The obstacle is the way

The obstacle is the way

During lockdown, I read a lot and was particularly drawn to books about stoicism and one that really stuck with me was The obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday.  Having fallen off the fitness bandwagon, I’m starting back and it seems insurmountable because, well, I’ve let things get to the stage that I’m back at stage one again.  I’m so unfit that if I tried to swim any distance I’d sink like a stone!  Yet I know that it is the obstacle of regaining fitness that is my pathway to strength, mental wellness and vitality.  It’s not to be wished away, it’s to be relished.

When it comes to the energy transition, I’m beginning to think that the same is true. What if learning why we find  cyclists so annoying helps us drive less?  What if the difficulty in achieving 500,000 retrofits is exactly what we need to create a new industry?  What if removing our reliance on fossil fuels gave us the infrastructure  we need to transport wind?


In Ireland, we citizens are still smarting from the economic downturn of the late naughties and many used the enforced isolation of COVID19 to pay down loans and create a financial buffer so much so that the average household level of savings is €80,000 which incidentally is more than it would cost for a home to do a deep retrofit.  So why aren’t we doing it?

How can we use that obstacle to decarbonise domestic heating, which contributes about 11% of our emissions in Ireland?  We could create a new  special savings incentive scheme – to build on the behaviour that people are comfortable with, namely building a nest egg.  “Put your savings into a  Safer Warmer Homes account and if, after three years, you invest it in a retrofit, we’ll double your grant!”

Behavioural economics indicates people will make decisions that save us money or if our peers are doing it.  By the time we procrastinators have an amount saved up, the early adopters will have been bragging about warmer homes and lower bills, so peer pressure will be there.  The power of contributing to a named account and the idea of double free money might just be enough to tip us over into taking the retrofit plunge.

The co- benefits of this are that retrofit companies have certainty of future work, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland will be able to plan for processing grants and the government for funding allocation.  Win win win

Transporting the wind

Our national gas network is owned by us citizens.  We’ve invested 2.7Bn in reliable safe infrastructure that provides high heat industries and electricity generating stations with a reliable form of energy.  We have spent millions on connecting this network to allow for energy to be transferred between Ireland and the United Kingdom. This is a status quo that has worked for years and it’s proving difficult for us to change.

What if we used this obstacle to facilitate maximum use of Ireland’s wind?  Our energy system is set up to transport energy in the form of molecules.  Those pipelines transport natural gas today, but what if we use them to transport green hydrogen in the future?  Gas Networks Ireland are preparing to receive a blend of hydrogen in the gas we import from the UK by 2025 in any event.  Ireland has more energy in the form of wind than we could ever use domestically, so we can use renewable electricity to separate the hydrogen out of water and use our existing pipeline and the proposed pipeline to Germany and, just like that, Irish wind could be used to make German steel.  Environmentally sound and reducing European demand for Russian fossil fuels and all that that entails.

The cyclists

Why is it that cyclists drive us nuts? We drivers consider the public realm to be a road, so cyclists impede our cars.  We’re annoyed because they get to cycle on while we’re in a metal box.  They’re getting fitter and stronger while I seethe that they won’t have to find parking when they get to their destination. Generations of us have grown up believing that bikes are for kids and cars are a sign of independence.  Advertising has lulled us into believing that we are what we drive.  We are frustrated that this is our only option and we have to spend so much of our disposable income on just getting from a to b.  And they look ridiculous in their lycra. Maybe it’s easier to think of them as bloody cyclists than to experience the discomfort of considering our own decisions and whether this status quo actually serves anyone; if it actually serves us.  Maybe this might be the impetus we need to cycle … or the baby step of taking the bus.

Not sure who said it, and I’m sure Google would attribute it to Mark Twain, but the definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results.  Maybe the energy transition requires us to stop fighting against the feedback we’re getting but to consider whether the obstacle is the way.