One in every 10 hectares of land is now planted in forestry, according to the latest figures. The Government’s Forestry Statistics paint a picture of the country’s afforested grounds amid increasing pressure to up volume of lands under trees due to greenhouse gas emissions targets. Despite Ireland falling far short of planting targets, the area of forest is estimated to stand at 731,650ha or 10.5% of the total land area of the country. Around 53% or 389,356ha is in public ownership, mainly Coillte.
The forested area acts as a carbon reservoir, amounting to 381 million tonnes of carbon in 2012 and between 2008 and 2012 it removed 16Mt of CO2 and offset 5% of all national emissions. There have been major concerns raised in western counties, particularly Leitrim, over the level of forestry planting in the region. Farmers account for 83% of private lands afforested between 1980 and 2016, with the average size of private grant-aided plantations around 8.8ha since 1980. It states farmer planting has dominated afforestation since 1993. With farmers and non-farmers now eligible for the same rate of grants and premium payments, the number of non-farmers planting has increased to 35% of the areas afforested in 2016. It points out that ‘non-farmers’ include retired farmers, sons and daughters of farmers and other relatives who may have inherited land.
Forestry and its role in carbon sequestration is an obvious part of any solution to the problem of emissions produced by agriculture. In 2016, Cork had the highest afforestation area at 608ha, followed by Clare at 552ha, Roscommon at 435ha, Leitrim at 434ha and Mayo at 429. There were 34 ‘non-farmers’ who accounted for 254ha in Cork in 2016, while 33 accounted for 238ha in Clare, 26 for 212ha in Cavan and 28 for 195ha in Leitrim. Efforts have been made recently to increase the volume of broadleaves planted by the Agriculture Department, with increased grant incentives, as the forest estate is made up of three quarters conifers and one quarter broadleaves. Sitka spruce is the most common species, accounting for 52% of the forest area. The report warns tree diseases impacting species such as larch and Chalara fraxinea or ash dieback may influence diversity into the future.
Taxi drivers and operators of other public service vehicles are set to benefit from a new €7,000 grant scheme aimed at encouraging them to opt for electric vehicles. Minister for Transport, Shane Ross, has announced a new incentive scheme offering a €7,000 grant towards the purchase of an electric vehicle for those with a small public service vehicle (SPSV) licence. That grant is on top of the existing electric car incentives – the €5,000 rebate on vehicle registration tax, a €3,800 grant from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), and the upcoming new grant from the SEAI for installing a home-charging point.
The Department of Transport grant applies to any fully electric vehicle up to six years old, although the amount reduces according to the age of the car. A smaller €3,500 grant applies if you want to buy a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) for taxi use, but only those with Co2 emissions lower than 65g/km. Conventional hybrids are excluded.
The move is the latest in a series of measures being introduced by the Government to promote electric car ownership. Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe introduced a one-year exemption on benefit in kind for electric vehicles in the budget, and it is expected that the exemption will be rolled out for at least three years, including a suspension of any benefit in kind levied on charging your electric car at work.
Meanwhile, Minister for the Environment Denis Naughten has stated that he is looking at other ways to encourage an increase in the move to electric vehicles, including making motorways tolls free for electric cars and banning sales of any non-hybrid or electric car from 2030 onwards. However, the current financial incentives are still not having much effect. Electric cars accounted for a paltry 0.25 per cent of the market last year, with just 622 sold in total in a total new car market of 131,335.
Þorsteinn Ingi Sigfússon, Professor in Physics, Laureate of the Global Energy Prize and Director of ICI (Innovation Center Iceland) wrote an article on research and Innovation in the energy sector in Iceland and how ICI has been a strong partner in that area. Here you can read a summary from his article.
Iceland is in a unique position in the world due to its variety of renewable energy resources. Large amounts of renewable energy in Iceland is in the form of electricity sold to aluminum factories which therefore leave a relatively low carbon footprint. The demand today is through further innovation in that category.
ICI has for years now been alerted to innovation in the energy utilization sector. Regarding minimizing carbon footprints, a large chapter was written on analysis leading to the fact that energy spending is extremely high in fisheries. The carbon footprint reaches 1000 kg for each 1000 kg fish landed. That problem has led to new solutions and licenses in using light instead of nets by trawlers. This solution has resulted in lower use of energy, lower carbon dioxide emissions and less damage to the sea bed. ICI has formed a co-operation around this project with the Marine Research Institute and companies in fish-net production and fisheries. This co-operation has trusted the foundation of this research even more. Furthermore a company called Optitog Ltd. has been founded around this innovation.
ICI has also been focusing on minimizing multiple kinds of excreta from aluminum industry here in Iceland including ideas and realization on using rest material in mortar, rock wool and related products. The company Gerosion Ltd. run by Sunna Wallevík was founded around this project alongside the SER (Start-Up Energy Reykjavik) project.
Another project that ICI has been working on is how to produce electricity from low temperature-heat that otherwise is lost (waste heat), mainly from power plants. The source of this waste heat has its physical explanation as a result of the efficiency in producing electricity from geothermal heat. This is very low and becomes even lower as the heat of the geothermal plant gets higher. In 2015 in the accelerator program Startup Energy, a project around low heat electricity production was developed. The challenge lies mainly in the small size of the power generator which is only 1 Kw but can produce electricity from heat as low as 70 up to 135 °C.
The company XRG Power was founded around this exciting project and is managed by Mjöll Waldorff. Among the owners is VHE in Hafnarfjörður and a Startup Energy group which is led by Landsvirkjun and Arion Bank.
As can be read above various inventions and innovations in the renewable energy sector are in process which is in line with the urgency of minimizing various carbon footprints and other waste.