With so much talk of green pathway out of our problems, Sean Roberti looks at how this would work in practice.
Apart from the ‘Dot-Com’ bust in 2000, the last four major global recessions all followed a spike in oil prices. In July 2008, when prices surged to over $147 a barrel, transport and food prices around the world were pushed up. Central banks responded by raising interest rates, which burst a massive credit bubble and triggered the banking crisis. Two months later, Lehman Brothers collapsed. By the end of the year Europe and the US were in recession and unemployment was soaring. Because of the level of our dependence on oil, the next recession could be less than five years away.
Last year, Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions fell by an astonishing 8%, the first fall in two decades. Don’t get too carried away though: much of this was due to the economic downturn. It included an amazing 20% drop in emissions from the industrial and commercial sector. We actually have a realistic chance of meeting our Kyoto targets for 2012.
There are some very exciting developments in green technology that could help Ireland recover from its current financial
difficulties. We have an unprecedented opportunity to turn our system around and become a thriving low-carbon economy. Enough wind blows over the Ireland to generate all of our electricity many times over. We could also earn massive amounts of money by exporting surplus electricity to the UK and mainland Europe.
The main problem we must first overcome is that wind is intermittent. There needs to be a way to store wind energy so that it can be used when the weather is calm. Fortunately, a group of volunteers with expertise in areas such as engineering and business have found a way to do this. The group, which call themselves ‘Spirit of Ireland’, suggest using surplus electricity to pump sea water into large U-shaped valleys on Ireland’s west coast. When the weather is calm, electricity can be generated by releasing this water through hydroelectric dams back into the sea. Some of the valleys are so big they could store enough energy to power the country for two and a half days.
This is not an empty or unrealistic vision. The group has researched its plan extensively and demonstrated its viability. To make it work, our electricity grid needs to be improved and dams need to be built along the U-shaped valleys to contain the water. We are one of the richest countries in the world in terms of wind energy potential per person. The wind that blows over Ireland could be worth tens of billions of euros per year, enough to pay off the Anglo debt in less than 18 months.
It is vitally important that we become less dependent on oil. If we don’t, we can expect serious economic problems in years to come, as petrol and diesel prices go through the roof and just about everything becomes more expensive. Nearly all of our cars today are powered by petrol or diesel. Green Party minister Eamon Ryan recently secured a deal to bring electric cars to Ireland. Nissan will supply its five-seater LEAF hatch back in early 2011. Renault will launch its light commercial Kangaroo Z.E. later in the year, and its Fluence Z.E. in early 2012. Over 2,000 electric cars are expected to be on the roads this time next year. As part of the deal, the ESB is installing 3,500 charging points nationwide by December 2011. The government is also offering a €5,000 grant to anyone who buys an electric car.
Eric Basset, managing director of Renault Ireland, explained: “Due to its relatively small size, Ireland is ideally suited for the introduction of electric vehicles and as a pilot for the rest of Europe. As the population of Ireland is predominantly centred around the major urban areas of Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford, and with the average vehicle covering approximately 75 km per day, electric vehicles are ideally suited to address the every day needs of both private and business use.”
There’s another exciting development right here in Cork that could help millions of people worldwide to save money and cut their CO2 emissions. Avego is a software application that matches car drivers with passengers who want to travel on the same route. All a driver has to do is let the iPhone App run. Avego notifies the driver whenever someone nearby wants a lift. A passenger can book a ride any time using a computer or an internet enabled mobile phone. The ride is much cheaper than a taxi and the transaction is handled automatically by the software. Headquartered in Kinsale, Co. Cork, Avego has won some highly prestigious awards and is being piloted right here in UCC.