Renewable heat in rural areas: what are the options?

How we heat our rural homes needs to change significantly as we move to a low carbon society.  There is an important focus on energy efficiency in our homes (read more here) and the government Climate Action Plan has set very ambitious targets for improving energy efficiency including retrofitting 500,000 buildings to a higher level of efficiency (BER B2 equivalent).  The other element necessary for reducing the carbon footprint of our homes is decarbonisation of the fuels used by switching to renewable energy which may be electrical (generated from wind, solar or in future ocean energy) or bioenergy (e.g. solid biomass, biogas or liquid biofuels).

 

Some of options for switching to renewable heating are discussed in this post. The focus is, as previously, on the existing housing stock, particularly ‘hard to treat’ homes in rural areas[1], which will be very expensive to make suitable for effective use of heat pump technologies.  There were 303,081 homes in the Western Region in 2016 and there is a significant amount of work ahead with 98% of homes likely to require energy efficiency upgrades and fuel switching to make the move to low carbon systems.

 

Options

Energy efficiency is a necessary condition for successful heat decarbonisation, but investment in a combination of energy efficiency and low-carbon heat will usually be the most cost-effective and practical solution.  As energy efficiency has been discussed in more detail here this section focuses on different heat options.

The Climate Action Plan places significant emphasis on heat pumps as replacements for high carbon heating systems (with a target of installation of 400,000 heat pumps in existing buildings by 2030).  As discussed previously 23% (65,187) of existing homes (built before 2010) in the Western Region may be suitable for heat pump installation (using the lower energy efficiency standard of HLI ≤2.3 (read more here)). This leaves 237,894 homes requiring very significant energy efficiency upgrades and major heating system change (switching from oil boilers or solid fuel) if heat pumps are to be installed.  Therefore while heat pumps will be a key technology in the decarbonisation of heat, particularly in new or more recently built homes or those which are already quite efficient, other options also need to be explored.

For the 78% of homes in the region which are not heat pump ready, switching from oil boilers and solid fuel will be both expensive and disruptive and there are particular categories of ‘hard to treat’ homes where achieving the high energy efficiency requirements needed for effective heat pump use will be difficult or prohibitively expensive.

There are a range of different heat technologies which could be deployed to move these to low carbon home heating systems. The technology used should depend on the home’s characteristics, its location, and the features of the available technologies alongside consideration of capital and lifetime costs in the specific situation.  Broadly, renewable heating technologies can be categorised as electrical or bioenergy.  In this post some of the technologies which may be suitable for rural homes in each of these categories are briefly outlined.  In considering these it not so much about what the exact technology mix should be, but how uptake can be achieved at scale and in a sensible way that makes full use of the economic potential of energy efficiency while promoting the lowest carbon heating options available.

 

Electrical Heating Systems

There are a number of electric heating solutions such as Electric Heat Pumps, Hybrid Heat Pumps and Storage Heaters as well as other electric heating sources and storage.  A brief overview of these options with a particular focus on their potential use in rural homes is given here.

Heat pumps

Heat pumps are the key technology for decarbonising rural heat.  The general term ‘Heat Pump’ includes Air Source Heat Pumps (ASHP), Ground Source Heat Pumps (GSHP) and Water Source Heat Pumps (which are unusual).  The SEAI has a useful guide for homeowners here.  In general for existing homes Air Source Heat Pumps are most likely to be installed.  While more efficient, the retrofitted installation of GSHP is more expensive and more disruptive than the ASHP option.

While very efficient because they operate at low temperatures, for heat pumps to work effectively and not be too expensive a high level of energy efficiency is required (see more discussion here).  They are usually used in conjunction with underfloor heating or may require larger radiators than in fossil fuel systems.  They are operated in a different way to conventional fossil fuel heating systems, needing to be on for longer periods.  An additional electric water heating source may be necessary.  Air Source Heat Pumps are however relatively small and are usually attached to an external wall.  Maintenance costs are likely to be lower than for oil central heating and they should be cheaper to operate when installed in suitable homes.

High temperature heat pumps are also being developed and they may be more suitable in less energy efficient homes but they are likely to be more expensive to operate than other heat pumps.

Hybrid heat pumps may also be a short term option.  These hybrid systems combine a heat pump with an existing fossil fuel boiler with the heat pump acting as the background heat source and the boiler used for peak demand.  While not a long term answer to decarbonisation they may have a role to play in less energy efficient homes.

Heat pump technology is well established and it is used widely in other countries so there is significant experience of their effective operation.  Nonetheless, in addition to stringent energy efficiency requirements, heat pumps are sensitive to quality of design and installation.  It is important that supply chains and skills in this technology are developed so that the experience of widespread transition to this technology is good.

 

Storage Heaters

Storage heating has long been an important electric heating technology, allowing users to make the most of cheaper ‘night rate’ electricity.  Electricity is used to heat ceramic bricks which store the heat (at night or when electricity is cheap) and release it during the day.  They can be effective but, with traditional storage heating once the stored heat was used there was no other heating option.  They could also be expensive to run.  More efficient and controllable storage heaters are becoming available; these have more options for ensuring the heat is released when required.  Some models use a fan to circulate heat better or can include an electric heater to provide additional heat when needed (though this may not be very efficient).

Storage heaters, using renewable electricity, will be an important low carbon heat option in ‘hard to treat’ homes unsuitable for heat pumps.  Although less efficient than heat pumps they are not as expensive to buy and install.  As with other renewable heating options, there are likely to be further technological developments in the next decade as global demand for low carbon heat increases.

Other electricity heating and storage

Heat can be stored in a variety of forms, most commonly as hot water, either in the traditional hot water tank, in the heat pump buffer tank or in solid heat batteries which are becoming more available (see here for an overview).   Where solar PV panels are installed, hot water, thermal or battery storage may be options for making the most of the household’s solar generation.  The electricity may also be used directly in electricity resistance heaters or in certain situations infrared heaters but unfortunately the electricity generation pattern of solar PV does not fit with heat demand (which will be higher after sunset and on days with less solar radiation) so storage will be important.

With the shift to low carbon heating options and more use of electricity for heat alongside smart opportunities to purchase electricity more cheaply at different times (such as when there is significant wind generation), there will be an increase in battery and thermal storage options (read a more detailed study of domestic heat storage and energy flexibility here).  These opportunities again highlight the importance of new developments in domestic heat and ensuring that any strategy for transitioning to low carbon heating systems is responsive to new, effective technological opportunities.

Bioenergy

Different forms of bioenergy (solid biomass, liquid biofuels and biogas) can provide renewable alternatives to electrification.  Each is likely to be suitable in different situations and over different time periods.

Solid Biomass

Biomass (usually wood) can be used as a direct replacement to existing systems, a new boiler is required but as these are high temperature heat systems (like oil and gas) there is less likely to be a requirement to change the internal pipe and radiator systems and so there is less disruption.  Biomass is available in the form of pellets, wood chip or logs.  Pellet systems can be more automated and so require less user involvement, while log boilers require filling and more frequent ash disposal but are cheaper to run.  For all biomass it is important that dry wood or pellets are used to allow the boiler to operate efficiently and to reduce particulate emissions.  Given that biomass can be a direct replacement for heating systems already in use in rural areas (biomass boilers for oil boilers and solid biomass for coal or peat), it is important that biomass options are explored as part of any domestic renewable heat strategy and supported in the transition to low carbon heat in rural homes.

None of the options for moving to renewable heat are easy, biomass boilers are more expensive to install than oil boilers, and they require more on-going maintenance by user (e.g. ash disposal) and servicer.  Concerns about the availability of consistent feedstock can affect consumer confidence and there may be worries about the potential for fluctuation in fuel costs.  As part of any strategy to decarbonise heat with biomass  the  issue of emissions and clean air must be considered, with enforcement of stove and boiler standards and quality standards (such as the Wood Fuel Quality Assurance (WFQA) scheme) to ensure the traceability and quality of the fuel used.

However, a clear strategy to develop local bioenergy supply chains in rural areas, education of those supplying fuel, installing and servicing boilers and using them should mean that biomass is an important option for renewable heat in rural areas and one which will bring significant employment while keeping the money households spend on heat in the local economy.

In addition to the replacement of oil central heating with biomass heating, biomass can substitute for solid fuel in systems already in use (18 % of heating in the Western Region is from peat and coal).  In general wood is the most likely replacement fuel in stoves and ranges but novel low carbon bioenergy solid fuel substitutes are being developed in Ireland.  Read more about the fuels and how they are produced here and here.

In the last decade there has been an increase in the use of wood burning stoves instead of open fires.  These are generally secondary heating sources but where wood or other solid biofuel is used instead of fossil fuel they lower the carbon intensity of heating.  This is particularly the case if they are used to heat a single room rather than putting on the central heating throughout the house.  This is a common practice in larger or less energy efficient homes where the cost of heating can be substantial.

Liquid Biofuels

There may be liquid biofuel options too.  There has been a reduction in carbon emissions from transport with the Biofuels Obligation Scheme, where a portion of the fossil fuel in petrol and diesel is replaced with a biofuels (read more here).  There may be an option to do similar in home heating oil (kerosene) as a short term measure to reduce the carbon intensity of home heating.  A recent government consultation on biofuels discussed this possibility and sought feedback on how it might work, based on the level of use and availability of suitable biofuels.  The consultation document and the responses are available here.

BioLPG is a potential option, providing an easy switch for those already using LPG as a home heating fuel (0.8%[2] of homes with central heating in the Western Region).  It has been developed substitute for fossil fuel LPG (read more here).  There is however, limited domestic production and there may be difficulties in sourcing materials to significantly expand production of BioLPG.  Additionally, there may be greater demand for use in transport where alternatives to liquid fossil fuels are more limited.

 

Biogas

As most of the rural Western Region is not on the natural gas network, there are probably fewer opportunities for using biogas as a direct home heating fuel substitute than in areas on the natural gas network (biogas can be mixed with natural gas and in the longer term could potentially replace fossil fuel natural gas).  Biogas is produced in a number of ways but Anaerobic Digestion (AD) of feedstocks such as food waste, slurry, sewage, or grass is the most important option.  The production of biogas will take place in rural areas, and depending on the site of the AD plants, there are possibilities for small scale heat networks to use it.  However, this is only likely to be possible in the longer term and will be dependent on a complex range of factors.

There are clearly bioenergy options which may form part of the transition to low carbon rural home heating alongside electrification.  All biofuels need a sustainable long-term, domestic supply, and well developed supply chains and to be compatible with air quality standards and be sourced sustainably.  Nonetheless bioenergy needs to form part of the suite of options for the low carbon transition and we need a clear policy statement on role of bioenergy in decarbonising domestic heat.

 

Conclusion

To drive a successful low carbon transition we need to be open to different heating options.  Solid biomass, liquid fuel and modern electricity storage heating are important options for decarbonising heat in rural buildings. In certain situations they may have lower installation costs or running costs than heat pumps.

We should measure their real world performance, collect information on the economics of different technologies and keep up to date with newer or developing options.  In addition to research about the best real life solutions for heating rural homes with renewable energy, we need good, robust data on actual installation and running costs, and then guidance on how best to move the ‘hard to treat’ rural home to low carbon heating so that people can make the choices most appropriate to them and to their home.

We must consider the full range of low carbon technologies, their associated performance, cost and environmental benefits.  To successfully transition to low carbon rural home heating we need to support a range of low carbon heating technologies beyond heat pumps.

 

 

Helen McHenry

[1] This term is used in the very useful Scottish consultation document on low carbon heat in homes off the natural gas grid https://www.gov.scot/publications/energy-efficient-scotland-future-low-carbon-heat-gas-buildings-call-evidence/pages/6/

[2] CSO Census of Population 2016, StatBank / Profile 1 – Housing in Ireland / E1053

Changes in electricity generation and supply—some impacts for rural dwellers

As we move towards a lower carbon society one of the key trends will be increased electrification and using renewable electricity to fuel our heat and transport.  This will involve very significant changes in how we consume and are supplied with electricity in our homes.  Following the recent post on electricity use, some issues of supply, including generation, distribution and transmission, as they relate to rural dwellers, are considered in this post.

This is part of a continuing series focussing on issues for rural dwellers in relation to climate action and the move to low carbon region.  Previous posts in this series have provided an overview (for example here and here) of some of the issues for rural people in the Western Region in their transition to a low carbon society.  Posts have also covered heat in our homes and energy efficiency and retrofit , and transport,  why we travel and what we know about travel in the Western Region and our use of electricity in the home.  In these we are looking at rural dwellers, rather than the broader rural economy which would include agriculture and enterprise, and the focus of this WDC work is on the way we use energy, in its different modes, as part of our daily lives.

 

Changes expected in the electricity system

There are significant changes expected in the ways we will generate, store, transmit, distribute and use electricity in the coming decades.  Many of these will impact on rural life, providing opportunities for rural dwellers or changing the way we use energy.  The illustration below (from EirGrid’s Tomorrow’s Energy Scenarios) shows many of the areas of change and how they link with each other.  Decarbonisation will change the generation portfolio with increased renewable generation and a phase out of fossil fuel generation alongside more efficiency in how we use and transmit electricity.

 

Figure 1: The influence of decarbonisation, decentralisation and digitalisation on the future electricity system

Source: EirGrid, 2019, Tomorrow’s Energy Scenarios pg. 31

 

Decentralisation is another aspect of the change in generation with a move from fewer, large scale generators to a more dispersed system with smaller generation sites and microgeneration by homes and businesses.  Generation will often be closer to the site of consumption, sometimes at small scale, including domestic level, and storage options will become more important.  Finally the digitalisation of systems using smart technology will provide for differ control methods and consumption decisions based on price, carbon intensity and other issues important to the user.

 

Opportunities for rural dwellers- electricity generation

These changes provide opportunities for those rural dwellers who can afford it to become involved at the individual home scale, at community level and as shareholders in the commercial generation projects.

Rural areas are, and will be, the site of most electricity generation and with the move to more renewables, the location of generation will often follow the resources to areas with most wind or potential for solar generation.  This means that some rural dwellers are, and more will be, living in proximity to wind and solar farms and the infrastructure needed to transmit and distribute electricity from them.  This has, on occasion, given rise to concerns from rural dwellers and difficulties in ensuring our electricity infrastructure is built in a timely manner.  It is to be hoped that improved ways of consulting, planning and building such as EirGrid’s new strategy to 2025, new wind energy guidelines (the draft is published, consultation open to 19.02.20) and the new Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS) will allow people living in rural areas to contribute to the planning and  development of renewable electricity generation in their areas and to benefit from the investments in their locality (opportunities in the proposed RESS is discussed in more detail below).

At a small scale there are significant opportunities for rural dwellers to become involved in microgeneration.  Installing solar panels for electricity generation or solar thermal systems for water heating are likely to be the best options but small scale hydro and wind may be installed where the conditions are good.  More information about grants from SEAI for solar electricity (PV) is available here and information about solar water heating grant is here.

The microgeneration of electricity can be for ‘self-consumption’ purposes, with the electricity generated first going to power home appliances, electric heating systems (such as heat pumps) and to charge EVs.  Electricity generated can also be stored for use later —perhaps after sunset in the case of solar— in batteries, including those in EVs or in other energy forms such as hot water and in heating systems.  Finally, excess electricity generated can be exported into the national electricity grid.  In many other places, Germany and the UK for example, the householder is paid for this electricity (there are a variety of possible mechanisms including a feed in tariff) but in Ireland this is not common policy (the exception being Electric Ireland which has a microgeneration pilot scheme for existing customers).  The Climate Action Plan, however, commits to the launch of a finalised policy and pricing support regime for micro-generation (under Action 30) which will mean householders will be paid for the electricity they produce and do not use themselves.  In future domestically generated electricity may be provided to other electricity users.  Thus many rural dwellers who live in detached, unshaded houses, and who have capital to invest, are in a good position to become involved in electricity generation.

At a community level, there are also options for rural areas (and other places) to become involved in the Sustainable Energy Community (SEC) network.  There are currently over 350 communities in the network with a target of increasing this to 1,500 in the Climate Action Plan.  As well as householders the SEC can include a range of different energy users such as homeowners, sports clubs, community centres, local businesses and churches.  Each community develops an energy use masterplan covering all aspects of energy use and resources.  The focus is not just on electricity but on increasing the efficiency and sustainability of all energy use.

In order to increase local participation in  electricity generation it is proposed that the new Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS) will have a specific strand for projects with a majority community ownership and whose primary purpose is community benefit (environmental, economic or social) rather than  financial profit.  In addition to this option[1], every project developer will be obliged to contribute to a Community Benefit Fund at a rate of €2 per MWh every year (which could be more than €200,000 annually for a community from a 40 MW wind farm) and a community investment scheme (with a Renewable Electricity Participation offering of 5%[2]) allowing people to invest in their local project (and more broadly where it is not fully subscribed locally).  A key objective of the support scheme is to ensure more local involvement in generation projects (either community projects or as shareholders in projects developed by others) through these mechanisms.  This scheme is currently in development and awaiting EU approval so some elements may change (see here for more information) but it should provide opportunities for rural people to share the benefits of the move to greater electrification and renewable generation in rural Ireland.

 

The future: electricity distribution and transmission

The dispersed rural population means that Ireland has four times the European average of length of network per capita[3].  The electricity distribution network is the low voltage used to supply electricity to 2.3m customers, including rural households, and to connect small scale generation and microgeneration.  It is being developed to make it ready for a lower carbon energy future with the move to a ‘smart network’ (read more here).  This includes smart metering which will allow customers to become more actively involved in managing their electricity, delivering benefits for themselves and the wider system.  The phased rollout across Ireland is targeted to deliver 250,000 new meters by the end of 2020, beginning in counties Cork and Laois and Kildare from September 2019.  It is expected that from 2021 electricity supply companies will begin to offer new smart products and services which will enable households to shift some consumption to times of the day when electricity is cheaper.  Households will also be able to gain a better understanding of how and when they are consuming electricity and to manage their use, reducing consumption and in the longer term to take advantage of cheaper pricing times.

Of course, in reality, people have different capacities to engage with detailed management of their electricity consumption.  While some of this will in future be integrated into the appliances being used, it is important that pricing and electricity management structures do not significantly disadvantage those consumers using older equipment, with less money to invest in more expensive electricity appliances, or who are less able to engage with and respond to the information provided by smart meters.

The Climate Action Plan target for 70% of electricity to be generated from renewable sources by 2030 means that up to 10,000 megawatts of additional renewable generation, mainly from rural areas, will need to be connected to the electricity system[4].  EirGrid’s stated goal is to achieve the required increase in renewables while minimising the addition of new infrastructure, but there will have to be an increase in the large-scale infrastructure of pylons, substations and overhead wires. The way that these are rolled out across Ireland and the engagement with those living in areas affected by it will be important.  While the need to resolve the climate crisis provides an urgent rationale for investment, and the shift to renewable energy has important benefits for our society, locally, nationally and globally, it is important that the benefits of the investment and infrastructure are shared with rural areas and that there is a true participative approach to consulting, planning and building the required network.

 

Conclusion

The potential for rural householders to become involved in electricity supply was considered in this post, alongside some of the changes in how electricity will be generated and supplied across the country.  The need to act in the climate crisis and move to a low carbon Region is clear.  Greater use of renewable electricity will be an important part of that.  Rural dwellers have a role to play in this, in terms of making contribution to electricity supply, through microgeneration and involvement in community renewable electricity generation projects, or as shareholders in other renewable projects.  Rural areas are the site of most renewable generation and the infrastructure associated with it, so the rural areas where the infrastructure is located need to benefit from it, not only in terms of sharing the commitment to addressing the climate crisis, but also in terms of economic benefits and community gain and perhaps most importantly as a means of increasing employment in rural communities.

This series of posts examining the issues for rural dwellers and our region in relation to improving our energy efficiency and use of energy, forms an important part of the work of the Western Development Commission under Action 160 of the Climate Action Plan.  The next stage of this work is to bring the analysis of the different energy modes together and to give further consideration to the changes needed and the policy required so that people living in rural areas, in our region in particular, are a part of the move to the low carbon society.

 

 

Helen McHenry

 

[1] https://www.dccae.gov.ie/en-ie/energy/consultations/Pages/Public-Consultation-on-the-Draft-RESS-Terms-and-Conditions.aspx

[2] https://www.dccae.gov.ie/en-ie/energy/consultations/Documents/47/consultations/RESS%201%20Draft%20Terms%20and%20Conditions.pdf

[3] ESB Networks 2027 Lighting the way to a better energy future

[4] EirGrid Strategy 2020-2025, Transforming the Power System for Future Generations

What do we know about electricity consumption in rural households?

The way we use electricity in our rural homes, and the opportunities for change, are important considerations for how we to transition to low carbon living.   Unlike heat and transport, there are few significant differences between urban and rural dwellers in the type and way we use our electricity, but it is useful to consider rural household demand for, and use of, electricity and how this will change with greater electrification in the move to a low carbon society.  This post, therefore, focuses on electricity, the final of the three modes of energy use (and so emissions) associated with rural living.

As noted, energy use can be split into three modes: heat (in the built environment); transport; and electricity.  Previous posts in this series have provided an overview (for example here and here) of some of the issues for rural people in the Western Region in their transition to a low carbon society.  I have also covered heat in our homes and energy efficiency and retrofit , and transport,  why we travel and what we know about travel in the Western Region.  As we are looking at rural dwellers, rather than the broader rural economy which would include agriculture and enterprise, the focus of this WDC work is on the way we use energy, in its different modes, as part of our daily lives.

While patterns of electricity use may not differ significantly between urban and rural areas, there are differences in relation to the supply of electricity in terms of generation, distribution and transmission which all have significant rural impacts and opportunities.  These will be discussed in a future post on this topic.

Electricity use in the home

In 2018 the residential sector accounted for 30.1% of final electricity consumption, similar to that in 2005 (30.8%), with the significant difference that, in 2005, 7.2% of the electricity consumed came from renewable sources, while in 2018 it was 33.2%[1].  It is targeted to be 70% by 2030.

There is little specific information about rural electricity demand and patterns of consumption, so before considering some of the potential difference between urban and rural households, it is useful to look at what we do know about household electricity consumption.  In 2018, SEAI published Energy in the Residential Sector which gives details data for energy use in the home in 2016.

This shows that electricity accounted for 25% of Irish household final energy usage 2016 (compared to 37% from oil and 21% from gas.  Most of this energy was used in heating (as shown in Figure 1) and oil and gas are the dominant fuels for this (as was considered in a previous post).  The focus of this post is on electricity use in relation to appliances and cooking (20%). Water heating is generally considered along with space heating as much of it can be done by the central heating system.

 

Figure 1: Energy use in an average Irish home, 2016

 

SEAI, 2018, Energy in the Residential Sector

 

Between 2007 and 2014 final energy use of electricity per dwelling reduced by 16% having increased by 31% between 1990 and 2007 but more recent data[2] show an increase in residential electricity consumption between 2016 and 2018[3].

The CRU provides a figure of 4,200 kWh electricity usage per year as an average for all households.  Moneyguide Ireland estimates typical annual usage in kWh could be from 2,100 in a 1-2 bed apartment to 8,000 4-6 bedroom large house.  As rural homes tend to be larger and detached consumption is more likely to be at the higher levels.

What are we using electricity for?

The lighting and appliances which account for 17% of energy use in the home are almost all powered by electricity.  To understand what will change with a move to a low carbon household it is useful to remind ourselves about the appliances we have.

Data from the CSO Household Budget Survey (Figure 2) shows how common the different appliances were in our homes in 2015-2016.

Figure 2: Percentage of households with select household appliances 2015-2016

Source: CSO Household Budget Survey 2015-2016

 

Almost all households have a washing machine, a TV and a vacuum cleaner.  The box below gives a sense of how we use energy with these appliances with an estimate of how long it takes each appliance to use 1 unit of electricity (1kWh).  Each unit currently costs about 20c on average including VAT.

Source: Moneyguide Ireland

 

Over time the energy efficiency of our household appliances is improving (see here for discussion) which in turn should contribute to reducing energy consumption in our homes.  Lighting, in particular, has seen very significant increases in efficiency with the move away from incandescent bulbs, and new tumble dryers with heat pumps are much more efficient (though also more expensive to purchase).  However at the same time, if the number of appliances continues to increase, for example more televisions, more tumble dryers or more dishwashers, overall household consumption from appliances could increase.

 

Differences in rural and urban electric consumption.

There is little data on differences in rural and urban electricity consumption but in 2013 (the most data[4]) 31 % of customers (634,306) were classified as ‘rural domestic’ (and so pay the higher rural standing charge[5]) but rural domestic customers accounted for 34% of domestic use (2,908 GWh).

The definition of ‘rural domestic’ is assigned by ESB Networks and so there will be people living in rural areas classified as ‘urban’ customers (especially in small towns and villages), but the classification is important as those rural customers may have different issues in relation to supply, which is discussed more in the next post.

There is little information on the reasons for higher rural electricity demand (though it is something that should be explored further in future) but there are a number of likely reasons.  As seen before rural homes in the Western Region and elsewhere tend to be larger and are more likely to be detached.  Larger homes use more energy of all forms will have more lighting and more space for, and demand from, other appliances.  In contrast, however, they are less likely than urban homes (apartments in particular) to use electricity as their primary heating source.  With most rural homes not connected to the natural gas grid, electricity is more likely to be used for cooking, although bottled gas is also an important cooking fuel in rural areas.

In terms of appliances, again there is little information on the differences between urban and rural households, and such differences are likely to be more related to house size, household size and income, than to urban and rural factors.  Rural homes may also have other specific uses of electricity such as for water pumps from private wells, and for certain domestic wastewater treatment systems.

 

The future

The consideration of electricity demand and appliances here relate to current electricity consumption issues and patterns but of course significant changes in these are expected in the future with the move to greater electrification of heat and transport.  As the SEAI notes “Increasing the electrification of thermal and transport loads, much of which can be shiftable and controllable, facilitates much greater quantities of variable supply (e.g. wind / ocean energy)”.   Increases in electricity consumption from heating and vehicle charging are, however, likely to be tempered somewhat by increased energy efficiency in electricity use, in appliances and other electrically powered items alongside a reduction in distribution and transmission energy losses.

A significant move to EVs will increase domestic demand. Most EV charging will take place at home, probably overnight (or when electricity is cheap (see below)). Rural homes with off street parking are particularly well suited to this and the lack of other transport options is likely to mean, in the longer term, a higher number of EVs per rural household than urban (as is the case with cars at present).  Similarly the longer distances to be travelled will mean higher electricity consumption by rural vehicles.

The electrification of heating (including the targeted increase in the use of heat pumps) with a switch to the use of heat pumps will also increase electricity consumption, though of course it will mean lower overall household energy consumption.

Alongside these changes are likely to be developments in smart appliances and smarter charging allowing for the use of many electricity appliances to be determined by the cost of electricity at a particular time, either because of lower demand on the system (such as at night) or cheaper generation (e.g. windy days).  Increasing the electrification of domestic space and hot water heating, and personal transport will increase the use of electricity, but automating use decisions will increase the proportion of renewable electricity consumed in the home. For more discussion of this potential see SEAI’s Smart Grid Roadmap.  A more detailed discussion of potential changes in electricity demand and consumption patterns is also available in EirGrid’s Tomorrow’s Energy Scenarios.

To plan for this shift to electrification, changes which may be needed in domestic electricity connections and their capacity are being addressed under Action 174 of the Climate Action Plan.  This will involve the introduction, as required, of new urban and rural domestic connection design standards and infrastructure sizing and design standards to reflect the demand of domestic scale low-carbon technologies

Conclusion

As discussed in this post, there is little understanding of differences between urban and rural dwellers in the type and way they use their electricity.  It would be important to have more information about rural household demand for, and use of, electricity and how this will change with greater electrification in the move to a low carbon society.

There is significant future potential for electrification of heat and transport in rural areas, but it should also be remembered than many rural dwellers lack the financial resources to switch to low carbon or carbon free alternatives.  It is important that we recognise this, alongside understanding rural differences in electricity and other energy use when we are planning for a low carbon rural economy and society.

 

Helen McHenry

 

[1] SEAI Energy Statistics 2019 report

[2] SEAI, Energy in Ireland 2019

[3] Data for 2007-2016 has been weather corrected but not for 2016-2018 so these are not completely comparable.

[4] ESB Networks Key Statistics 2014

[5] There is a useful comparison of current rural electricity charges here http://www.moneyguideireland.com/rural-electricity-charges-compared-to-urban.html

Why do we travel? Distance to rural services and the need for rural journeys

Understanding the reasons rural dwellers travel is essential to ensuring we can take focused, effective, and fair climate action and aid a transition to low carbon rural regions. In this the second blog post examining data on travel and journeys in Western Region counties and rural areas, the need to travel to services, the distance many rural dwellers live from everyday services, and the reasons why some journeys are not made are all considered.  This post forms part of a series examining data and issues on rural travel and journeys as part of WDC work (some of which falls under Action 160[1] in the Climate Action Plan) on how we transform the Western Region to a low carbon region.  A post on the rural emissions is available here and the first in this series covering issues of rurality and transport and the reasons for travel is here.

 

Distance to services

In the previous post on transport, the importance of travel for work and education were outlined along with the other reasons we make journeys.  Travelling for work and business are clearly important, but most journeys are made to reach services of varying kinds.  People living in rural areas tend to be at a greater distance from services than their urban counterparts and so the journeys made tend to be longer and more car based (both of which will be discussed in future blogs).  Greater distance to services tends to reduce options for travel and in particular, given the lack of public transport and the distance to public transport services, increases reliance on car travel in rural areas.

This is highlighted in Figure 1 below, which compares the proportion living within 15 minutes’ walk of key services in rural areas compared with the national picture.  Indeed the National Household Travel Survey also found that 40% of all rural respondents did not live within 15 minutes of any of these services.

Figure 1: Percentage living within 15 minute walk of services, National Household Travel Survey, 2017

Source: https://www.nationaltransport.ie/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/National_Household_Travel_Survey_2017_Report_-_December_2018.pdf

 

This can be seen more specifically at a county level (Figure 2) which shows the average distance (km) of residential dwellings to everyday services.  This higher average distance to services for rural people  means that rural dwellers are travelling further and for longer periods (discussed more in a future post) are more likely to need a car, which is the only way to access most of these services.

Figure 2: Average km distance to key everyday services for Western Region counties

Source: CSO, 2019 https://www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/ep/p-mdsi/measuringdistancetoeverydayservicesinireland/  Statbank Table MDS02

 

The services shown in Figure 2 above are ones that may need every day access, other services such as banking, libraries and leisure services like swimming pools may be sued less often but have much higher average distances, again increasing the need for motorised transport (most likely a car).  These are shown in Figure 3.  The distance to hospital is greatest, and while some outreach services are provided, many people will need to attend appointments and on going treatment services in these hospitals.  Some transport services are available but many will, where possible or necessary, use private transport of their own or with a friend, relative or volunteer.

Figure 3: Average distance (km) to other services which may be used regularly for Western Region counties

Source: Source: CSO, 2019 https://www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/ep/p-mdsi/measuringdistancetoeverydayservicesinireland/  Statbank Table MDS02

 

The need for car travel is partly a function of the distances to be travelled but it also relates to difficulty accessing public transport.  The average distance to a train station and a public bus stop (which in all Western Region counties is less than the average distance to a train) is shown in Figure 4 below.  For most of these counties, these distances are greater than most people are likely to be able or wish to walk, especially given the hazards of walking on many rural roads, and the probability that many of the journeys in winter would not be in daylight.

Figure 4: Average distance to a bus stop and train station in Western Region counties (km)

Source: CSO, 2019 https://www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/ep/p-mdsi/measuringdistancetoeverydayservicesinireland/  Statbank Table MDS02 Note: Average distance to a train station is not shown for Donegal as there is no station in that county and the distance is too large for the chart (113km).

 

Even if people are to walk this distance (active travel modes in rural areas will be considered in a future post) many of these bus stops have very few services.  All counties have even greater average distances to train stations and in certain situations (e.g. for work or business and hospital appointments) travelling by train may be a preferred option.

Of course levels of service are very important. Figure 5 below shows the percentage of the population whose nearest Public Transport stop has a low service frequency.  This gives a clear indication of why so few rural journeys are by public transport (again to be discussed in a later post).

 

Figure 5: Percentage of the Population in Western Region counties whose nearest Public Transport stop has a frequency of fewer than 10 services per day.

CSO Ireland, 2019, Measuring distance to everyday services 2019 Table 2.3 (XLS 14KB)

 

People not travelling

Finally, having discussed the reason people are making journeys and some of the issues for them in rural areas, it is also interesting to examine, in as far as the data allows, the journeys not made.  The CSO’s National Travel Survey briefly examines the distribution of persons travelling and not travelling by degree of urbanisation  and found that over 77% of persons residing in rural (thinly populated) areas took a journey on the travel reference day.  This was an increase of over eight percentage points on 2014. By comparison, nearly two thirds (65.9%) of persons living in intermediate density areas and 71.1% of residents of urban (densely populated) areas made journeys on the travel reference day.  At a regional level the survey shows that in the Border region 58.4% travelled on the reference day (which was the lowest regionally) and in the West 74.1% travelled. Nationally 71.3% travelled on the reference day.

The most common reason why people did not travel on the reference day was that they had no wish or need to travel or were fully occupied with home duties – nearly two thirds of persons (62.8%) gave this as their main reason for not taking a journey. Understanding more about why people don’t travel could be important in helping us consider how we reduce people’s need to travel on some occasions as a part of the ‘Avoid, Shift, Improve’ approach to developing more sustainable transport.

 

Conclusion

This post, the second in a series on transport data and issues for rural areas and the Western Region, examines some of distance to services, access to public transport and highlights some information on journeys not made.  The next posts in this series will look at the length of journeys, travel time and the mode of transport.  The collation and analysis of the available data will allow us better understand the reasons for, and nature of, rural journeys, This is essential to design policies to reduce emissions and help us to meet our transport targets as well as developing develop more sustainable rural transport options.

 

 

Helen McHenry

 

[1] There are eleven pieces of research and studies which are counted as ‘Steps Necessary for Delivery’ of Action 160, including the one to be carried out by the WDC “Study of transition to a low carbon economy: impacts for the rural western region”.

Rural Journeys and travel: what do we know about the Western Region?

Rural people are more reliant on car based transport, they have less available public transport and tend to travel greater distances.  Rural dwellers’ transport and travel patterns need to be central to our climate action planning. There must be detailed consideration of transport issues for smaller settlements and rural areas.  Following on from the posts relating to a move to a low carbon Western Region on energy efficiency and home heating and retrofits, in this series of blog posts what we know about journeys and transport in rural areas, and the Western Region in particular, is examined, starting with consideration of available data and concluding with a post discussing issues implications of the data.

As discussed previously the Western Region (the area under the WDC remit[1]) is very rural. Using the CSO definition 64.7% in of the population live outside of towns of 1,500 or more[2]. Using the definition in Ireland 2040 the National Planning Framework, 80% of people in Western Region live outside of towns of 10,000. Thus WDC work has a particular focus on the needs of, and opportunities for, more rural and peripheral areas.

One of the key elements of the transition to a low carbon rural region will be emissions reduction from transport in the Western Region.  This will require the three pronged policy and personal approach in line with the ‘Avoid, Shift, Improve’ (ASI) framework, a hierarchy that emphasises reducing journeys in the first place, achieving modal shift, and improving mode efficiencies[3].

Addressing transport emissions is a key element of the Climate Action Plan where there is specific focus on the need to address rural issues under the transport heading (e.g. Action 94 to review public and sustainable transport policy and to publish a public consultation on public/sustainable transport policy, including rural transport).  This recognises that rural transport needs are different. Under the Plan, Action 100 also addresses the need for a vision for low carbon rural transport and commits to develop a new rural transport strategy and to conduct a comprehensive assessment of rural travel demand, and methodologies for determining it.

Addressing transport and travel in rural regions is complex. In order to understand what needs to be done to reduce emissions from rural travel, we need to know what our travel patterns actually are.  These WDC Insights posts will set out, in detail, some of population issues and some of the available baseline information on journeys and transport in rural areas and the Western Region.  Knowing the current situation means that we can better understand what we need to do to make the transition possible and ways to make it happen.

In doing this we must recognise that transport is not an end in itself; it is a means for accessing employment, and other services and amenities that contribute to healthy and fulfilling lives[4]. Understanding transport as a social practice is essential to promoting positive behaviour change.

 

Why are rural areas different?-

In the first part of this post I look at some of the reasons that transport in rural areas is different and why reducing emission in rural areas may be difficult, these reasons relate to population, population density, distance to services and to employment and amenities.  Understanding patterns of population growth and decline and population density, provide the background for much of the discussion of transport and journeys.  It is important to recognise the characteristics of these before considering why we travel.

The Rural Population

Looking at population, some of the issues are immediately brought into focus.  In Ireland as a whole, the Census of Population, 2016, just over a third (37%) of the population lived in rural areas (that is outside towns of 1,500).  In contrast, in the Western Region showed the opposite pattern and 65% live in rural areas (Figure 1).  This is a marginal decline on 2011 (when it was 66%).

The rural population of the seven counties varies from almost 90% in Leitrim (where there is only one urban centre over 1,500) to 54% in Galway which of course includes the largest settlement of Galway City.  After Leitrim, Roscommon, Donegal and Mayo are the most rural of the Western Region counties.  Sligo and Clare, along with Galway are slightly less rural.  It should be noted that Galway county (i.e. excluding the city) is one of the most rural with almost 78% of the population living in rural areas.

Figure 1: Percentage of Population living in rural areas in the Western Region and State.

Source: CSO Census 2016 Profile 2 E2008: Population Percentage in the Aggregate Town Areas and Aggregate Rural Areas

Each county, and the Western Region itself (64.7%), has a significantly higher proportion of people living in rural areas than for the State as a whole (37%).

Population Density

Density is another key indicator of rurality and it certainly is important in considering the provision of services.  In Ireland as a whole the population density is 70 people per square kilometre and in the more rural Western Region it is just under 32 people per km2 .  Again there is considerable variation by county and as can be seen in Figure 2 below, this largely mirrors the rurality of each of the seven counties.

Figure 2: Population Density in the Western Region and State (persons per sq km)

Source: CSO Census 2016 Profile 2 E2013: Population Density and Area Size 2011 to 2016

Galway (county and city) has the highest population density (42 people per square km) and Leitrim has the lowest with just over 20 people per square kilometre.

Population in Towns

The population of towns across is also important, and looking at towns across the Western Region the weak urban structure of the region is evident.  Galway is the significant city, with a population of 79,934 in 2016.  Only five towns have a population of more than 10,000 people (Ennis, Letterkenny, Sligo, Castlebar and Ballina), and there are a further seven towns with a population of more than 5,000 giving a total of 13 towns including Galway in that size category (5,000+) in the Western Region.  Another 27 towns in the Western Region have a population of more than 1,500 and which are therefore categorised as urban.  This give a total of 42 ‘urban’ settlements, that is,  places with a population of over 1,500 in the 2016 Census of Population.

While these urban populations are significant in the context of the region, it should be remembered that more than half a million people (535,953) are living in rural areas (in small settlements and open countryside) in the Region.  The CSO also provides population details of a further 201 settlements in the Region, (the smallest of these is Malin, population 92) and 103,936 people live in these.  A total of 440,888 (53%) therefore live in more open countryside (and in even smaller settlements).

Rural Categorisation

The CSO has recently published Urban and Rural Life in Ireland which includes a six way classification of urban and rural areas in, from urban to remote areas and these are shown in Figure 3 below. Most of the Western Region, with the exception of the area around Galway city, falls into the most rural classifications ‘Rural areas with moderate urban influence’ and ‘Highly rural/remote areas’.  These areas are likely to be the most difficult to address transport emissions, with few public transport options, longer distances to services and often lower household incomes than some of the other rural categories.

Figure 3: Population distribution by six way urban/rural classification using Census 2016 results

Source: CSO Ireland, 2019. To view the interactive version of the below map, click here. The map can be used to find the urban and rural six-way classification assigned to a particular address (searchable by Eircode or address).

Travel patterns- why we travel

The rural nature of the Western Region has implications for how we reduce transport emissions, but the reasons we travel are also very important, both in terms of options for reducing journey numbers and types, and the distances and nature of the journeys.  In this section the reasons for journeys are considered, before   we travel to it is now useful to consider why we travel and some of the factors influencing the journeys made in rural areas.

Understanding why we travel and the journeys we make will allow us to better understand how we might influence a change in travel patterns in order to reduce emissions form transport.  The CSO’s National Travel Survey (2016) gives a breakdown of the reasons for journeys made (Figure 4).  The most significant reason for a journey was for work at almost 30% but shopping (almost 22%) and companion and escort journeys (15%) were also quite significant.

Figure 4:  Distribution of journeys by purpose, 2016

Source: CSO Ireland, 2017, National Travel Survey

The importance of these reasons has been quite stable over other years when the survey has been conducted, but the increased importance of work journeys since 2012 and 2013 is clear (see Table 1), and consistent with the growth in the economy and employment between 2013 and 2016.  This link between journey numbers and economic growth has proved difficult to address.

Table 1 Percentage distribution of journeys by purpose, 2013, 2014 and 2016

Purpose 2013 2014 2016
% % %
Work 24.8 25.0 29.3
Education 4.6 4.5 4.0
Shopping 22.7 24.0 21.9
To eat or drink 1.9 1.8 2.4
Visit family / friends 10.2 10.8 8.6
Entertainment / leisure / sports 9.8 9.9 9.2
Personal business 6.4 5.2 5.7
Companion / escort journey 15.2 13.8 15.2
Other 4.2 5.1 3.8
All purposes 100.0 100.0 100.0

Source: CSO Ireland, 2017,  National Travel Survey 2016 Table 1.3 (XLS 11KB)

These reasons for travel are also broken down by the type of area where the journeys are made (See Figure 5).  In this the CSO used three categories[5], thinly populated area refers to rural areas; Intermediate density area refers to towns and suburbs; densely populated area refers to cities, urban centres and urban areas.  Journeys to ‘visit family and friends’, ‘companion and escort’ journeys and ‘entertainment’ are more important in rural areas than in the other categories.  This may reflect the age profile of rural regions, with more older people (and often an higher child population) but with fewer in the working age categories (read more about that here).

Figure 5: Distribution of journeys by Purpose and Degree of Urbanisation

Source: CSO Ireland, 2017, National Travel Survey

The National Transport Authority conducted a National Household Travel Survey in 2017[6] and reasons for trips are analysed across six different urban and rural categories (National, Rural and ‘Other Urban’ (population between 1,500-10,000)) are shown in Figure 6 below.

Again, travel for work or business is the most important category across all three areas, with travel for education significantly more important in this survey (23% nationally), than in the CSO’s National Travel Survey (4% in 2016). Educaiton related travel was highest in rural areas (24%) again, perhaps relating to the relatively lower numbers in the working age cohort.

Figure 6: Reasons for Trips, National Household Travel Survey, 2017

Source: https://www.nationaltransport.ie/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/National_Household_Travel_Survey_2017_Report_-_December_2018.pdf

Analysis by AIRO for the WDC[7] examined labour catchments for the 42 towns in the Western Region (towns of over 1,500) adding to our understanding of journey patterns and the important of smaller urban areas in employment in the region (read more about it on the blog here or here and download the 2018 report here).  This map of local labour catchments (Figure 7) gives a good overview of travel patterns for employment purposes.

Figure 7: Labour Catchments of 42 Towns in the Western Region, 2016

Source: WDC, 2018, Travel to Work and Labour Catchments in the Western Region: A Profile of Seven Town Labour Catchments

This ties in with the CSO findings, from the recently released Urban and Rural Life in Ireland,  that more than three in four workers from rural areas do not work in a City.  Of all the workers who lived in ‘Cities’ in 2016, 54.7% worked in Dublin City and suburbs while 28.3% worked in the remainder of the country. For workers living in ‘Satellite urban towns’, 60.9% had their place of work in the remainder of the country while 29.8% worked in Dublin City and suburbs.  It also found that most workers who lived in areas other than ‘Cities’ did not work in a city. More than 90% of workers who lived in ‘Independent urban towns’, ‘Rural areas with moderate urban influence’ and ‘Highly rural/remote areas’ worked outside of the five cities while 76.1% of workers from ‘rural areas with high urban influence’ and 60.9% of workers in ‘Satellite urban towns’ did not work in a City.

Working from Home

Interestingly, that same publication (Urban and Rural Life in Ireland) also showed that one in ten workers in ‘Highly rural/remote areas’ work mainly from home (Figure 8)There were 94,955 people aged 15 and over at work in 2016 who worked mainly from home, 4.8% of the total 1,970,728 people at work. The proportion of people working mainly from home was highest at 9.8% in ‘Highly rural/remote areas’, compared to the lowest percentage of 2.3% in ‘Cities’. Twice as many people worked from home in the three rural areas (63,728) than in the three urban area types (31,227).  This relates in part to the number of farmers in these areas.

Figure 8: Proportion of persons who were working from home by area type, 2011, 2016

Source: CSO, 2019, Urban and Rural Life in Ireland, 2019 Table 8.2 The chart is also here

The pattern of home working in the Western Region and other patterns of remote and e working have been discussed in more detail on the blog.  Increasing the prevalence of working from home, and in alternative work places which require shorter journeys, is likely to be an important part of policy to reduce emissions from transport in rural areas in the future (and will be discussed more in a later blog).

Conclusion

This post, the first in a series on transport statistics for rural areas and the Western Region, examines the issues of population and population density, and well as the reason for travel in rural areas and Western Region counties.  The next posts in this series will look at distance to services as a driver of transport demand.  The collation and examination of this data will allow us better understand the reasons for and nature of rural journeys, which is in itself essential to design policies to reduce emissions and help us to meet our transport targets as well as developing develop more sustainable rural transport options.

While I will continue this analysis for the WDC as part of our work on rural areas transition to low carbon regions, I hope that the data highlighted in these posts will also be of use to others considering this complex issue.

 

Helen McHenry

[1] There are seven counties in the Western Region: Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Mayo, Galway and Clare.

[2] CSO, Census of Population, 2016

[3] See more discussion in the NESC paper Advancing the Low-Carbon Transition in Irish Transport

[4] See the Climate Challenge paper (no.3) of the public consultation  on sustainable mobility policy here

[5] This classification is created from an aggregation of population density estimates derived from the Census of Population.

[6] The Household Travel Survey was also conducted in 2012 and is expected to be carried out every five years.

[7]  https://www.wdc.ie/docs/TraveltoWork_LabourCatchments_WesternRegion2016_FullDoc.pdf

Public Consultation on Transport and Sustainable Mobility Policy

Introduction

The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has opened a public consultation to review Ireland’s sustainable mobility (active travel and public transport) policy. Sustainable Mobility refers to active travel, such as walking and cycling and public transport (e.g. bus, rail, tram). This review is part of a commitment in the Programme for Government to review public transport policy “to ensure services are sustainable into the future and are meeting the needs of a modern economy”.

This public consultation is an opportunity to give stakeholders, interested parties and the public the opportunity to contribute to the development of a Sustainable Mobility Policy. The public consultation will commence on 14th November 2019 and conclude on 24th January 2020, see here for details.

Transport accounts for 20% of Ireland’s greenhouse gases[1]. The population is forecast to grow by around 1 million people by 2040 with over 600,000 extra jobs forecast (Project Ireland 2040). Almost €7 billion of taxpayer funds have been spent on sustainable mobility services and infrastructure since 2009. How we travel is important and the plans we make for future travel will have significant impacts in the context of funding, climate change and quality of life.

The Department of Transport have published a range of background papers examining various different aspects of sustainable mobility and setting out questions designed to help develop the new policy framework, see here for links to background papers.

Background Papers

Paper 1 focuses on transport accessibility and asks what are the priorities to improve public transport accessibility for people with disabilities, elderly or those with mobility difficulties.

As Ireland is an ageing society we need to consider mobility challenges more.

The paper on Active Travel (Paper 2) examines issues in relation to promoting more active travel such as walking and cycling.

Paper 3 examines the Climate Change Challenge and asks which sustainable mobility emissions mitigation measures, that are not currently employed should be considered? It also asks how mitigation measures should be prioritised, for example on the basis of least cost, carbon, abatement potential, disruptive effects, co-benefit potential etc.?

Paper 4 examines congestion and asks what are the opportunities and challenges around reducing traffic congestion in our cities and other urban areas? A recent report by the Department of Transport see here. estimated the annual value of time lost to road users due to aggravated congestion in the Greater Dublin Area (GDA), at €358 million in 2012 and is forecasted to rise to €2.08 billion per year in 2033. These estimated costs do not include other costs, for example, increased fuel consumption and other vehicle operating costs, or increases in vehicle emissions or the impacts of congestion on journey quality.

Additional demand management measures should be considered for example congestion charging/road pricing.

The WDC also believes that demand management measures such as an increase in e-working/remote working should be supported, see the discussion in a recent blog post here. Increased e-working can also help significantly reduce emissions. The Government have just published the Remote Work in Ireland report which supports greater flexible working practice and can be read here.

Paper 5 examines Greener Buses and asks what challenges and issues need to be considered in relation to transitioning alternative fuel options for the urban bus fleet?

Paper 8 focus on public transport in Rural Ireland which of particular concern to the WDC. The Western Region is a very rural region: 80% of the population live in areas outside of towns of 10,000, compared to 49.8% for the State. Lower population densities may mean that a different model of public transport provision should apply compared to that in cities.

There are also papers examining Regulation (Paper 8), Funding (Paper 9) and a Review of actions on the Smarter Travel Policy.

The Department are inviting comment on any and all these issues and this is an opportunity to influence the preparation of Transport policy over the next decade at least. The public consultation will conclude on 24th January 2020 and all the detail is available here.

 

 

Deirdre Frost

[1] Climate Action Plan 2019

 

 

 

Does a Rising tide lift all Boats? A look at the latest CSO data on Poverty and access to Services

The CSO released the latest data on Income and Living Conditions (Survey on Income and Living Conditions SILC) last week, see here. The headline figures indicate a continued rise in incomes between 2017 and 2018 which in turn was higher than the figures five years earlier, in 2012 (see earlier post on this here). This is in line with other national economic indicators such as continuing economic growth, employment growth and decreasing unemployment. To what extent is a rise in incomes reflected in a decline in poverty rates and how is this distributed at a spatial level within Ireland? This post highlights some recent data and asks does a rising tide lift all boats?

Poverty Rates

The CSO produce data on three different poverty measures and here we will examine the different rates as they apply to rural and urban areas.[1]

At Risk of Poverty rate[2]

The at risk of poverty rate nationally decreased from 15.7% in 2017 to 14.0% in 2018.The at risk of poverty rate in rural areas in 2018 is 14.7% compared to 13.6% in urban areas. In both rural and urban areas, the trend is downward – in rural areas (down from 17.2% in 2017), and in urban areas 13.6% (down from 15.1% in 2017). This is illustrated in Chart 1 below.

Deprivation Rate

The CSO also measure the deprivation rate, which is a broader measure than poverty and is defined as follows: Households that are excluded and marginalised from consuming goods and services which are considered the norm for other people in society, due to an inability to afford them, are considered to be deprived.  The set of eleven basic deprivation indicators are detailed below[3]. Individuals who experience two or more of the eleven listed items are considered to be experiencing enforced deprivation.

Nationally, the deprivation rate has decreased over the last few years. In 2016 it was 21% and it has since decreased from 18.8% in 2017 to 15.1% in 2018. At a spatial level it appears that there is a higher rate of deprivation in urban areas than in rural, in 2018 the urban deprivation rate was 16.0% while in rural areas it was 13.4%. Both of these rates have also shown a decrease from one year earlier, in 2017 the rates were 20.2% and 15.9%. This is also shown in Chart 1 below.

Consistent Poverty

Finally, the other commonly used measure of poverty, is the consistent poverty rate. An individual is defined as being in ‘consistent poverty’ if they are

  • Identified as being at risk of poverty and
  • Living in a household deprived of two or more of the eleven basic deprivation items discussed above

Nationally the rate went from 8.2% in 2016 to 6.7% in 2017 to 5.6% in 2018. In urban areas the consistent poverty rate declined from 7.4% in 2017 to 5.5% in 2018. In contrast the consistent poverty rate in rural areas increased slightly; from 5.3% in 2017 to 5.8% in 2018.

Regional Difference

The CSO also publish produce data at NUTS 2 regional level for the different poverty measures.

At Risk of Poverty rate

The regional data indicates that the at risk of poverty rate is higher in the more rural regions (Northern and Western) with 20.1% or a fifth of the population there at risk of poverty in 2018. There was a slight decline on a year earlier (21.8%). This consistent poverty rate in the Southern region is considerably lower 15%, down from 16.8% a year earlier. The Eastern and Midland region has the lowest rate 11.1%, down from 12.8% in 2017.

Deprivation Rate

The deprivation rates are more similar across regions (compared to the at risk of poverty rate), as chart 2 shows, though both the Southern and Eastern and Midland regions recorded more significant declines than that experienced by the Northern and Western Region, so in 2018 the Northern Region has the highest deprivation rate (17.2%), compared to the Southern region (15.2%) and the Eastern and Midland region (14.4%).

Consistent Poverty

A similar pattern is evident when examining the consistent poverty rates by region. In 2017 the Northern and Western Region had the lowest rate (6.4%) but a year later the region reported the highest rate – up to 7.8%. This contrasts with the performance and trends in the other regions both of which recorded declines in consistent poverty levels. The Southern region rate declined from 7.1% in 2017 to 6.5% in 2018. The Eastern and Midland region rate declined from 6.6% to 4.2% in 2018.

Overall the CSO recent data show that rural areas have a higher at risk of poverty rate, compared to their urban cousins, but have lower deprivation rates while the consistent poverty rate is most recently showing an upward trend in rural areas and the Northern and Western region and is higher than urban areas and the Eastern and Southern regions.

Measuring Deprivation: Access to Services?

In a previous blogpost in early 2019, see here, I argued that any measurement of deprivation and poverty is more complicated and other considerations such as access to services need to be taken into account.

Access to services

It is often said that rural poverty and deprivation is more hidden or less visible than that in urban areas and one aspect of this is access to services. The CSO SILC definition of deprivation is based on enforced deprivation where there is an inability to afford goods and services. But what of the inability to access goods and services because they are not available in the locality. The case of broadband is a good example. Most people who cannot access good quality broadband see it as a deprivation. It impacts on a person’s ability to access goods and services on-line and often impacts on their ability to generate their incomes, for small businesses and the self-employed.

What about access to other services? Can limited or no access be considered an indicator or measure of deprivation? The CSO have just published data which provides insights into access to a wide range of services, including transport, health and other services see here. There is extensive data and mapping resources which the WDC will revisit but a snapshot illustrates some interesting differences:

  • The average distance to most everyday services was at least three times longer for rural dwellings compared with urban dwellings. For a supermarket/convenience store, pharmacy and a GP, the average distance for rural residents was about seven times longer.
  • Examining differences by county, residents in Galway County, Donegal, Mayo, Leitrim and Roscommon had higher average distances to most everyday services when compared against other counties.
  • The average distance to 24-hour Garda stations ranged between 1.5km in Dublin City to 19.3km in Donegal, while the average distance to a GP was 3.1km, but was more than 5km in Roscommon, Galway County and Cork County.
  • Half of the people living in Roscommon had to travel 5km or more to visit a GP, followed by Monaghan (48%), Leitrim (43%) and Galway County (43%) as illustrated in the Map below. The darker the colour the higher the percentage of the population living 5km or more from a general practitioner.

Map 1  Percentage of Population 5km or more from a GP location by county

The CSO also provide a useful data dashboard to illustrate in a visual way access to services, see here.

Also this November Trinity published data on data on health and Health services, The Trinity National Deprivation Index 2016 see here . This research examines health and health services at a detailed spatial level (Electoral Division) and highlights regional inequalities.

Conclusions

These different data sources provide really useful insights into the geographic distribution of poverty, deprivation and access to services. Overall, the CSO SILC data indicate that along with rising incomes nationally there is evidence of a decline in poverty rates. However, the exception to this is evidence of rising consistent poverty rates in rural areas and in the Northern and Western region.

After a period of sustained economic growth and rising incomes, it is clear that not all boats are being raised in the rising tide. These data provide a wealth of information highlighting regional and spatial difference and an evidence base for effective policy change. This is a tool to inform Government policy to focus on eradicating poverty and in doing so being cognizant of the spatial patterns of poverty. Various policies ranging from consideration of a new Rural Strategy in the short term to Project Ireland 2040 over the medium to long term are some of the policy frameworks which need to respond to these findings.

 

Deirdre Frost

[1] Urban or Rural are defined as follows: Urban – population density greater than 1,000. Rural is Population density <199 – 999 and Rural areas in counties.

[2] This is the share of persons with an equivalised income below 60% of the national median income.

[3] Two pairs of strong shoes, A warm waterproof overcoat, Buy new (not second-hand) clothes.

Eat meal with meat, chicken, fish (or vegetarian equivalent) every second day, Have a roast joint or its equivalent once a week. Had to go without heating during the last year through lack of money, Keep the home adequately warm. Buy presents for family or friends at least once a year. Replace any worn out furniture. Have family or friends for a drink or meal once a month, Have a morning, afternoon or evening out in the last fortnight for entertainment.

How are we doing? Annual earning in Western Region and other counties

Data on earnings of employees in different counties has just been released by the CSO, providing another important contribution to our understanding of local and regional economic development.

Earnings Analysis Using Administrative Data Sources (EAADS) provides statistics on earnings for which the primary data source is the Revenue Commissioner’s P35L dataset of employee annual earnings which is linked to CSO and other data to provide economic and demographic characteristics.  This new data, along with the Geographical Profiles of Income (also released for the first time this year and discussed on the blog here) and the County Incomes data (discussed here) gives us an opportunity to triangulate different data and gain a better understanding of patterns in earnings and some of the factors contributing to income differences in the region.  Having this data at county level allows for a more nuanced understanding of the situation and trends in the Western Region.

In this post the EADDS annual earnings data is discussed for Western Region counties.  It should be remembered that this data is specifically employee earnings data which is just one element of individual or household incomes.  Other incomes sources (e.g. social welfare, earnings from wealth or profits from business) are not included in this data set.

Annual Earnings, 2018

Looking first at median[1] annual earnings[2] for 2018 (Figure 1), even though all Western Region counties (green) are below the national figure of €36,095 both Galway (€35,632) and Clare (€35,568) are only slightly below, in sixth and seventh place nationally.

Note Total includes Northern Ireland counties not listed above.

Source: CSO Ireland, 2019, Earnings Analysis Using Administrative Data Sources Table 8.15 Median1 annual earnings by county and sex 2018

Donegal had the lowest earnings (€29,298), almost a thousand euro less than Monaghan, the next highest, and more than €10,000 less than the earnings in Dublin (the highest county (€39,408).  Earnings in Roscommon are higher than might have been expected (€34,082, 13th place) from other data such as that for County Incomes, though  in line with Geographical Profiles of Income.

Annual Earnings in Western Region counties

Focussing more specifically on the range of earnings per employee in the Western Region (Figure 2), the gap between the lowest (Donegal) and the highest (Galway) is a €6,334 per year while annual earnings in Mayo and Leitrim are both around €2,500 less than in Galway.  There is only €64 difference in the annual median income per person in Clare and Galway.

Note Total includes Northern Ireland counties not listed above.

Source: CSO Ireland, 2019, Earnings Analysis Using Administrative Data Sources Table 8.15 Median1 annual earnings by county and sex 2018

Changes in Mean Earnings 2016-2018

This data is available for the years 2016, 2017 and 2018.  While this covers a relatively short period it is interesting to examine the change in mean[3] annual earnings over this period throughout Ireland (Figure 3).  Nationally earnings grew by 6.1% over the period with the highest growth rate in Dublin (7.6%) followed by Cork (6.6%) and Kilkenny (6.2%).  The lowest rates of growth were in Cavan (4.4% and Longford (4.4%).

Note: Total includes Northern Ireland counties not listed above.

Source: CSO Ireland, 2019, Earnings Analysis Using Administrative Data Sources Table 8.14 Mean annual earnings by county and sex

Looking more closely at the Western Region (Figure 4), the highest rate of earnings growth was in

Galway (5.8%), and the lowest in Roscommon (4.7%) and Sligo (4.7%).  No Western Region county had earnings growth higher than the national rate.

Note: Total includes Northern Ireland counties not listed above.

Source: CSO Ireland, 2019, Earnings Analysis Using Administrative Data Sources Table 8.14 Mean annual earnings by county and sex

Gender Differences in Earnings

County data is also available by sex, so it is possible to compare earnings in each county for males and females (Figure 5).  In all counties male earnings were higher than female earnings in 2018, with the largest difference in Cork, a very significant €10,205 per year (female earnings were only 76% of male).  Nationally the difference between male and female earnings was €7,394 and the smallest difference in both amount and proportion was in Donegal (€3,153, female earnings 90% of male).  In general, the largest differences between male and female earnings were in the highest earning counties, but Waterford (€8,511), Limerick (€8,318) and Kerry (€7,234), which has the third lowest medial annual earnings, were exceptions to this.

Source: Source: CSO Ireland, 2019, Earnings Analysis Using Administrative Data Sources Table 8.15 Median annual earnings by county and sex

Gender Differences in Earnings in the Western Region

The difference between male and female earnings was smallest in the Western Region.  Six of the nine counties where female earnings were 85% or more of male earnings were in our Region.  Sligo had the narrowest gap nationally (female earnings 91% of male), followed by Donegal (90%), Leitrim (89%), Galway and Mayo (86%) and Roscommon (85%)[4].  Clare was the exception in the region, with female earnings only 80% of male earnings.

The difference in the Western Region are shown more clearly in Figure 6 which highlights the earnings gap (percentage difference in what females earn compared to males).  Clearly Sligo (9%) and Donegal (11%) perform best.  Nationally the picture is bleaker with a 23% annual earnings gap, and in Clare males earn 25% more than females.

Source: Source: CSO Ireland, 2019, Earnings Analysis Using Administrative Data Sources Table 8.15 Median annual earnings by county and sex

Some of this earnings gap is likely to be accounted for by the higher instance of part time working among females. The differences may also relate to earning levels in the different sectors where men and women tend to work, as well as differences in employment types.  Nonetheless, the gap in earnings is very significant but, at least in relation to this statistic, the Western Region is a good performer.  The prevalence of public sector employment in the Western Region (discussed here), along with employment in Education (3 out of 4 people working in the Education sector in the Western Region are women) and Health (21.4% of all working women in the Western Region work in Health & Care, it is the largest employment sector for women in the region), probably influences this.

Changes in male and female earnings over time.

There is no clear pattern for the growth in mean earnings for males and females between 2016 and 2018 in the Western Region counties (Figure 7 below).  In four of the seven Western Region counties female earnings increased by more than male earnings between 2016 and 2018.  This was also the situation nationally (though the difference is small (0.1%)).   Female earnings in Sligo grew by 5.0% while male earnings in the same period grew by 4.0%.  In Clare the difference in earnings growth was more significant (5.7% for females and 4.3% for males).  Galway had the largest growth in female earnings over the period in the region at 6.1%, while male earnings grew by 5.3%.  If this pattern were to continue the gap in male and female earnings would narrow, or even disappear.

Source: Source: CSO Ireland, 2019, Earnings Analysis Using Administrative Data Sources Table 8.14 Mean annual earnings by county and sex

In contrast in three Western Region counties (and a total of nine counties nationally) male earnings grew by more than female earnings between 2016 and 2018.  Leitrim and Roscommon had the lowest female earning growth (4.4%) in the region and nationally.  The difference was most significant in Leitrim where male earnings grew by 5.3% over the same period.  In Donegal the difference was less marked (4.8% for males and 4.6% for females).  Unlike the other Western Region counties discussed above, if this pattern persists in these counties the gap in male and female earnings will widen.

Conclusion

This data set is focused on earning for those in employment rather than broader income data covering households or adults not in employment so it does not give a full picture of income levels.  It is, nonetheless, very useful to have this data at county level.  We can now make robust comparisons between counties and see some of the changes over time.  In future analysis it may be possible to consider in more depth how the different employment patterns and sectors in the counties in turn influence earnings.  Similarly correlations between education and training levels, and skill sets in the counties will help us better understand the needs and opportunities for counties and regions.

In the New Year I hope to have time to compare the data in this release with the other income data available at county level to get a better understanding of what each source is telling us about the trends and differences in the earnings and incomes in the Western Region.

 

Helen McHenry

 

[1] 1Median annual earnings: Half of the employees earn more than this amount and half earn less.  Median is used as it reduces the influence of outliers, in particular exceptionally high earners who could increase the mean significantly.

[2] Employees who worked for less than 50 weeks in the reference year are excluded from the calculations for annual earnings. This is done to improve comparability of the data over time.

[3] Mean is used here for comparison over time to maintain consistency with gender data discussed later.

[4] Monaghan (86%), Cavan (85%) and Kilkenny (85%) were the other counties.

e-Work, Remote work and Hubs, Some Recent Evidence

Introduction

The WDC produced the Policy Briefing e-Working in the Western Region in March 2017, see here. This briefing aimed to quantify the extent of e-working in the Western Region and nationally and set out policy recommendations. Since then e-working or remote working and co-working spaces such as hubs have received a lot of attention, but to what extent is the activity on the increase?

In the Policy briefing, the WDC noted that the extent of e-Working is hard to measure, in part because of the paucity of data, and in part because the practice is sometimes not very visible; it is often in the absence of company policy and at the discretion of local management. Some recent data in relation to official statistics and company practice is presented here.

CSO Pilot for Census 2021

There has been limited official statistics measuring the incidence of working from home. To date the Census has asked the question ‘how you usually travel to work’? with one of the answers being ‘work mainly at or from home’. This is very limited as it only captures those that work from home most of the working week and excludes those who work from home one or two days per week, which some suggest is the most common pattern.

The CSO invited submissions to the consultation on questions for inclusion in Census 2021. In its submission, the WDC advocated for the inclusion of a question to more effectively capture the extent of Working from home/ e-working. Following the consultation exercise and a pilot exercise the CSO have now agreed to include a question measuring the number of days people work from home on a weekly basis in Census 2021. The results of the pilot survey were released earlier this year and they provide an insight into e-working. Some of the findings are highlighted below.

Among those at work, 18% declared they worked from home. The level of non-response among workers was low at 3%. Of those working from home, the breakdown by number of days was as follows:

Working from home 1 day per week was the most popular practice (35%), followed by 2 days a week (13%) and 5 days per week (by 11%). It should be noted over a quarter of those who said they worked from home did not state the number of days. One possibility may be that their pattern changes on a weekly basis.

Profile of those working from home

  • The pilot results showed that the percentage of those working from home increased as age increased, peaking at 19.6% of those at work in the age group 45-49. The proportion of home workers decreased among workers in older age groups. Among those in the 45-49 year age group, 32% worked one day from home.
  • Approximately 60% of people who work from home were male.
  • There were notable differences in the occupation of those who worked from home. e.g. 13.5% of those who worked from home worked in the ‘Science, research, engineering and technology professional’ occupation category.
  • In contrast only 0.6% of those who worked from home indicated they were in the ‘Process, plant and machine operatives’ occupation category
  • Over half of those who worked in ‘Computer programming, consultancy and information service activities’ indicated that they worked from home. This industry comprised 3% of all workers in the Pilot but 11% of all home workers were in this industry.
  • Of those who worked from home, 79% had fixed broadband internet, 18% had mobile broadband internet, and 3% indicated they had no internet connection. It is possible that that much of this 3% do not depend on internet access to conduct their work, for example those engaged in agriculture. See the CSO release here.

The WDC very much welcomes the inclusion by the CSO of the question on working from home in the next Census. This will allow a more thorough analysis of the practice based on comprehensive Census data.

Company Practice- Incidence of e-work in Ireland

Another part of the evidence base is data collected by companies on the extent to which they provide for flexible work practices such as e-working and the extent to which this is practiced by their employees.

IBEC have collected survey data on the extent of e-working for a few years now. Data has been recently published which shows an increasing prevalence of the practice based on a survey of IBEC members. For example,

  • In 2018, 37% of IBEC members (152 companies) had a practice of e-Working/ home-working, on one or two days per week basis, up from 30% (110) in 2016.
  • In 2018, 7% had a practice of e-Working five days per week, up from 5% in 2016.
  • The IBEC survey shows that the likelihood of e-Working among companies increases with company size, so that 54% of companies with 500+ employees cite a practice of e-Working on a 1 or 2 days a week basis.
  • There is a slightly higher rate of e-Work among foreign owned compared to Irish owned companies, 40% and 33% respectively, and both these figures are up on two years previously – 34% and 27% respectively.
  • Sectorally the highest rates are within the Electronic services sector (69%), followed by the Financial services sector (58%).
  • At a regional level IBEC members in the Dublin region have the highest incidence, with almost half (49%) report having an e-working policy of 1-2 days working from home per week. This rate drops to one-third of companies in the Cork region, one-quarter in the Mid-West and South-East and 24% in the West/North West.

This regional variation supports the idea that at least some of the e-working demand and take-up by employers is driven by congestion in larger urban centres.

Demand for e-working/co-working spaces/ Hubs

Another aspect of e-working or remote working is where the worker works from a hub rather than home. The success of initiatives variously called e-working spaces/ co-working spaces/ hubs also suggests e-working is on the increase. Some working spaces are funded by Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation and some by the Department of Rural and Community Development. The hubs are variously classed as innovation, enterprise or community hubs, and many are focussed on start-ups and incubation spaces as well as providing e-working spaces for individual employees.

The Western Development Commission is coordinating an initiative with the Department of Community and Rural Development (DCRD) called the Atlantic Economic Corridor (AEC) Enterprise Hubs project. This three year project aims to create an interconnected community network from the 101 hubs identified in the AEC region (the region from Donegal to Kerry) along the Western Seaboard.

This week the WDC is convening two workshops, one in Limerick (19th November) and the second in Sligo (Thursday 21st November) aimed at bringing all key stakeholders together to work together to optimise the operation of the hubs and how they can support regional and rural development, e-workers and remote workers throughout the region. For further information see here for more information.

 

 

Deirdre Frost

Agency Workers – How Many Are There and Where do they Work?

Introduction

There is much discussion about the growth of ‘atypical’ forms of work – such as e-working, remote working, the gig, shared economy and temporary work etc.

The WDC has previously examined various aspects of atypical ways of working, identifying the extent to which it occurs in the Western Region, whether patterns differ to that elsewhere in the country, all aimed at informing labour market policy and identifying recommendations to support better employment opportunities in the Region.

The WDC Policy Briefing (No. 7) e-Working in the Western Region: A Review of the Evidence, examined the extent of e-work (also referred to as teleworking or remote working) in the Western Region, see here. Working at or from home can take different forms and this Policy Briefing examines e-working in traditional employer-employee relationships. The WDC also published case-studies of e-working in the Western Region which highlights a wide range of e-working experiences, see here.

A two page WDC Insights paper examined the gig or shared economy and how broadband and online platforms have enabled new forms of work and income generation to emerge. The paper examines the evidence on the extent to which Gig economy exists in the Western Region, download here.

In the third of the series, the WDC examined working from home. Based on Census of Population data which identifies whether people work ‘mainly at or from home’. The Census definition is self-assigned and can include those who work full-time from home or working from home on at least three days of a five day working week, see here. The WDC have suggested a change to Census 2021, to which the CSO has agreed, which will include a question asking people to list the number of days per week in which they work from home.

Agency Worker Employment

Another aspect of atypical working includes agency worker employment. Sometimes it is suggested that this type of employment is on the rise and is often less secure or more precarious than traditional employment forms.  Agency work, especially that which is temporary, is often considered insecure employment. Is it a phenomenon largely associated with periods of high unemployment and a fragile economy where employers are reluctant to recruit permanent employees or is it a feature of the business model of some companies?

Research conducted for the European Parliament found evidence of an increase in temporary employment as a consequence of the global economic crash a decade ago. The report noted, The financial crisis and its aftermath has been one driver affecting risk of precariousness in Europe. As employers and employees find themselves operating in a more competitive and uncertain context post-crisis, new hirings have increasingly taken place on the basis of temporary and marginal part-time contracts. This rise in atypical contracting has meant that job insecurity has increased significantly in some countries, such as Portugal, Spain, Ireland, Latvia and Greece, involuntary temporary work has increased significantly in Ireland, but also in Latvia and involuntary part-time working has increased significantly in Italy, Lithuania, Spain, Ireland, Latvia and Greece. The link to the full report (5.4MB) is here.

Examining more recent data at a regional level in Ireland, the CSO provide a broad regional breakdown at NUTS 3 level. In this blogpost we review the latest CSO data on agency worker employment examining trends and how the regions compare, see here for full release published in August 2019.

CSO definition

The CSO Labour Force Survey captures the levels of agency workers by asking the following question of all employees in the LFS: Do you have a contract with an employment agency that placed you in your current job and your salary? Yes or No. Responses are therefore based on self-reporting.

Nationally, in Q4 2017, there were 56,200 employees classified as agency workers, and in Q1 2019 the number had decreased to 50,400, a decrease of 5,800.

Examining trends by region, the trends are somewhat different as graph 1 below shows. Both the Northern and Western region and the Eastern and Midland region have a somewhat similar trend, albeit at different levels, unsurprising given the relative size of the numbers employed in each region.

In the Northern and Western Region, (depicted by the black line), the numbers of agency workers at the start of the period was 12,700, there was a decline to 4,300 in Q4 2018 and at the end of the period (Q1 2019) it was 7,500. It should be noted that the LFS is a survey and the results are weighted to conform to population estimates broken down by age, sex and region. Where there are smaller numbers, estimates are considered to have a wider margin of error and so should be treated with caution. In the data above, this wider margin of error has occurred where numbers fall below 7,500.

The Eastern and Midland Region (the orange line), starts with a level of agency workers of 27,000 at the end of 2017. At the end of the period the number of agency workers in the Eastern and Midland region was 22,200.

The Southern region (green line), displays a different trend, starting at 16,500, rising to 20,900 in Q2 2018, dipping at the end of Q4 2018 and then rising again in Q1 2019 to 20,700. It is not clear why the trend in the Southern region is somewhat different and this will be discussed further below.

Regional Share of Agency Workers

Examining agency workers as a share and proportion of all employees, Graph 2 below shows the regional share of employees who are agency workers over the period Q4 2017 to Q1 2019.

At the end of the period, in Q1 2019, the Northern & Western Region accounts for 14.9% of all agency workers in the country, the Southern Region accounts for 41.1% and the Eastern and Midland region accounts for 44%. The respective shares have changed over the last two years, with the Northern and Western Region accounting for a decreased share (22.6% in Q4 2017 to [14.9%] in Q1 2019. The Southern Region has increased its share (from 29.4% in 2017 to 41.1% in Q1 2019.

Proportion of employees who are agency workers

Given the different sizes of each regional labour market it is important to see the extent to which agency workers as a proportion of all employees, varies across time and region. This is illustrated in Graph 3 below.

Nationally (depicted by the blue line), in Q4 2017 agency workers comprised 3% of all employees. This proportion declined to 2.6% at the start of 2019. Both the Northern and Western and Eastern and Midland regions had proportions below the national average.

The Northern and Western region, depicted by the black line, started the period with the highest proportion of employees as agency workers (4.1%), but this has since declined to 1.4% and was recorded at 2.4% in Q1 2019. The Eastern and Midland region trend (depicted by the orange line) is very similar to the national trend albeit at a lower level.

For most of the period, the proportion of employees who are agency workers is the highest in the Southern region (depicted by the green line). At the start of the period under review, Q4 2017, the rate in the Southern region is lower than the national figure – 2.8% and 3.0% respectively. However, from Q1 2018 through to the end of 2019 the proportion of employees that are agency workers is consistently higher in the Southern Region than the national average.

Conclusions

The Southern region comprises the Mid-West (Clare, Limerick & North Tipperary), the South-East (Carlow, Kilkenny, Waterford and Wexford) and the South-West (Cork and Kerry). In the absence of NUTS 3 regional data it is difficult to know whether there may be specific concentrations associated with a concentration in industry sectors that may be more prevalent in the Southern region.

The CSO data does provide other information on the profile of agency worker employment. For example, nationally 52% of agency workers are female. There is a sectoral concentration within the Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing, Industry and Construction sectors where a quarter of all agency employees are employed. There is also a high concentration of agency workers in the Human health and social work activities sector, see here for full release.

Discussions with the CSO indicate it is difficult to ascertain why there is a relatively high share in the Southern region. The CSO point out that the LFS is a survey, the margin of error of the estimates can be greater with smaller cell sizes. More trend data will be needed to see if it is a more established trend and a particularly stronger feature of employment in the Southern Region or if it becomes a stronger feature of employment when economic growth is not as strong.

However, the availability of these data does allow us to monitor trends and helps us build a picture of the range and types of employment, all of which is critical to formulating and improving employment policy.

 

 

Deirdre Frost