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[Episode #31] – Transition in Ireland

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Ireland is one of the most advanced countries in energy transition, getting over a quarter of its electricity from renewables. It also has one of the most ambitious targets—to obtain 40% of its electricity generation from renewables by 2020—and the resources to be more than 100% powered by renewables, given time and technological development. On the flip side, it also has a severe dependence on imported fossil fuels, and relies on some of the dirtiest power plants in the world.

In this episode, we explore this curious mix of reality, ambition, and potential with the leader of Ireland’s Green Party, a bona fide energy wonk and a longtime supporter of energy transition. From Ireland’s domestic renewable resources to the tantalizing possibility of the North Seas Offshore Grid initiative, it’s all here.

Geek rating: 4

Guest: Eamon Ryan is the leader of Ireland's Green Party; the former Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; and is currently a member of the Communications, Climate and Energy committee in the Irish Parliament. He also currently works for E3G, a European climate organization, and chairs the digital policy group in the Institute of International and European Affairs.

On Twitter: @eamonryan

On the Web: Eamon Ryan’s website

Recording date: November 18, 2016

Air date: November 30, 2016

Chris Nelder: Welcome, Eamon, to the Energy Transition Show.

Eamon Ryan: Thank you very much Chris, I'm glad to be on it.

Chris Nelder: So, for starters why don't you tell us a little bit about your work in support of Ireland's energy transition.

Eamon Ryan: Well I suppose I come from a political vein. I'm leader of the Green Party here in Ireland. I'm a member of the Irish Parliament and I'm on the committee with responsibility for energy climate change and communications. We kind of bring the digital revolution into a clean energy revolution together in our government and into Parliament which I think is a good mix. I'm a former minister of energy and communications, which I was from 2007 to 2011. And I've done a lot of work in the last five years with an organization in London called E3G, where we're engaged in climate diplomatic work, so I would have done a lot of work with the E3G on European energy union policies and on decarbonization of Europe effectively. So I suppose I have a particular interest in Ireland, but I have a very keen interest as well in what's going on in the European Union. That's why I worked more than anywhere else.

Chris Nelder: Oh good, so you've had quite a front row seat then at how the sausage was made there with EU climate policy.

Eamon Ryan: I know enough to know how little I know, but yeah.

Chris Nelder: Fair enough. All right so circa 2007 to 2009 you were involved with framing up Ireland's climate plan and I think we'd be interested to know what are some of the lessons you learned from working on that, or if there are any useful insights you can share that might help those of us who are trying to do similar things elsewhere right now. I mean, or actually more to the point, I'm wondering if there's anything you can share that might help those of us who are working on climate issues here in the US states that have been resistant to energy transition.

Eamon Ryan: Well the first thing I'd say was I was lucky in 2007-8-9, we had a very strong political leadership in Europe and that really helped in terms of setting the overall climate targets. We wrote fairly ambitious climate legislation, renewables legislation. I think that is important. When working with a smaller country like Ireland, it helped that we were framing this within a wider European approach, and I suppose the same would apply to the States. I mean you've got a lot have stuff happening at state level. My experience from 2007-8-9-10 period was when you combine that with federal action it really helps. And, ok, the European Union is different, it's not quite federal, but it was there was very strong leadership. There was a clever kind of politics from the European Commission and I found my place in the European Council actually, which is where the European energy ministers meet, most useful. And I think it was a time when we were actually able to do a lot. We doubled renewable electricity power here and we made some fairly significant advances in terms of energy efficiency in buildings. We were radically ramped up building standards and we introduced a fairly extensive retrofit scheme for buildings. And also I think we are probably one of the first countries to build nationwide grid of plug in points for electric vehicles. We were kind of fairly progressive on what I see as a very interesting area which is the interaction as I said between digital revolution and the energy one, so we have a lot of technology companies here. We have a fairly advanced distribution grid. And I think if I was looking back at what worked in my time there, a lot of it was in that kind of space of getting the data system and a grid systems right. It's not very glamorous but it's kind of important. And last but not least I kind of I said that it was kind of useful that there was a European policy at the time. My experience again in terms of getting a lot of stuff done is we had the advantage that most of the actors and agencies that are critical were all on the same page. So most of the utility companies here, most of the grid companies, the regulator and the transmission system operator, they kind of had a common understanding, partly because it was coming from European legislation but also because there was reasonably widespread political consensus on the kind of move of Ireland to a low carbon approach that when you get those circumstances, when you get that environment where you get business, government and a regulatory authorities in kind of one mind in terms of the direction that's been taken, actually the lesson I learned is that you can do stuff. Like we did to reduce our emissions, we did increase renewables, we did see fairly significant advances in efficiency for a variety of areas. And I think it put a dent as much as anything else that kind of slight certainty and investment certainty to you get when you get different actors kind of singing the same hymn sheet. I suppose one of the lessons I have is that we can do this transition but it needs some sort of co-operative or collaborative sense of common purpose to make it happen. That's probably my biggest lesson. If everyone's rolling in the same direction you can go fairly fast.

Chris Nelder: Yeah, well, it certainly helps. But beyond the sort of the top level support there that you enjoyed, how do you go about sort of coalition building at the rank and file level of just everyday citizens?

Eamon Ryan: I think that's probably the key question because I think maybe even since that time from about 2010 onwards I think both in Europe and in Ireland, and I'm not blaming any one political party or you know saying, but I think in that time we probably lost that confidence. We lost the kind of regulatory and certainty. And I think there's a variety of reasons. One was the financial crash kind of took a lot of confidence out of European policy in general. Secondly I suppose the shale gas revolution kind of shook up everyone. People were starting to fear the competitive of implications for that, even though renewables were coming down a price at the same time. But thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, I think the thing we learned maybe is that we hadn't paid enough attention to getting the public support. You can only do so much on existing political capital. If you don't replenish that in terms of getting public buy in for what you're doing, then you start to run out of ground fairly quickly. I think one of the issue may be around a period 2010/11/12, it wasn't just the financial crisis likely stalled investment, it was the high cost of energy, the high cost of oil and gas at that time started to bring the issue of competitiveness and the issue of fuel poverty into play. And I think for a variety of reasons also because COP in Copenhagen didn't work, we lost that public confidence and public support. And actually if you don't have that you find you lose the political capital fairly quickly and you lose that certain regulatory environment that I talked about. So I think one of the biggest lessons if I was doing something differently, I think it would be to start engaging the public in a much wider consultation process to really come at it rather than a top down telling people what to do. Asking people for help, explain them to various options and maybe looking for the public to come to solutions in different ways rather than just thinking you can do it on a top down approach. And I think a lot of people have learned that maybe in the last five or six years. I think we're only starting to rebuild the public support for action on climate and I think we do need to make sure we learned that lesson, that it's not a preaching exercise, it's a kind of involving people exercise and I think if we get that right everything else will flow very quickly.

Chris Nelder: Well I think that's a very important insight especially in light of the recent US election.

Eamon Ryan: It sure is. I mean we're all fixated on that. But I think in some ways I think the sense I have is that even though in a federal level in the States there may be a stalling now, or kind of less ambition, I think in some ways we've gone over a crossing point where I think it would be hard even for federal action to stop some of the changes that are taking place because it does actually, it works in cities, it's working at state level and it's it is now becoming better economic option to go to low carbon root. The fact that solar and wind have come down in price so significantly it means that it's a different ball game now than it was five or six years ago. We don't need so many supports. We probably need just the right market conditions to make it happen. And that gives me some confidence that even if the new administration in the States doesn't help, I'm not sure how much you can hinder the progress that's starting to take place.

Chris Nelder: I couldn't agree more. And I think we will talk a bit more about sort of the dynamics of the US election versus you know what's going on politically in Europe, but I know you're a bit of a data wonk on this stuff. Of course that's something that this show loves to talk about so I want to talk a little bit about what kind of renewable resources Ireland has and just sort of where Ireland's own efforts toward energy transition might be able to go. So can you just kind of give our listeners a little bit of an introduction as to what Ireland actually has in terms of its current renewable resources and where do you think it might be able to go.

Eamon Ryan: Okay, well maybe first things first, just where we are. We are one of the worst sinners in the world. We are at one the highest levels of fossil fuel use. We're the most import dependent country. We don't have oil. We don't have much gas. We don't have any coal. We import a lot of those fossil fuels, so we have a security interest in getting away from that. We're a small island. I can't think in terms of the States, I guess probably size like something like Vermont, in population the whole island about six and a half million people, so it's not large. And we have a very significant renewable resource though. I mean our wind power in particular, we're probably one of the windiest just places in the planet. We're at that kind of point where the gulf stream hits Northwest Europe and in wind power particularly I think the European Union has estimated we could probably be exporting up to 90 percent of our power such as the volume of wind resource that we have. Not surprisingly then in power generation, that's where we've gone. We've gone from pretty much nothing 10-15 years ago to now about 27 percent of our electricity coming from wind power mainly with a small amount of hydro, and I think we're an interesting country in terms of it's the integration of that variable power supply in a synchronized grade which is not very extensively connected. We have to electricity connectors to the UK, but by and large it's an isolated all island system. And I think one of the most interesting examples from Ireland just from data is I remember about 10 years ago the head of the transmission grid saying to me you'll never get more than 800 megawatts of wind in the Irish system, you can't run a synchronized system with anything more. And here we are about 10 years later we have nearly 2.5-3 gigawatts of wind on the system. There are occasions when we're running 50 plus percent, 55-60 percent of our power from a variable wind supply. And I think in fairness to the transmission grid operators sense then, that's probably one the most interesting stories in Ireland. It is the story that you can actually manage very large amounts of variable supply even on an isolated synchronized electricity system. And second, I think we have very strong biomass capability. We have a relatively small population for the size of the island. We have a very strong growing climate for our trees and so on. But even there I think what one of the lessons I've learned in recent years is I think there's a limited capability for biomass, particularly power generation, because of the volumes you need. We have a number of large peat fired and coal fired power stations. One of the options we're looking at is maybe switching that across to biomass. But one of things that made me change my mind in the last 5-10 years, I increasingly see that as kind of a not a very attractive solution. You have relatively low efficiencies, you know 2/3 the heat is going up as waste heat. We don't have what the Danes have as a very good integration and power system. We don't have district heating systems. So I think for us the biomass side it probably is weak. I think in general where we are going to go, you're never certain of this, things keep changing, but I think electricity will provide a key route forward. I think it'll have a role in both transport and heat. And the advantage of that is that it provides that balancing capability to allow us to use more wind. We have a million houses with oil fired central heating system. If we can take them out and replace them with heat pumps, it gives you a very large storage capability for electricity. It gives you a demand that you can use up that resource that we have. The same in transport. I remember, this is going back a few years now, but there was a very simple statistic: if we could get 10 percent of our vehicles switched to electric vehicles, every day that would see us taking the top off the demand curve for electricity, you know that very expensive, very high carbon peak point on daily consumption around about five or six o'clock in the evening, and similarly in the middle of the night it would fill in the trough at the bottom of demand by a similar amount, about 400 megawatts every day. That doesn't sound a lot but it's a huge significant gain in terms of balancing out the power. It belongs to the market rather than any individual, so how you capture the benefits of that is kind of significant. And last but not least, and I suppose I see for the lesson in Ireland, one of the really interesting lessons is it is this dance between variable demand and variable supply is what you need to get right. I think one of the things we're starting to do is we have a fair number now of industrial consumers who are starting to moderate their demand based on real time pricing. And I think that just helps that dance between variable supple and variable demand. And I think Ireland is starting to be good at that. And it's interesting if you look at what's happening in the European Union more widely, the 30th of November, the Union's going to launch its clean energy for all package. And I think the whole philosophy is in that space between getting balancing markets right, getting kind of close to half hour 15 minute close on kind of balancing markets, matching variable supply, variable demand. I think that's where we're going to go. I think it's where we can use our technology capability like most of the leading technology companies in the world. Apple, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Facebook, Google, Twitter, EMC, pretty much every one of them are based here. I think they will have an increasing interest in that sort of balancing market and how it works. And I think that's where we have a real opportunity to be different or to being ahead of the curve. I hope so.

Chris Nelder: Wow. That's just an amazing load of opportunity there. I really had no idea about a lot of that. I especially had no idea that there was peat fired power plants still.

Eamon Ryan: Listen they're the worst. No it is a great company and a great people working on it but we are burning soggy lignite effectively. You know, I mean they were built as I suppose a sign of our independence. It was a resource we had. We have very large bogs in the Midlands and we've been using them for generating electricity for quite some time now. I think we're coming to an end of that. I think we have to provide employment to allow people to to kind of get alternative economic development into the middle of the country. But from my perspective, both peat and coal fired power station with one large coal fired plant in the south, another in the north, the way I see us making the next leap is they would probably come off line, and I mean I'd get them off line very much straightaway, but at some time in the next five years I think they're, if we're serious about meeting our climate targets within the Paris agreement, I think we have to switch them off. I think we will we will probably move towards offshore wind as the next step rather than necessarily big further expansion in onshore because we are running into planning objections like a lot of countries on that. We have to get the planning right. We have to be sensitive to local populations. But I think the interesting opportunity is offshore wind is starting to come down in price in Europe very significantly. Our ocean area is 10 times the size of our land area. We have opportunities and the likes of the Irish Sea which is where we could develop similar sort of offshore wind farms to the ones they are developing in Sweden and Denmark now. And the price that that's coming in at, when we're seeing prices excluding transmission connection of about from 55 cent up to 75 cent a kilowatt hour, if we can do that price offshore I think it allows us get another big chunk of wind on our system and that's where I think is probably the next step. I think we'll use gas as an interim kind of balancing fuel. There's a reason the good synergy between gas and when as you balance one or the other. But I think in time then just as we get better and better at the demand efficiency side which has to come first, then I think we move towards a 100 percent renewable system where we will match this huge resource we have with variable demand. And I think increasingly as well a part of that is we start to connect into the UK and into France more so that that also helps us to reduce demand curtailment of wind that you have to do. So we have a reasonably good flight path to kind of 100 percent renewables in my mind. I think it'll take a couple of decades but I think it's economically and physically, energy market wise, it is a doable prospect for Ireland to make that switch.

Chris Nelder: I do want to talk about that, but first I wanted to ask you since you brought up the marine energy aspect or at least offshore wind, I mean this certainly makes sense that the majority of Ireland's existing renewable capacity is wind as it's a mature technology in Ireland after all is an island sitting on the Atlantic with notoriously little sunshine so probably not a great solar resource there. But longer term, what about marine energy potential? I mean I understand that marine energy is still in its infancy as a technology and there's obviously a lot of engineering problems that have to be solved before it can really scale, mainly because the ocean is such a harsh environment, it just eats everything up. But if we look at say 30 or 40 years and think optimistically about the future of marine energy, what do you think? I mean how much energy might Ireland be able to capture from the Atlantic?

Eamon Ryan: First before we get into that, I think solar will have a role here. I mean solar has gone down so much in price, particularly on the eastern side of Ireland it will be a good chunk of what our capacity is, so I wouldn't underestimate the importance of that. But you're right, we're not the sunniest country in the world so we're not going to be as strong here as it is elsewhere. And you're right, marine energy does provide a real prospect. And I suppose just going back to the basic physics of it, the energy density in a wave or even a tidal current is so much stronger than an air current that you have to think could 30-40 years that this must be something we can tap into. And again as well as being one of the windiest places, if you look at a wave map of the world the Atlantic takes a 2,000 kilometer run of the country. So we have a lot of particularly wave energy, less so tidal. So I think it's worth the bet and it's worth investment. I think it is a bet. It's kind of a 20 to 1 bet, but if you're doing it over 20 years at some point you hope that you're going to find a device that captures that energy. And I think in tidal energy we've probably being slightly more advanced. There's an Irish company OpenHydro, I don't know if you've heard of it but it's a really interesting company based in the East Coast where it has French owners now but it's doing a lot of work in Canada and in France, they have some very large really impressive technology that they're deploying. It needs to be in areas where you've a reasonably strong tidal current. They're probably the most advanced tidal company in the world I think. They're really good engineers, they're really good company. But even there I mean I've talked to someone recently about how we getting on and there is a fundamental difficulty, electricity and water don't go well together. So I mean you can generate the electricity fairly effectively using these devices. It's how you transmit it, how you actually get the underwater connection just given the physics of water and electricity not easily matching is some of the development we need to see. On the wave side, we've invested a fair bit of research and development money looking at prototype devices and trying to encourage. We've set up a fairly advanced marine testing location, wave testing pools and so on. We have an offshore marine wave testing location in Galway Bay. We built grid connections out to the sea, providing the plug and play kind of options. And I still think it's worth the investment because if we get a device which works which can survive that marine environment and which can get the transmission of the electricity away from the device back to shore then it will be worth it because as I said the energy resource is huge. It hasn't happened yet. It's not easy. I've seen a lot of kind of projects we thought this might be the one and it just didn't turn out. But I think it's worthwhile investing in it because I think we're going to need everything. And I think as I said for us as a country with our marine resources we have, it's worth that bet. I think it makes sense for us to work with other locations with similar resources, so I suppose we've been cheering on the Scottish government who have been doing something similar. And I think Portugal has done some very interesting work in renewables across the board and they've similarly really been kind of trying this bet on marine energy. None of us are cracked it yet. I know the US administration was very keen. We have the US ambassador Dan Rooney, I don't know if people know him, he was former Chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers, he was here for many years. He was great in terms, he saw that bigger picture. He organized a lot of cooperation, a lot of the Irish companies were kind of working with US companies. There were interesting example, we were taking some oil rigs and hooking on a wave devices to oil rigs because they've already got the kind of grid connection to shore as it were. But no one has cracked it. I hope they do. If they do, we'll be a bit shakes of wave energy if it ever happens.

Chris Nelder: Yeah for sure. And there's no question the resource is enormous. So I was wondering how far Ireland can really go in relying on renewables and you mentioned a minute ago you think that in the long term 100 percent renewables might actually be a possibility, but would that be within the context of Ireland being a self-sufficient island in energy? Or do you think it will always trade power with the UK?

Eamon Ryan: No I think we need to trade a lot more. I think a renewable future will only really work if we get away from national kind of focus on energy systems. I think I said earlier on I've been working with E3G. One of the projects I was working on was a project called the North Seas Offshore Grid Initiative. We signed that as a memorandum of understanding between 10 countries in Northwest Europe back in 2010 and there's just been a revised version of that memorandum which has been agreed. And I think to UK, even with the uncertainty with Brexit, still have a real interest in working with our neighbors because when you move towards a high renewable system you recognize that there's real efficiencies to be gained in sharing powers across boundaries. You know the alternative where we each have very large capacity payments for back up spinning reserve in each of our markets is a much more expensive option. Even the alternative in terms of storage within national markets is again by comparison of having a market approach is really expensive. So one of the things I think is happening in Europe is we're starting to see that sort of regional approach. The new commission, the one appointed two years ago kind of set themselves. One of the main targets was to make Europe a leader in renewables again but also to develop an energy union approach. The nation states have still got control over energy mix. But I think it's important that we work together with much greater interconnection. The union has set a target that there be at least 15 percent interconnection between each of the markets as part of this overall new climate and energy package that has been developed. I think the countries that have done it, maybe take an example like Denmark, they've really extensive electricity interconnection north, south, east and west with Sweden, Norway, with Germany, and now new lines over to Holland, and their experience is that the market gains you get you have to measure it interconnection not just for the physical flows in any one interconnector but if you measure the benefits you cash on either end of the interconnector in terms of lower constraints, lower capacity requirements, then it makes a lot of sense to kind of interconnect. Europe has excess capacity. I mean most Northwest Europe has massive overcapacity in terms of old coal and indeed gas fired and nuclear power plants. And I think rather than just maintaining them I think to switch towards a regional market would allow us to shut off a lot of that old fossil fuels and still have a stable reliable system. It requires trust. It requires really good network codes, market rules, but that's where Europe's going and it won't be easy to do because the politics is difficult. Every minister likes to have their own energy mix and security control and so on. But I think the future I see is one of integration regional markets. Thinking very big I see us kind of using hydro from the likes of Norway and Sweden, hydro from the Alps, and then mixing that with wind in the North Sea. I mean North Sea offshore wind could provide I think we estimate that about 8 percent of Europe's energy needs. So if you start matching that resource with maybe electricity from solar from the south, that's quite big kind of vision is where we need to go. And I suppose the key thing to enable it is that the technology, the cable technology, the HVDC cable technology allows you to ship power over long distances with very low losses and the digital communications system that go with it allow you to do that kind of balancing trick I mentioned earlier on a much wider regional basis. I think that's the way to go. That's the future as I see it.

Chris Nelder: Yeah, you know those who listened to episode 29 of the show will recall that Christopher Clack was very interested in this kind of HVDC regional grid. The North Sea's grid proposal that you're talking about, one of several I think proposed European super grid schemes, would certainly qualify and enable that kind of larger regional balancing area and a regional market across the whole North Sea region like you're talking about. I think it's a really exciting prospect but as I discussed with Christopher in that episode, we've seen several of these proposals sort of rise and fall already. Most notably the desert tech proposal for Southern Europe and Northern Africa. It's not entirely clear to me why that failed. I think there was probably not really sufficient political support and commitment across all the member countries that would have to participate. So do you think that that kind of political support really exists and the political capital exists to actually build this?

Eamon Ryan: I think I do. I think probably desert tech was maybe 10 or 15 years ahead of its time. There was also questions around it, like was it really looking to tap into solar in North Africa or was it looking to build nuclear, there was all sorts of rumors around what was actually behind it. I know myself in the area I was working Northwest Europe I think we built an interconnector between Ireland and England. It was only five years ago. It was a 500 megawatt HVDC interconnector. The latest ones were you can get even bigger up to I think two gigawatts interconnector now on the same size cable, so the technology is advancing and it's not without its complications. I mean when you get to the arrival point you do need convert it back into AC and those conversion stations are huge. It's not easy technology. But one of the benefits, the modeling we've done and we've done some modeling with Imperial College and others, is it shows it actually can reduce the amount of grid lines you need onshore in sensitive areas, in Ireland, in Germany, and if you do it on an integrated regional basis it may reduce the amount of actual grid you need onshore grid, and as anyone would know in this business building onshore grid is not easy, it's not popular, very hard to do. So in some ways it brings that efficiency with it. And I suppose the other factor in life where I think it will happen is we're already starting to see energy flows across countries that are having real effect and a lot of the time now the French electricity market prices is determined as much as anything else by what the wholesale price in Germany is. You get spillover. If it's a high windy or sunny day in Germany, it has knock on consequences on neighboring countries. So in some ways I think the reality of managing the system is that we're going to have to do it in an integrated way and the technology is there to provide it. And certainly from my work I've done with the European Commission and with German government and others, I think they kind of realize that this is the next phase of the energy transition. I mean they very broad picture as I see it, this is a move towards 100 percent renewables. The first quarter was done by integrating renewables within the existing system. Now what we're finding is the level of renewables at twenty five percent is already changing the whole system so in a sense the next quarter of the transition means changing the system. And part of that is I think an integration to DC grid network. And I think how far that goes. I mean it's very hard to plot technology at 10-15-20 years, but I think will be center point of what happens next. And I think the real key thing to make it work is not so much the hardware it's the market rules, the network codes, it's the kind of software around it, the data management and governance rules is what we need to get right. This is not easy but I think Europe is probably ahead of anyone in terms of doing this out of necessity. And I think what we learn here might help in application in China and in the US as well.

Chris Nelder: I'm glad to hear that you're optimistic about the potential for that kind of political business agreement to make that work and I'd like to return to the question of Donald Trump's election to the presidency here in the US. I mean obviously everyone is very concerned that he will abandon the US commitment to take action or the Paris climate agreement. And I think many of us are wondering if the rest of the world will continue to move ahead with their climate plans or if those who are opposed to climate action and energy transition will be emboldened at this point to try to throw a spanner in the works using the US's recalcitrance as cover. So how does the climate movement look to you right now from your side of the pond?

Eamon Ryan: From my perspective, firstly Paris was a real success. I think the fact that we had consensus there, the fact that it was a fairly detailed document. I remember I was there the night before the negotiations finished and we were looking at what might change and we were hoping is it wouldn't shorten, that it would be really long and detailed which it is in terms of the reporting requirements, the kind of ratcheting up requirements, monitoring requirements and so on. And so I thought the Paris Agreement was significant in that. I think obviously it's possible that Donald Trump as head of the administration might try to pull out of the agreement. My understanding is that's not easy to do, it would take four years. And if he goes some of the shorter routes, for example exiting the UNFCCC, I think that would have huge consequences for the US across the world. And I think Mary Robinson described recently is that would make US a kind of rogue state. So I can't believe that the US would go that far because I think it would have real knock on consequences. It may slow ambition in the States, but again I would draw some confidence for three things. Firstly to answer your question, Germany has just agreed a pathway to 2050 that's reasonably radical, like they have made out their next steps that they are giving to transition. I think it is a fairly ambitious program for decarbonize in the energy system particularly very quickly, and I think if you matched that with what's happening in California, in California is, as I understand, going to have 50 percent of renewables by 2030, a similar sort of ambitious approach. And also the fact that China is overtaking us both is, you know Europe has gone from having 50 percent of renewables investment in 2010 to down to 20 percent last year. We're actually looking at China and worrying that they might overtake us. But if you take those three centers California, Germany and let's say southern China, their the three technological innovation investment centers in the globe at the moment, so if all three are going strong in this direction, and I don't see anything that President Trump could do to stop California per se, even whatever he does with the clean energy plans you have there, I think that as a set is going to become the dominant factor. And I suppose I liked the fact that the technology has come down and that increasingly those digital industries have an interest in combining with the clean energy technology changes that are taking place. I think it may delay the process which I think is unfortunate, but I don't see it stopping it.

Chris Nelder: You know that's a very optimistic view and certainly Governor Brown in California and the rest of his administration has made it very clear that they're not going to slow down one bit with their efforts in energy transition. And I think you're right, you know the train is well on its way and actually still accelerating for energy transition in Germany and China. So I think there is definitely hope there. But you know it's hard not to see the election of Trump in a broader context. I mean I think many people see in the echoes of Brexit since both were at some level a rejection of liberal trade policies and of welfare support programs and reflected sort of a hard turn to the right. And now I wonder how the US under President Trump and the UK post Brexit if they might renege on their commitments to the global community. I mean do you think that entities like for example the United Nations and NATO might survive this? Or can the EU still hold together enough to advance a coordinated climate agenda?

Eamon Ryan: I may sound optimistic in everything I said. But the truth, I'm also scared to death politically because Brexit to me, this our nearest neighbor, I don't know how they're going to manage by pulling out of the European Union. I think that's going to have huge consequences. We've been joking here slightly since that Trump election we've been saying, I don't know that song, "clowns to the left to me, jokers to the right, here I am".

Chris Nelder: Gerry Rafferty.

Eamon Ryan: Gerry Rafferty, that's right. Our version of that is Trump to the left of us, Brexit to the right, here we are, stuck in the middle of you. So I'm terrified that the French presidential elections could go the wrong way from my perspective and that would pull the European Union into real difficult space. Nothing is certain on this. One thing, maybe I'd share one thought, and this is something we came to of the last four or five years ourselves. Listen, we were deeply unpopular at our time in government. We were in government at a very difficult time in our country's history. We'd brace for economic crisis, we had to sort that out. We had to manage it in a very difficult way. But what the other thing we learned is like it wasn't easy to do some of the things we did on the energy front, like we introduced a fairly extensive carbon tax system. It wasn't popular, it was bloody difficult and we lost a lot of political capital at the same time. One of the lessons I learned from it, and maybe it would same would apply from Brexit or from Trump is why is it that that kind of view of the world, that conservative side of the world, sees the energy transition with such disregard and skepticism? Partly, I mean I'd be critical of their analysis, but I'd also look at ourselves and say we have to come out in such a different way. I was involved with a group called climategathering.org in the last five years looking at how we communicate this story and I think it does behoove us to come at it a slightly different way where we we admit we don't know everything. You know a lot of this technology is changing in a way where we have to adapt and learn and we will make mistakes and then we will rectify it and we'll come back. I think we need to ask people for help rather than telling them what to do. I think it is sometimes we have to hasten slowly which is a difficult thing for us to do because I see the urgency in the whole climate issue but I think that we have lessons to learn in the environmental movement and how we've communicated the need for this transition. I'm inspired by what Bill McKibben has done. I think he's right in terms of we need to stop putting all the emphasis on the individual responsibility. We do need to tackle the source of the problem, I think he's right with his divestment campaign or concentration on that. And as much as anything else, A) because it's effective but B) because politically it's not us making people feel guilty or shamed, it's actually tackled the problem at the source. It needs government action, it needs international action to do that, and we have that framework now with the Paris agreement. We need to leave 4/5ths of the fossil fuels underground. And I think we're better going at it from that kind of tackle the source of the problem way rather than just focusing on the individual. I think we may have lost people in the States and in Brexit by just kind of making people feel guilty and that they have to make this personal shift. I think it's better to make a system shift. I mean one of the people involved in our climate gatherings was a former US Congressman Bob Inglis, he was Republican from North Carolina and he kind of was ousted by the Tea Party. But I think it's important that we don't give up on the Republican Party, that we actually you know we should have a conservative voice for climate action and clean energy transition. It is the new economic opportunity. It does create a lot of jobs but also it is genuinely centrally conservatism. It's conserving the environment. So one of the things I'm interested in is how you speak to that community in a way that isn't just looking down your nose at them, it's kind of saying come on, help us out, be part of the solution. And I think that's one of the lessons we need from recent years. I think we've been too much preaching and not enough listening.

Chris Nelder: That makes perfect sense actually. But you know again that kind of brings me back to you know where the public stands on things. Obviously transition has a cost. Sometimes the costs can be quite substantial. Are the Irish people willing and able to pay for energy transition?

Eamon Ryan: I'll be honest and say we probably lost all the public support in recent years. A) because energy prices were high, not because of our renewables transition, that's actually reasonably competitive here. But because a lot of people are caught in fuel poverty with rising oil and gas prices, but they associate it with with the kind of clean energy change. And secondly for a variety of complex reasons we've lost some confidence of certain sections of the public in terms of building wind turbines, building a grid, so it's not easy to get that right. And we need to go back to to do what I'm saying there and rather than just trying to do public consultation where we're coming with the solution and trying to batter it through, we need to genuinely ask people the question well where do you think this economy is going? Do you think this sort of route which is competitive for Ireland and it is viable should be the way to go? I mean I have one assumption in all of those that we do have to go towards a zero carbon system, but Ireland is as good an example as any where, probably the same in the UK, of countries that have to re-win public support for this. There is an underlying public support. You don't get to hear it often. It's only in those places where people are protesting against a particular power line or a particular wind farm that you hear a lot of resistance. There is much wider public support I think the nature of the transition was much something else because this is our own power. This belongs to everyone. And I think one of the changes we will move towards is much more community ownership and much more prosumer, allowing the consumer to develop their own power. That's why I think solar is important on the roof. I think we do have to learn from what Germany has done well. I think the fact that they have such public support because they went that route is something a lot of us could replicate. I think what that gives, i'll come back to what I said at the very start, that gives you the political capital, that gives you the consensus across different parties and with industry and with regulators to be able to make the changes.Oonce you get that in place everything else tends to flow with my mind reasonably quickly.

Chris Nelder: OK. So let's end this on an optimistic note then. I mean optimistically I could imagine Ireland being able to get to 100 percent renewables, or near to it for grid power and heat. But of course the hardest part is always transportation. And you mentioned that you see some potential for electric vehicles in Ireland and that what you said there matches well with the report that I wrote earlier this year for for my employer, RMI, about how electric vehicles can function as distributed energy resources on the grid and help to flatten out the load profile on the grid. So as your fellow countrymen and our mutual friend Colin Campbell would be quick to remind us, peak oil may be out of favor as a meme, but it certainly hasn't gone away. And in fact the starvation of cap ex spending in the oil and gas sector over the past two years or so with this crash in oil prices, I think everyone believes that as long as demand remains strong it's just setting us up for yet another price spike in oil. So we cannot take our eye off the ball of the fact that energy transition eventually has to come to the transportation sector. So do you see the potential for Ireland to make a large switch to an electric transportation regime or perhaps using electric cars and trucks or maybe even electric rail?

Eamon Ryan: I do and that's fine, great you mentioned Colin Campbell, a good friend of mine. It's funny how things do change. I've changed my mind on that. I think the way we will defeat peak oil or get over that is because we make oil too cheap. If we can actually keep it below 60-70-80 dollars, whatever, I think the really big, what maybe Colin and the others didn't expect was the scale of the tar sands revolution, and if we can keep oil cheap we will keep those Venezuelan and Canadian and North Dakota and other oil and gas sands in the ground and we won't be able to develop the Arctic or the deep sea waters in the mid Atlantic or elsewhere. So I think we win by keeping oil cheap. I think electricity will be the way in transport, and nothing's for certain because, I mean I'll give you an example of that. We were there at the very start and when we were looking at different options. I remember meeting Shai Agassi, what was Shai's company called?

Chris Nelder: Better Place.

Eamon Ryan: Better Place. Yeah, I mean a great guy and really ahead of the game and everything. He was kind of advocating the system where you put in a battery, you take it in and out of the station.

Chris Nelder: Yeah, the swappable battery cartridge.

Eamon Ryan: I think the Danes and the Israelis went with that. We looked really closely and thought Nah. How would you get all the car companies to agree to design that? And I think we were lucky in the sense we didn't go that route. We went to we went the charge route. That just shows how you know this is uncertain stuff and we are talking about a complete revolution. But i'm encouraged by the fact what I hear is you know it's not just electric vehicles. It is with kind of self drive or car sharing and other mechanisms. We may actually need a much smaller pool of cars. We may be able to be much more efficient in our transport system. Ultimately we were kind of arguing all the time in these climate gatherings we were organizing, if we're to win you can't just stop people going from A to B. You have to have a better alternative, C. Like you have to have a better option. My experience driving electric cars and the technology with them now as well, they are better cars. They're nicer to drive, more efficient, they're cheaper, if you add in the kind of the lower maintenance costs as the lower operation costs. I think they're coming. So I would still bet on that. Exactly how it will work I don't know. I think the really interesting, what I've learned more than anything else, when you start doing this stuff it's the communications data systems around. It's how you actually do the processing of the charging points and all these kind of how you how you integrate with the home energy management systems. It's whoever gets that bit right. It's the software data communications as much as the physical infrastructure, and to get that right I think you actually need people's confidence. They have to trust the sharing of information. So actually when I look at electric vehicles and home energy systems, a lot of these new technologies, I think it's actually about the ethics around digital information, how it's shared, how it's used is what we need to get right. I would like to think for Ireland that's one of the areas we should concentrate on. We're not going to make too many cars but we can actually do the software on the systems. And that's what I think it's going to go. The other aspect for Ireland, which is also important, there was a very great person I met a number of times, Hermann Scheer, I don't know if you ever met him or heard of him. He was a German SPD. He was the real revolutionary when it comes to renewables back in the 80s and 90s.

Chris Nelder: That's right.

Eamon Ryan: And he wrote a book, Solar Essential, I think it was, which was really good. He came back to actually saying the farmers are the frontline here. This is another reason why, you know go back to Trump and you know the vote was lost in rural areas. I think we need Irish farmers and American farmers and others to understand as Hermann Scheer is that the real frontline in this transition is going to be farmers who would be able to plot what you use land best for how you store carbon in certain places, how you generate bioplastics, and biofuels are not looking so good at the moment, but I do think we shouldn't leave that element in the whole mix because I think what Hermann Scheer said of the start is true. This is a how we manage our land as much as anything else. Some of that will be solar, some wind, some of it will be biomass for varying advanced combined heat and power uses. I wouldn't rule that out. And yes electric vehicles are important but I think we should start by winning over the farmers to understand is their future as much as anyones. And I think if we got that right we'd get public support we need to make the whole thing work.

Chris Nelder: That is a very very trenchant point I think given where we stand politically today. Well, Eamon, listen, I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with us. You've just got a wealth of knowledge about this stuff. I only wish that we had more politicians over here that had your kind of energy literacy. And so I really appreciate you taking the time to share some perspective from across the pond.

Eamon Ryan: Chris, as I said at the start, I know how little I know and that's a first start.

Chris Nelder: Ok. Very good. Thanks a lot.