1 and Newstalk, to name but a few. Through this outreach she has reached many thousands of people, raising awareness of the importance of decarbonisation and the implications of different policy measures.
Ultimately, this research is about the environment. In the long term, it’s about ensuring we can tackle climate change, reduce pollution and its associated health impacts, minimise adverse weather events, and preserve ecosystems. Although it’s difficult to quantify the precise environmental benefits of this work, it’s clear that electrification of heat and transport powered by renewable electricity forms the key means of reducing emissions. By targeting the technical and socioeconomic economic barriers to clean energy technologies, EMPowER research is improving how quickly and efficiently we meet these goals, helping to protect the environment and all within it.
"UCD and Dr Lisa Ryan have carried out analysis to provide Electricity Systems Modelling Services to the Climate Action Modelling Group (CAMG), formally called the Technical Research and Modelling (TRAM) group. Initially their work was in support of the National Mitigation Plan from 2016 and in support of the Climate Action Plan since 2018. We have been very satisfied with the work carried out to date. UCD Energy Institute provides multidisciplinary capacity in the disciplines of electrical and mechanical engineering, economics, consumer behaviour and policy, with particular strengths in power systems, consumers and electricity markets."
— Noel Regan, Principal Officer, Wholesale Electricity and Gas Policy Division, Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications
"Prof Lisa Ryan provided research and analysis to the Climate Change Advisory Council on emissions, drivers and policies and measures in the heat sector through the project ReHeat. This informed findings in the Council’s Annual Review 2022 and the ReHeat project report is published on the Council website. Prof Lisa Ryan also contributed fully and constructively to the work of the Carbon Budget Committee through the provision of modelling and analysis of employment impacts arising from the Carbon Budgets. These inputs and expert insights were of vital importance to the analysis of the Committee and the deliberations of the Council regarding the economic and distributional implications of the carbon budgets and the report is referenced in the Carbon Budget Technical Report, also available on the Council’s website."
— George Hussey, Manager, Climate Change Advisory Council Secretariat
"As the industry develops the concepts of the “Integrated Grid,” there is a substantial need to develop associated energy system models that provide realistic representations of energy efficiency, electrification, energy storage, demand response and customer participation in markets."
— Mark McGranaghan, Vice President for Power Delivery & Utilization, Electric Power Research Institute, USA
A full list of publication is available on the UCD Energy Institute’s website.