This November the world’s heads of state, climate experts and campaigners will come together for the UN’s COP26 summit, which will aim to accelerate the goals of the Paris Agreement and put the planet on a pathway to net zero carbon emissions. If successful, this landmark conference will result in international action to prevent global temperatures from rising by more than 1.5°C.
While we need strong political action to set the direction, it’s businesses like SSE, and others in the energy sector, that will deliver the solutions and infrastructure needed to meet these goals and decarbonise the economy. This year’s staging of COP is arguably the most important yet. That’s why SSE is proud to be a Principal Partner for COP26, lending our expertise and commitment to the global fight against climate change.
As we look to rebuild Ireland’s economy following the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, a clear opportunity exists to do so in a way that delivers a cleaner, more sustainable society for the future. By investing in new green energy infrastructure, and decarbonising key sectors, the opportunity is there to stimulate billions of euro in private investment, support high-quality jobs, and ensure a just transition for workers and communities.
Of course, when it comes to removing carbon from our economy, we know renewable energy will do a lot of the heavy lifting. For that reason, it’s essential that Ireland seizes the opportunity to deliver offshore wind capacity by the middle of this decade. Ireland is blessed with one of the best wind resources in the world, and only by capitalising on this, can we deliver the large-scale renewable power needed to meet our climate action goals to 2030 and beyond. In doing so, we will create an indigenous sector that is capable of delivering jobs and a significant long-term economic boost across the island.
In SSE, we are building more offshore wind generation than anyone in the world right now. You need only look across the Irish Sea to see the huge benefits offshore wind has brought to the UK. We are committed to bringing that experience and expertise to Ireland. At the centre of our plans is the 520MW second phase of Arklow Bank Wind Park, which alone is expected to offset over 600,000 tonnes of carbon emissions. To highlight the scale of the economic opportunity, the construction of our recently completed Beatrice Offshore Wind Farm in Scotland, similar in size to the proposed Arklow Bank project, contributed £2.4 billion to UK GDP.
In addition to offshore wind, Ireland needs to continue its success story in onshore wind by encouraging new developments and repowering existing sites. Meanwhile, we know we will continue to require flexible power stations on the system to complement the growth of renewables and maintain security of supply. We need to find ways to decarbonise these assets, which is why SSE is exploring opportunities in emerging carbon capture and storage (CCS) and hydrogen solutions.
Clearly, customers have a big part to play in the energy transition, and SSE is committed to providing households and businesses in Ireland with attractive decarbonisation options through energy efficiency and microgeneration. It’s also imperative that the potential of electricity as a workhorse to decarbonise heat and transport is maximised, particularly in enabling the shift to electric vehicles.
The past 12 months have seen incredible solidarity across Ireland in response to the coronavirus crisis. That same spirit is now required to deliver a green recovery in the years ahead, tackling the climate emergency and building a better world of energy for tomorrow. This is a team effort and will require collaboration between government, industry, customers and communities.
The solutions to both crises are not all that different either. The answer is to invest in the right technologies and deploy them as quickly as possible. In the same way that a variety of vaccines are being utilised to the combat the pandemic, it will take multiple technologies to solve the climate crisis too.
As we recover from the impact of the pandemic, there is a clear opportunity to deliver a win-win for our economy and our environment. With the eyes of the world on COP26 this year, SSE stands ready to deliver the low-carbon energy infrastructure Ireland needs to build a cleaner, more resilient economy and become a global leader in the fight against climate change. It’s an opportunity we cannot afford to miss.
Stephen Wheeler is Ireland Country Lead for the FTSE-listed SSE plc, which includes SSE Airtricity, SSE Renewables, SSE Thermal and SSE Enterprise.