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Mayo Energy Audit (review)

The Mayo Energy Audit- A preliminary assessment of a rural county’s chances of surviving Peak Oil
Andy Wilson and Paul Lynch
The Sustainability Institute


This fascinating and well-researched document builds on the concept of the Energy Descent Action Plan and presents a detailed and professional report on the energy resources of County Mayo in the West of Ireland.

Ever since I read the Kinsale Energy Descent Action Plan I realised that the next step would be a detailed accounting of energy consumption for a town or region, and an analysis of potential local renewable supplies. The Mayo Energy Audit does all this and more and represents an important next step in the energy descent process.

Co. Mayo is Mayo is the 3rd largest county in Ireland, covering an area of 5,589 km² (558,900 hectares), eight percent of the national land mass, with a population of some 123,000, or 2.9% of the national total. Andy Wilson has made Mayo his home since 1991. In those days he was living on Clare Island, and it was early visits of mine to the island which lead to me moving to the Westport area myself the following year.

The visits continued during my first few years in Ireland and I often helped Andy with the turf cutting he refers to that has only more recently fallen victim to oil-fired central heating. The turf patch he had access to in those days was situated two miles from his caravan half way up the island’s “Big Hill”. I remember very clearly the days spent laboriously cutting the excellent pitch-black turf turf, or “footing” the brick-sized pieces to help them dry, before finally, later in the summer, loading the rock-hard dried turf blocks into sacks and wheeling them down the steep hill, ten sacks to a load, on a home-made hand cart.

How many people in the modern world could even consider going to the extent of human energy expenditure required to mine and bring home ones own heat source in such a manner- an activity we undertook in those more youthful days with a spirit of adventure as much as anything.

It is those early days that Andy reminisces about in the introduction to the Mayo Energy Audit, and a consideration of how the transition from a relatively resilient, if physically demanding community lifestyle to one of increasing dependence on fossil fuels took place under his very eyes in just a few years, a kind of accelerated version of what had already happened in much of the rest of the western world:

On the 22km road journey out from Westport to Roonagh Pier in the early 1990s one would still see dozens of neat colourful gardens of potatoes, cabbages and onions, but one by one they succumbed to lawns and tarmac. When I travelled the same road in 2007,I struggled to find a single garden with food growing in it. Although the rise of the supermarkets and the attendant global supply chains that have helped kill off localised food production are often perceived as symbols of ‘progress’, they are in fact symptomatic of the growing unsustainability of humanity.

The section concludes with a stark admission that, despite many warnings from Colin Campbell, Richard Heinberg and many others, not to mention the ever greater threat from Climate Change,

Given that contingency plans were not made, communities will now have to adapt to an unplanned lean energy future as best they can, sharing skills, knowledge and resources in the same way as Ireland’s island communities did not so long ago.

The Mayo Energy Audit is a contribution to this work that all communities, then , will have to do, with the authors considering four possible “Energy Scenarios” that may unfold depending on the degree of appropriate planning and preparation to meet the challenges : Business as Usual; Head in the Sand; Lean Economy; and Enforced Localisation.

Then follows a detailed assessment of Irish energy supply and demand from 2006-2020. The authors expect some significant changes in energy consumption by sector by 2020: while the proportion consumed by domestic use is likely to remain the same, energy use for transport may shrink considerably and the proportion used by agriculture is likely to increase, while the total energy consumption is expected to decline from 4600Gwh to 3200 Gwh in that period- largely as a result of recession and energy scarcity as a result of peak Oil.

A Land Use Study sees a dramatic increase of land used for horticulture and market gardens by 2020, though this is still expected to be less than was the case in 1926, while the area given over to hay and sileage is expected to decrease.

The following chapters of the report consider renewable energy options for Mayo, including large-and small-scale wind, photovoltaics, wave, tidal barrages and forestry bio-mass, with the three most abundant indigenous resources renewable for Mayo being biomass from forestry, biogas from waste and silage, and large-scale wind; however, the report concludes that because of limitations of large capital and energy investment required for big wind farms, this large resource “is constrained by the intermittancy of the wind, and also by inefficiencies inherent in the contemporary trend of development solely through large corporate or semi state bodies.”

Instead, becasue of the long lead-in times, and the need to decentralise energy supply in general,

“priority should be given to initiating forestry and woodland projects, and also to developing the AD [anaerobic digestion] sector. Crucial to these developments will be the establishment of a network of local community enterprises based on small businesses, cooperatives and community run educational facilities.”

The report is firmly rooted in an awareness that energy is essentially a demand issue, and only a small part of our energy needs can be met from renewables. Above all else, in Mayo as elsewhere, we need to dramatically reduce our energy consumption.

Full of facts and figures including historical comparisms domographic analysis, the mayo Energy Audit ids far more than just an ambitious attempt to provide a technical filling for what has been a large whole in Peak oil literature, but also give fascinating sociological and philiosophical perspectives, as well as providing a blueprint for what needs to be done in every county in ireland, and every country in the world.

The very process of doing or reading such a study connects us more closely with our environment, with the resources available, and demands that we think far more carefully about how we use them.

The Mayo Energy Audit is available from the Sustainability Institute

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