The current conventional approach to determining the primary energy associated with non- combustible renewable energy ( RE) sources such as wind energy and hydro power is to equate the electricity generated from these sources with the primary energy supply. This paper compares this with an approach that was formerly used by the IEA, in which the primary energy equivalent attributed to renewable energy was equated with the fossil fuel energy it displaces. Difficulties with implementing this approach in a meaningful way for international comparisons lead to most international organisations abandoning the primary energy equivalent methodology. It has recently re- emerged in prominence however, as efforts grow to develop baseline procedures for quantifying the greenhouse gas ( GHG) emissions avoided by renewable energy within the context of the Kyoto Protocol credit trading mechanisms. This paper discusses the primary energy equivalent approach and in particular the distinctions between displacing fossil fuel energy in existing plant or in new plant. The approach is then extended provide insight into future primary energy displacement by renewable energy and to quantify the amount of CO2 emissions avoided by renewable energy. The usefulness of this approach in quantifying the benefits of renewable energy is also discussed in an energy policy context, with regard to increasing security of energy supply as well as reducing energy- related GHG ( and other) emissions. The approach is applied in a national context and Ireland is case study country selected for this research. The choice of Ireland is interesting in two respects. The first relates to the high proportion of electricity only fossil fuel plants in Ireland resulting in a significant variation between primary energy and primary energy equivalent. The second concerns Ireland's poor performance to date in limiting GHG emissions in line with its Kyoto target and points to the need for techniques to quantify the potential contribution of renewable energy in achieving the target set.