Ireland is “woefully behind” on meeting its renewable energy targets, and progress to date has been “illusory”, according to the Irish Bioenergy Association (IrBEA).

The group has held the ‘Bioenergy for Climate Action in Transport’ conference today, Wednesday, October 30, in Dublin – a collaboration with Ethanol Europe – in which those comments were made.

Today’s conference examined Ireland’s transport energy mix, the Government’s Climate Action Plan, and bioenergy.

Attendees at the conference were told that electric vehicles were “only part of the solution” to the emissions issue.

The conference also heard that the total fleet size in the transport sector was due to double by 2050, split “50-50” between electric vehicles (EVs) and conventional engines. The conventional fleet is expected to continue growing until 2030, “making bioenergy critical to reducing fossil fuel emissions”.

Furthermore, attendees were also told that the Government’s “ambition” to have one million EVs on the road was “laudable but totally unrealistic”, and that 500,000 would be a more realisable figure.

Arguments were put forward that ‘E10’ petrol (with a 10% ethanol content) would deliver “the same climate benefits, today, as 100,000 EVs that would require €1 billion in incentives”.

“EVs are part of the solution to emissions, but given that the national fleet is expected to double in size by 2050, and that conventional vehicles will still likely make up 50% of the fleet by then, bioenergy has to play a major role,” said the IrBEA in a statement.

Increasing the percentage of ethanol at the petrol pumps from 5% (E5) to 10% (E10) could deliver an immediate climate gain at negligible cost. Ethanol is a natural product typically derived from grain, sugar beet or sugar cane. E10 cuts carbon emissions by over 70% compared to oil.

“It has been the standard fuel in the US for two decades. France, Finland, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Brazil all use E10 or even higher blends and, like the US, have only positive experiences to report,” the IrBEA statement added.

The group also pointed out that the Government’s plan of one million EVs by 2030 would cost the state €10 billion (a €10,000 cost per vehicle in grants and lost taxation).

“Ireland needs additional and complementary measures, including bioenergy, to meet its emissions targets. In 2020, Ireland faces a mandatory 10% target for renewable energy in transport under Europe’s Renewable Energy Directive,” said Seán Finnan, CEO of IrBEA.

Ireland says it is committed to a switch to E10 by 2030, but if reducing emissions were a national priority a switch could happen immediately. Such a move would deliver the equivalent climate benefit, overnight, at negligible cost, of 100,000 electric cars.

“The switch would also reduce the cost per litre of petrol by 0.5c in reduced carbon tax, a saving of 30c per car fill. By comparison, the switch to EVs would cost the exchequer [approximately] €1 billion in purchase subsidies, rebates, and reduced road and fuel taxes,” Finan concluded.