In a world where barbarians who imagine they honour their god, their religion, and their co-religionists by blowing up scores of innocent people whose only crime is to disagree with their fascist zealotry, and in a world where the greatest project in the modern world — the European Union, for all its fault — is destablisied by a mixture of fear, hubris, and ignorance, it may be difficult to get excited over delays in establishing alternative sources of energy.
However, the instability made possible, if not probable, by Islamic State savagery and Brexit folly makes energy independence one of the great imperatives of our world, especially as this is a small, peripheral country that still imports about 90% of its energy needs.
Reaching that point, however unattainable it may seem, is an objective worthy of the greatest commitment, energy and cross-party, cross-border solidarity. That objective should be the focus of the kind of concerted all-island effort difficult to generate other than in times of war. Achieving energy independence, or even a kind of energy security, is, after all, a modern version of the imperial wars once fought over undeveloped natural resources. The paradigm may have shifted but the pressures are far greater today as we have become utterly dependent on a guaranteed supply of energy.
The implications of an addiction imported energy were sobering long before Britain voted to leave the EU but should any new EU/UK trade deals impose a tariff on British energy then our national balance sheet will be skewed in a negative way. We already have some of the highest energy costs in Europe and that would exacerbate a situation that limits economic growth. This reality stands despite the lowest energy costs in a decade made possible by America’s shale-gas revolution — fracking — which means looming energy independence will strengthen the world’s primary superpower further. That America has reached this point at the very moment when warnings about peak oil were to change our world just shows how volatile, how uncertain the world’s energy markets are. That uncertainty is deepened by the fact that the UK’s North Sea oil reserves, a major source of supply for Ireland, are running out.
The energy challenge was exacerbated by accepting poor energy-efficiency standards for urban houses built during the boom and allowing houses be built far beyond the reach of public transport. This poor ambition is highlighted by the fact that we are at the initial stages of this project but that France will, over the next five years, install some 1,000km of solar panels on public roads.
Against this chilling — literally — background the news that solar energy companies must wait until next year at least before investment-directing decisions will be made on how the electricity they produce is distributed and paid for does not inspire confidence. This dithering points to an absence of urgency that threatens our ability to meet EU targets which mean we must generate 40% of our electricity through renewable sources by 2020 or face hundreds of millions of euros in sanctions. And, in an increasingly unhappy world, that may be the least of our difficulties.
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