Irish Partner Southern Regional Assembly (SRA) has an ambitious vision of becoming one of the most Creative & Innovative, Greenest and Liveable regions in Europe. 

The Regional and Spatial Economic Strategy (RSES) for the Southern Region - a 12-year statutory regional development framework for the region - sets out the conditions to make this ambition a reality. As part of the implementation process for the RSES a Renewable Energy Strategy (RES) will be drafted and if the region is to deliver on the regional policy objectives for renewable energy (RE) generation and storage it will require far greater levels of private investment.

The Regional Action Plan for the SRA details how learnings from the FIRESPOL project will guide the RES for the Southern Region in including specific goals and targets for the use of Innovative Financial Instruments. To inform the process of setting these goals and targets the SRA is exploring the opportunity of establishing a ‘Renewable Energy Investment Forum’ for the Southern Region. This forum would provide an ongoing mechanism to discuss, explore and make recommendations on the use of innovative financial instruments supporting renewable energy investment in the region.

To initiate the conversation around innovative financial solutions for RE, the SRA hosted a webinar in February 2021 to an audience of key regional stakeholders on the topic of ‘Renewable Energy Investment in the Southern Region’. The webinar was opened by Keynote Speaker Mr Eamon Ryan TD, Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications; who spoke about Irelands National Renewable Energy Policy and ambition. Mr Kevin Lynch, Assistant Director with the SRA outlined the Regional Policy Objectives for RE in the Southern Region including an update on the drafting of the Renewable Energy Strategy. Marie Donnelly, from Renewable Energy Ireland, spoke next on the benefits of RE Investment to the region outlining the substantial savings to be made from the move to RE. She spoke of the many opportunities open to the region such as district heating, waste heat and the possible roll-out of on-shore wind detailing some of the work being carried out by the Irish Wind Energy Agency on this. She also updated on the results of Ireland’s first RESS auction. Marie has a wealth of experience in this area as a former Director for Renewables, Energy Efficiency and Innovation at the Directorate General for Energy of the European Commission and oversaw the implementation of the main energy-related Directives in the EU over the past decade. Joe MacGrath, Chief Executive with Tipperary County Council gave the perspective from the Local Authorities and the pivotal role they play in supporting Ireland's transition to a low carbon society. He detailed Tipperary CoCo’s investment and approach to RE Projects including the Solar Development on Public Buildings which involved the installation of 800 photovoltaic (PV) panels across 9 local authority buildings generating an average saving of 11% in electricity costs.

The webinar also took the opportunity to showcase a small selection of the good practices shared through the work on the FIRESPOL project. Laura Heuston from Sustainability Works who acted as an external expert to the project spoke of innovative financial instruments from other regional/local authorities across Europe that can be adapted for the Irish market. Elias Spreiter with the Hessian Ministry for Economic Affairs, Energy, Transport and Housing spoke about Citizen Investment in renewable energy projects in his region. Elias shared some of the innovative solutions that have brought together the public sector, private sector and citizen investors. He spoke of potential learnings from innovative solutions they have piloted such as crowdfunding for RES projects and the Citizen Solar Power Station where solar engine owners operate one solar power station together on an external roof. Gregg Allen, CEO with Community Power demonstrated the benefits of Community Investment in renewable energy projects in the Southern Region.

The strong attendance and engagement reflected the importance and more importantly the willingness to consider all funding options available to address the immense challenges facing us in the fight against climate change. This event was intended as a pilot and marked the first step in achieving the goals set out in the SRA’s action plan, work will continue to explore this concept with relevant stakeholders in line with the development of the Renewable Energy Strategy for the Southern Region.

The Irish Government has identified ‘Climate Change as the most important long-term challenge facing Ireland’. Doing nothing is not an option, we all have a critical role to play in achieving the ambitious climate action targets and the SRA will continue to inspire action across the region. 

Author: Karen Coughlan, EU Projects Officer, Southern Regional Assembly