Making the Transition to a Low Carbon Society in the Western Region

The transition to a low carbon economy is one of many challenges facing the Western Region and Ireland at this point in time.  Minister for Rural and Community Development, Heather Humphreys TD, today launched the Western Development Commission  (WDC)  report Making the Transition to a Low Carbon Society in the Western Region— Key issues for rural dwellers which contains new analysis of the challenges for rural areas in the low carbon transition.

You can download the reports, summary and infographic here.

The report assesses the scale of the challenge and identifying practical, deliverable recommendations to facilitate the transition.  The focus on three key areas: energy efficiency and heat, transport and electricity is timely given the recently published Programme for Government. In that context, the WDC report seeks to inform and advocate for the Western Region in the low carbon transition as part of the social and economic development of the seven counties of Clare, Galway, Mayo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Sligo and Donegal.

The Programme for Government commitment to an average 7% per annum reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions from 2021 to 2030 is to be underpinned by the core philosophy of a Just Transition ensuring that no sector of society or community is left behind in the movement to a low-carbon future.  This is important for rural regions.

This study of what is needed for a transition to a low carbon economy in the rural Western Region is one of eleven pieces of research under Action 160 to “Assess the economic and employment implications of the transition to a low-carbon economy” which fall under the Citizen Engagement, Community Leadership and Just Transition in the Climate Action Plan[1].

The need for climate action is clear and will have diverse and wide-ranging impacts across Ireland, yet there has been very little focus on climate change and emissions issues for people living in rural areas. There are opportunities and challenges ahead and we need to understand the scale and scope of the actions required to reduce rural dwellers emissions and increase the use of renewable energy in rural areas.

 Energy Use by Rural Dwellers

Rural dwellers have different energy needs and often have reduced or more costly choices than their urban equivalents. Rural people are thought to have a larger carbon footprint than their urban counterparts and need greater access to cleaner energy choices. At the same time the sources of clean energy for all citizens are largely rural based.

In looking at the three modes of energy use by rural dwellers the study brings together available data to give us a better understanding of where we are starting from and the issues to be addressed to reduce emissions, and some of the opportunities this may bring.   It considers the issues from a Western Region perspective but, as the region is predominantly rural, the findings and the analysis are relevant to other Irish rural areas.

Energy Efficiency and Heat Detached houses account for 64% of all homes in the western region, significantly higher than the national average, and while around a third of the region’s housing units were built between 2001 and 2010, many date back considerably further. This gives some sense of the scale of the retrofit challenge. The report’s recommendation to include various retrofit and finance options means that rural dwellers in older homes, or those of lower value, will still see merit in incremental improvements.

Energy efficiency is important and the ambition in the Climate Action Plan and Programme for Government to upgrade at least 500,000 homes to a BER rating of at least B2 is very welcome.   With only 5% of Western Region homes achieving a BER rating of B2 and higher it means that almost 267,000 homes would need to be retrofitted.

The focus of energy efficiency retrofitting is likely to be on homes built before 2011.  In the Western Region 93% of homes (280,949) were built before 2011. These are likely to require some form of energy efficiency upgrades and fuel switching to complete a move to a low carbon economy.

In addition to energy efficiency retrofits the heating systems in buildings heated using the most carbon intensive fuels (oil, coal and peat) will need to be changed.   In the Western Region more than 82% of homes use oil, coal or peat for central heating, compared with 44% of homes in the rest of the state.  Clearly homes in Western Region counties need to be prioritised in the switch to low carbon heating.

 

Transport There are more than half a million people living in the rural Western Region. 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.  Greater distance to employment and services reduces options for travel and lack of public transport and the distance to public transport services, increases reliance on car travel in rural areas. This creates challenges but also opportunities for compact development, remote working from home or the in the AEC and national hub network.

 

Electricity Use and Generation.

More than half (55%) of the generation capacity in the Western Region is renewable and the Western Region is currently producing enough renewable electricity to meet 120% of its own demand. The Region is a net provider of renewable electricity to the rest of Ireland making a significant contribution to the 2020 RES-E targets and to the target of 70% renewable electricity generation by 2030.

This is likely to grow in the transition to a low carbon economy. Community engagement and support for this increased generation is vital, and the Renewable Energy Support Scheme, which will enable communities to generate both energy and revenue, offers huge potential for rural areas.

 

 

Conclusions

As the Western Region[2] is largely rural, the work of the Western Development Commission (WDC) has a particular focus on the needs of and opportunities for more rural and peripheral areas.  Energy and climate action will bring important opportunities to our largely rural region, but at the same time it will bring challenges that need to be addressed for the region to make the transition.

Taking action to address rural dwellers emissions brings with it the potential for significant benefits in terms of warmer homes, cleaner air, and more sustainable use of our abundant natural resources.  But it will be a major challenge and will require significant changes in the way we live, work and do business.

The Western Development Commission is committed to working with communities, with both public and private stakeholders, as part of its ‘Work Smarter, Live Better’ strategy to facilitate the transition to a sustainable, low carbon economy and a brighter future for all.

 

Helen McHenry

 

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the WDC

 

Four publications are available:

Download

 

[1] https://www.dccae.gov.ie/en-ie/climate-action/topics/climate-action-plan/Pages/climate-action.aspx

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

Challenges and interventions for transitioning to renewable heat in rural homes

To reduce the carbon footprint of our rural homes, the decarbonisation of the energy used for heat is essential. We have to switch to renewable energy, either electrical (generated from wind, solar or in future ocean energy) or bioenergy (e.g. solid biomass, biogas or liquid biofuels). Some of the options for renewable heat were outlined in the last blog post. The barriers associated with this switch to renewable heating are discussed here along with potential areas for government intervention to accelerate change.

The focus, as previously, is on the existing housing stock in rural areas, especially those which will be very expensive to make suitable for effective use of heat pump technologies. As most of the rural Western Region is not on the natural gas network, issues associated with this network are not discussed here.

 

Barriers

The barriers to installation of low carbon heat systems[1] broadly fall under the following headings:

  • economic
  • technological
  • locational
  • informational

Economic

The high capital cost of many renewable heat systems is an important barrier to their installation. In general it is cheaper to replace a traditional oil[2] boiler with another oil boiler, even though this is also an expensive purchase. The capital cost of purchasing and installing a heat pump is greater than installing a replacement oil boiler and increases as heating demand increases (as larger units are required). Indeed, as energy efficiency upgrades are likely to be required to ensure the heat pump can be run efficiently, capital costs will probably be even greater. Similarly the capital cost of a biomass boiler (using logs, chips or pellets) is greater than that for an oil boiler. Finding the money to invest in any boiler is difficult for most people, so the barriers to purchasing more expensive renewable energy options are significant.

Of course, capital costs are only one element of the decision, running costs are the other factor. Running costs include both fuel costs and maintenance costs.   Heat pumps in well insulated homes are cheaper to run than oil boilers, and the savings over time are a key incentive to installation and shortening the payback period[3]. Similarly, biomass is usually a cheaper fuel than oil depending on the type being used and the current oil price.

Given the higher cost of installation, incentives are needed to promote the use of renewable energy heat systems but even with current grants there are very substantial upfront costs. Often the potential reduction in running costs is not sufficient to encourage most consumers to make the initial move to low carbon heat. Furthermore, some rural homes which require substantial energy efficiency improvements may never find it economically feasible to install heat pumps as the larger capital expenditure is unlikely to be compensated by lower running costs. This particularly likely to be the case in older homes with ‘hard to treat’ features such as solid wall construction, stone built, solid floors, no loft space, or sash and case windows.

Nonetheless, there needs to be a clear policy for decarbonising such homes as the carbon tax increases. If there is a ban on installation of fossil fuel boilers in existing homes people could be left with no realistic alternative. Even where homes are suitable for retrofit, a subsidy will be required to achieve a positive ‘whole life’ economic benefit.

 

Technological

Not all renewable heating technologies will be suitable for every home. It is important that information on the advantages and limitations of each technology is available for different home types and that people can easily access that information in a format relevant to them. Installation of the wrong types of heating system in the wrong places can give unfamiliar technologies a bad reputation. There are a variety of technologies which may be used in the transition to renewable heat and it is important that information is available about them all, highlighting the types of homes where they may be suitable or not suitable.

The Climate Action Plan focuses on heat pumps as the key domestic renewable heat technology, but the move from high temperature fossil fuel heating systems to lower temperature systems requires deep energy efficiency retrofit or the heat pumps will not be able to keep the home at a comfortable temperature and will be expensive to operate. Biomass boilers (using logs or pellets) are an alternative high temperature heating system which may be suitable in some rural housing but sourcing quality fuel, keeping it dry and maintaining the boiler appropriately (including emptying ash) can be barriers to this technology. Smart storage heaters or other electrical heating are also alternatives, but may be expensive to run and might not be suitable where all day heat is required.

Location

Location can act as a barrier to certain technologies in rural areas. Low housing density and a dispersed population mean options such as heat networks are not viable in most rural areas. Nonetheless some towns and villages in the rural Western Region may be suitable for small heat networks. Work in Scotland[4] has noted the potential for heat networks at small scale where alternative solutions are technically or financially prohibitive, or where there are co-benefits from implementation, such as providing high-temperature heat for industry. It may be, however, that when compared with the cost of deep retrofit of individual dwellings the installation of heat networks becomes more financially favourable.

Aside from the issue of density, rural locations can increase costs of installation and make it more difficult to achieve economies of scale in the provision of low carbon heating systems It can also be more difficult to find appropriately skilled installers in an area while lack of competition as well as increased transport and servicing costs also act as barriers. Being part of an Sustainable Energy Community (SEC) would help with this.

 

Information

Most people do not think very much about their home heating system as long as it is working. While there may be increased consciousness among some about their carbon footprint, understanding how home heating impacts on carbon emissions is not a priority for many. People are unlikely to change a system that is working for them. Nonetheless it is important that there is easily accessible information about low carbon home heating options so that people may gain a background knowledge, even if they do not immediately make any change. This helps to normalise the concept of low carbon heat and means that when consumers are at key trigger points such as house moves, refurbishment or failure of an existing boiler or system they will consider low carbon heat options, or at least will be aware that they should consider them. The disruption caused by changing heating systems is sometimes considerable and this is an important barrier to change and so changes are most likely at these trigger points.

At these times consumers need access to high quality, detailed, impartial information and advice. They will have more focused questions and a more urgent need to understand their choices. Provision of robust, impartial information at these points can make a significant difference. Heating installers can have a particularly important role here as a large proportion of replacements made through ‘distress decisions’ following failure of the existing system. People who trust their boiler repair agent will rely on them for information and advice. Thus, training for installers on low carbon heating options is key, but as many will have a strong preference for one technology type or a connection to a particular manufacturer it is important that the consumer knows where to get other advice on renewable heat options.

Some of the possible barriers to the transition to low carbon heating systems have been discussed briefly here. It is important to keep them in mind when considering how to drive the transition. The SEAI Behavioural Economics Unit has been studying barriers and ways to encourage change in some depth, read more about it here.

Government intervention

Given the barriers outlined above, government action is required to drive the transition to low carbon heating and significant government targets and actions are included in the Climate Action Plan. The types of actions which can be used may be categorised under the following headings:

  • Regulation
  • Finance: Taxes and Incentives
  • Advice and information

Regulation

Regulation can drive change, in areas such as fuel type and specification, boiler installation and building regulations. It can also address fuel quality standards (e.g. for biomass fuels) or liquid biofuel blends as well as setting standards for building quality, energy efficiency and energy use. For example, building regulations introduced in November 2019, require all buildings to be Near Zero Energy Building (NZEB) and existing buildings which are being renovated across more than 25% of their ‘building envelope’ must improve energy efficiency performance to an equivalent of BER B2 (or cost optimal equivalent). Likewise, regulation of the allowable moisture content in firewood for sale and in the standard of wood boilers and stoves which can be installed, would reduce emissions improve air quality.

Under the Climate Action Plan the installation of oil boilers in new dwellings will be effectively be banned from 2022 and gas boilers from 2026 through the introduction of new regulatory standards for home heating systems. A review is also being undertaken to consider how and when the replacement of oil and gas boilers with renewable energy in existing dwellings can be commenced so that new oil and gas boilers will not continue to be installed.

Alongside this type of regulation, it will be important to ensure that there are effective alternatives available to rural homeowners and landlords at reasonable cost, and that there is a planned programme of change to avoid either requiring early replacement of boilers or encouraging a spike in sales of fossil fuel boilers in advance of any ban being introduced.

In addition, as with all regulation, effective enforcement will be essential to ensure they work and are fairly applied.

Taxes and Incentives

There is a commitment to increase the carbon tax to at least €80 per tonne by 2030; this is likely to involve increases at a rate of €6 per tonne per year to 2030. This should incentivise the take up of low carbon heating alternatives and energy efficiency improvements and will improve the payback periods for such investments. However, it is important that there are appropriate, affordable alternatives to carbon intensive systems, otherwise people will be facing the higher cost of fossil fuel without an option to change. Furthermore, it should be recognised that while a high carbon tax will drive a move to lower carbon systems. It most affects those on low incomes who can least afford to change and at the same time it also increases the incentives to operate outside the formal economy.

Grants, low interest loans and repayment of loans through energy bills are all possible support methods to increase investment in retrofit and low carbon heating solutions. The Climate Action Plan outlines the steps to be taken to develop a new delivery model for energy efficiency upgrades. (Actions 47-49). This is welcome but much of the focus seems to be on energy efficiency rather than on low carbon heating systems. While energy efficiency is, of course, important there is little in the Plan on potential supports or incentives for older buildings or ‘hard to treat’ buildings, many of which are in rural areas. This may mean that changes in these buildings will be slow or will not take place despite regulation and increased taxation.

Delivery structures and funding options for an area based residential retrofit programme will be identified this year (2020). When these are known it may then be clearer how rural dwellers will be supported in the move to low carbon systems.

 

Advice and information

The final key element of government intervention involves objective and reliable advice and information for people about lowering their carbon emissions and moving to low carbon systems. This is largely the responsibility of SEAI and there is significant information available from them (https://www.seai.ie/ ). The information available has been developed over the past few years, and is of course very welcome but it could be further expanded.

There is a need to provide clearer guidance on the options for older buildings, listed buildings and conservation areas, and remoter rural dwellings based on research on best practice and real-world experience.

There is also a need for clearer information about the full costs associated with deep retrofit and information about cost savings which takes account of actual heat use in a poorly rated home before retrofit and the costs following retrofit when the home should be warmer. It is important that the economic benefits are not over stated.

The development of a Sustainable Energy Community approach with local energy Master Plans has been very successful and can make good use of local knowledge in tailoring the use of different heat technologies to local circumstances as well as informing communities about their options and giving them the chance to particulate in the transition. There is potential to have further cooperation between local government and industry and consumers in this approach.

In terms of government intervention to drive a move to renewable heat in rural dwellings the following is required:

  • A consistent long term policy for renewable heat in the home would provide the stability and certainty required to encourage investment.
  • A clear statement on the role of a different heat technologies for different dwelling types in Ireland in future.
  • Targets for deployment should be made in a number of different areas, for example at local and regional level, as well as national.
  • Targets should also be segmented by different housing types (age, build etc.) and location (rural, small town, urban) and current fuel use.
  • There should be consideration of the use of local or regional resources alongside improvement in supply chains and skills, and local knowledge and capacity to support uptake of low carbon heat.

 

While it is important to pick ‘low hanging fruit’, in terms of focusing on those dwellings which are easiest to change, it is also essential that the issues for ‘hard to treat’ homes are addressed early rather than being left till the 2030 deadline approaches. A planned programme will provide more certainty and allow for more effective responses.

 

Conclusions- Enabling Uptake

In its recent report for Ireland the International Energy Agency (IEA) recommended that Ireland should develop a time bound roadmap for decarbonising the heat sector through energy efficiency and fuel switching. The roadmap should establish clear scenarios and milestones for phasing out fossil fuels.

It is important that the focus from the start is not just on the easiest wins (though of course these are important) but it is also necessary, early in the process of moving to a low carbon system, to also tackle some of the more ‘hard to treat’ or difficult to incentivise places, or at least develop guidance and a plan for the best options. It would be useful to have a phased approach across housing types, and locations with interim targets alongside the longer term strategic aims

Such a phased approach[5] would provide clear strategic direction and confidence for industry and consumers allowing planned investment and avoiding a concentration of activity near the target date. It would also avoid a requirement for consumers to prematurely replace current heating systems.

 

Helen McHenry

[1] A very useful, more detailed discussion of heating off gas grid homes is available in this Scottish consultation document.

[2] While the term ‘oil boiler’ is commonly used, the fuel is usually kerosene.

[3] The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) work in this area shows various payback periods depending on house size and type for heat pumps over oil fired central heating. See more here: https://www.seai.ie/publications/Replacing-oil-boilers-with-heat-pump-household-economics-and-system-wide-impacts-Summary-document-.pdf

[4] https://www.gov.scot/publications/energy-efficient-scotland-future-low-carbon-heat-gas-buildings-call-evidence/pages/6/

[5] This was also advocated in the responses to the Scottish consultation on low carbon heat https://www.gov.scot/publications/future-low-carbon-heat-gas-buildings-analysis-responses-call-evidence/

 

 

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

Energy efficient homes in the Western Region: some thoughts on retrofit.

The government target of improving home energy efficiency through the retrofitting of 500,000 buildings by 2030 (see the Climate Action Plan 2019) is ambitious.  It is therefore useful to look at the retrofits in more depth, and consider the target and issues from a rural Western Region perspective.

While new buildings have significant potential to incorporate the reduction or elimination of energy consumption (particularly for space heating and cooling purposes) into their design, a focus on existing buildings is essential.  The longevity of buildings and the building stock (typically 50–100 years) means that for a very long time ahead the majority of the building stock will be from before the current era of low energy regulation[1].  In the last blog on this topic  the baseline information on homes in the Western Region was set out.  In this post some of the issues associated with retrofitting these homes is considered in more detail.

Energy efficiency in Western Region homes

As discussed in detail in my previous post, recent improvement in building standards mean that it is generally assumed that homes built after 2010 will require least upgrading and therefore the focus for retrofitting is likely to be on homes built before 2011.  In the Western Region, the Census of population 2016 shows that there are 280,949 homes built before 2011, that is 93% of all the homes in the Western Region (excluding ‘not stated’).  Currently, only 4% of homes in the region, with a BER, have a rating of B2 and higher (the target energy rating in the Climate Action Plan is BER B2 or cost optimal or carbon equivalent).  If these BER ratings already recorded are translated to the Western Region housing stock, it means that 269,711 homes would need to be retrofitted.  The challenge to improve energy efficiency is, therefore, very significant. It is likely, however,  that the BER ratings we have are not reflective of the general housing stock, as they are mainly comprised of houses which are to be sold and new homes and therefore may show higher BER levels than would be the case if all homes had been rated.  On the other hand, some homes have been improved and while some of them will have a new BER rating (included in figures above), others will be better than recorded.

What is retrofit?

Before considering the targets and how they might be applied in the Western Region it is useful to understand what ‘retrofit’ means in an energy efficiency context.  Retrofits are often referred to as ‘shallow’ or ‘deep’.

The SEAI provides the following information on Deep Retrofit:

The Deep retrofit of a home means carrying out multiple energy upgrades all at once to achieve a BER of A-rating.

  • Firstly, you will need to reduce the level of heat loss so that you keep heat in the home for longer. This involves some or all of the following: wall insulation, roof insulation, floor insulation, window upgrades.
  • The next step is to look at an efficient renewable heating system to support the transition away from fossil fuels. The typical heating system installed on a Deep Retrofit Pilot Project is an air-source heat pump.
  • It also includes mechanical ventilation to maintain good indoor air quality.
  • Other renewable energy technologies such as solar water heating panels and solar photovoltaic panels may be appropriate for your home.

In contrast, shallow retrofit may include cavity wall insulation, window replacement, attic insulation, draught proofing, energy efficient lighting and improved heating controls, and these may be done one at a time and not as part of a complete plan.

The government target to bring 500,000 to a BER B2 equivalent does not specify the kind of retrofit required, but it is likely to be closer to a ‘deep’ retrofit approach (although not to an A rating but to a B2), particularly as a proposal is to be developed to phase out grants for ‘shallow’ energy efficiency measures by 2022 (Action 52, Climate Action Plan, Annex of Actions (718KB).

How much will the homeowner save?

Improving the energy efficiency of the home through retrofit should provide energy savings,  the larger the move up the BER scale the larger the savings.  The SEAI has provided an indication of energy costs for different house types at different BER ratings ((see Figure 1 below).

Figure 1: SEAI Indicative annual CO2 emissions and running costs for different rating bands for space and water heating

Source: https://www.seai.ie/publications/Your-Guide-to-Building-Energy-Rating.pdf This table gives estimated annual fuel cost and CO2 emissions on the basis of typical occupancy and heating the entire dwelling to a comfortable level.  The Tables above are based on fuel and electricity factors from February 2014.

According to this table, an owner of an F rated ‘3 Bed Semi Detached House’ could save €2,400 in energy costs a year, while an F rated ‘Large House’ could save €7,200 annually following retrofit.  It should be noted, however, in relation to potential savings, the energy cost estimates usually refer to heating a whole house to ‘a comfortable level’.  It has been found that people living in less efficient homes may not be heating the house to that level, while those in more efficient, upgraded homes may not be achieving the savings estimated as “inhabitants’ everyday practices and norms of comfort are often changed in parallel to retrofitting of the home”.  In other words they may heat their home more (see reference in footnote 1 for more discussion).  Thus the savings are not likely to be as much as predicted.

How much does a deep retrofit it cost?

It is difficult to find generalised cost estimates for deep retrofitting given the significant variation among house types, size and the upgrades required, but it is usually agreed that it is very expensive.

Information from the SEAI pilot deep retrofitting programme found that for 250 homes that completed deep retrofits under SEAI’s pilot programme the average cost to upgrade a home from an average BER rating of F rating to an average A3 rating was €48,417.

Information from Superhomes (a retrofit service providing a ‘one stop shop’ for energy retrofit projects) again highlights the variation in costs depending on the extent of the retrofit.  It notes that the lowest cost for a SuperHomes retrofit in 2019 was €35,000. A grant of €11, 000 was secured, bringing the net cost down to €24,000. This retrofit included a heatpump, wall & attic insulation, external door replacement, airtightness measures and a demand control ventilation system.

SuperHomes suggests that the typical cost of a full scale deep retrofit to BER A3 standard in 2019 was between €50,000 and €70,000 (before grants). These retrofits would include a heatpump, wall and attic insulation, external doors, airtightness measures and a demand control ventilation system. They may also include a mix of external wall insulation, floor insulation, Solar PV and full window replacement. SuperHomes applied for and secured grant funding of a minimum of 35% of costs on all these retrofits. As a result the net spend was typically between €30, 000 and €45,000.

The government retrofit target is a B2 energy rating, rather than the A3 ratings being achieved above.  Thus the cost should be somewhat less, though it is not clear by how much as I have not been able to find data on costs to achieve a B2 rating.  Overall costs of achieving the target will, of course, depend on the type and size of houses which are being retrofitted.  This is turn will partially depend on the incentives available.

However, it should be noted that the cost of the retrofit is very significant, and when compared to the value of homes in Western Region it is clear that it would be equivalent to a large proportion of the home value.  While in more expensive areas the cost of the upgrade may account for less than 10% of the home’s value, it could be double that in counties like Leitrim and Roscommon where house prices are lower (see Figure 2[2]).

Figure 2: Median House price by county 12 months to August 2019

 

Source: CSO residential Property Price index https://www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/ep/p-rppi/residentialpropertypriceindexaugust2019/additionalindicators/

There is little data available as yet on the impact of the BER rating on the value of a house though it would be expected to become more important as the carbon tax increases. The level of increase in a home’s value following a retrofit will also become clearer over time.

Conclusion

it is not clear what mechanisms will be used to achieve the government retrofitting target, but it is clear that it is ambitious.  The cost of retrofits, the means of paying for such energy efficiency, the incentives which will be provided have not yet been fixed.

There are a huge range of issues to be considered when deciding how we should best reduce our emissions for the built environment.  My interest is in rural dwellings in particular and this post has explored only a few of the issues relating to retrofit.  I hope to continue this exploration over the coming months so that the ways rural dwellers in the Western Region can participate in our move to a low carbon region can be better understood.

 

 

Helen McHenry

[1] Kirsten Gram-Hanssen, 2014, Retrofitting owner-occupied housing: remember the people.  https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09613218.2014.911572

 

[2] While the price of homes sold in the last 12 months in each country is not the same as the average value of homes in the county it gives a useful indication of relative values.

Climate Action and Rural Dwellers- What’s happening?

There is no significant body of work (internationally or nationally) on climate change and emissions issues for rural areas and yet there are important differences in energy use patterns and emissions (read more discussion on this here). This post gives a brief overview of some of the issues for rural dwellers addressed in the Climate Action Plan.

The majority (65%) of the Western Region population (and a significant proportion of the national population (37%)) lives in rural areas[1]. The focus of much WDC policy analysis is on the needs of, and opportunities for, rural areas in the Western Region in particular in relation to issues which may not have been considered in detail in policy making. Rural areas are places of employment and make an important contribution to the economy.  Rural development (see for example Action Plan for Rural Development) is a government policy (see for example the National Policy Objective 15 National Planning Framework).

At the same time climate change mitigation is a key government priority, and it is essential that the needs, impacts, options and opportunities for rural dwellers (the term ‘rural dwellers’ is used here as the focus here is on people living in rural areas rather than agriculture) are given consideration and actions developed to focus on particular issues for them.

It is recognised (see here) that increasing carbon taxes particularly affect rural areas while the options for rural dwellers to change their behaviour are limited.   Rural dwellers have different energy needs and often have reduced or more costly choices than their urban equivalents. Rural individuals are thought to have a larger carbon footprint than their urban counterparts (see more discussion here) and need greater access to cleaner energy choices. At the same time the sources of clean energy for all citizens are largely rural based.

It is therefore important that we understand the situation for rural areas including the issues that must be the focus of change, the long term options, the opportunities and challenges and the scale and scope of the actions required to reduce rural dwellers emissions and increase the use of renewable energy in rural areas.

Actions for Rural Dwellers in Climate plan

 There are few actions in the Climate Plan which are specifically focused on rural dwellers although many of the actions are certainly relevant.  I briefly outline the specific actions below and then consider some of the other actions which will have particular implications for rural people.

 

Funds

Both the urban (URDP) and rural (RRDP) regeneration and development funds, announced as part of Project Ireland 2040, are awarded on a competitive bid basis.  These are now to include specific evaluation criteria in relation to potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (Action 15).  It is not yet clear what these criteria will be but it should mean that they further enable investments which have a specific mitigation or adaptation focus to be funded, and that projects not directly related to climate action are at least climate friendly.

 

Transport

There is a 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 publish a public consultation on public/sustainable transport policy, including rural transport).  This does recognise that rural needs may be different, while Action 100 addresses the need for a vision for low carbon rural transport and commits to “Develop a new rural transport strategy”

This new rural transport strategy is to include:

  • a comprehensive assessment of rural travel demand, and methodologies for determining same
  • set a target for modal shift and emissions reductions for 2021-2025
  • develop proposals for an integrated public transport network
  • develop a pilot scheme for a city and its regional hinterland to develop a best practice model pilot a car sharing initiative such as a vehicle bank in rural Towns

 

Electricity/Electrification

The changes which may be needed in domestic electricity connections and their capacity with the move to increased electrification is to be considered under Action 174 involves 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

 

Broader Policy with implications for Climate Actions

Action 179 commits to ‘Undertake public consultation to inform future Rural Development Strategy’.  This is a broad commitment but it is to be hoped that climate action and the move to a low carbon economy will be inherent in the new rural strategy, with both specific actions addressing the climate agenda and broader actions aligned with the move to a low carbon rural economy.

In addition the Western Development Commission (WDC) under Action 160 is undertaking a study of the transition to a low carbon rural Western Region.  This is discussed in more detail below.

 

Other Actions relevant to rural dwellers

There are of course other actions with the potential to be significant for rural dwellers.  For example Action 150, which focuses on supporting the development of Local Authority climate action leadership and capabilities, should bring climate action to a more local level in terms of planning, projects (such as Smart Green Mohill) and providing leadership.  Local Authorities will also be working closely with the Climate Action Regional Offices (CAROs).  Local authorities, especially those with significant rural populations have a potentially very significant role to play in driving Climate Action in rural areas.

A number of other key actions in the Climate Action Plan 2019 not specifically relating rural dwellers are outlined briefly below, to highlight the wide ranging impacts and actions necessary for climate change mitigation with a focus on the Built Environment, Transport and Electricity.

 

The Built Environment (Energy Efficiency and Heat)

The built environment accounts for more than 12% of Irelands GHG emissions, and the energy used in buildings accounts for more than a third of our energy demand[2]. so increasing efficiency in the built environment and changing the way we heat our buildings are both significant climate  actions.

Increasing energy efficiency is covered in detail in the Climate Action Plan with a focus on the energy standards for new build, energy efficiency rating in homes and other buildings, regulation (Action 60 and 61 on oil and gas boilers) and retrofitting to improve energy efficiency  (see for example Actions 43-51).  Meeting the high-level target to complete half a million retrofits is a challenge but it should have important  benefits in rural areas, both in terms of improving energy efficiency and comfort and heat for many rural dwellers, as well as in the potential for up skilling and employment throughout the country.  The issues of financing and cost have yet to be addressed in detail.

The Support Scheme for Renewable Heat (SSRH- Action 69) is largely for commercial and larger users and is likely to be particularly attractive in rural areas which are not connected to the natural gas grid.  It will increase demand for local biomass, which provides important rural economic benefits[3] while increased use of anaerobic digestion will provide on farm opportunities.

The way buildings are heated has  important rural dimensions.  Homes in rural areas are more likely to use oil boilers, or rely on solid fuel (including peat which is a significant source of heat energy in some counties) For homes the focus in the Climate Action Plan is largely on the installation of heat pumps (600,000 heat pumps to be installed of which 400,000 are to be in existing buildings).  Given that heat pumps are not suitable for many existing dwellings so other heating options must also be explored.  The use of other renewable energy sources may be particularly appropriate in rural dwellings with more space for storage and with easier access to wood fuels and other renewable energy.

There is significant future potential for renewable heat in rural areas, but rural dwellers tend to have lower incomes than urban dwellers and already have higher levels of fuel poverty, so despite the potential for change, many lack the financial resources to switch to low carbon or carbon free alternatives.

 

Transport

Transport efficiency is also important, in terms of the energy used (from whatever source) for powering vehicles, in relation to the number of journeys being made, and the loading of vehicles (with people or freight).  Breaking the direct link between journey numbers and economic growth will be essential to successful climate action.  There are opportunities for rural dwellers (and others of course) for more home working and e- working in hubs and other locations.  Likewise there is significant potential for car sharing and the co-ordination of it both locally and countrywide though specific apps (see Bla Bla Car for example, which is particularly popular in France (read more about it here) and through social media (see this example from Clare).

The Climate Action Plan has a number of specific actions in relation to EV charging (see for example Actions 72-75) and to a CNG network (Action 76).  It is crucial that both of these networks are rolled out all over Ireland so that the adoption of EVs and CNG fuelled vehicles is easy in all rural locations, and that the links between more urban areas and rural areas are seamless.  CNG vehicles must be able to deliver and pick up loads in all parts of Ireland; visitors (e.g. tourists, friends and those in business) who are using EVs must be able to travel to all parts of Ireland confident of an available, reliable charging network.

Public transport and cycling also have an role to play in rural areas and the options for promoting these in ways tailored to the needs of rural dwellers should form an important part of the new rural transport strategy to be developed (Action 100).

Electricity

Ensuring that ESB Networks and EirGrid  plan the network and deliver on connecting renewable energy sources to meet the 2030 target of 70% renewable electricity (RES-E) capacity will mean more grid development in rural areas.  This will be essential to meeting climate action targets and enabling significant electrification of heat and transport.  The use of local rural energy sources is important to Irelands move to a low carbon economy, so it will be important that the financial, employment and enterprise benefits of using local rather than imported energy are felt throughout rural areas.  This will be important to increasing local acceptance of this infrastructure.

Ensuring that the Community Framework to accompany the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS) is established and that there are “measures in place to ensure that the community benefit fund is equitable and there is strong citizen participation in renewable projects” (Action 28) is also essential.

Developing an enabling framework for microgeneration (Action 30) will potentially have benefits for all areas but there are clear opportunities for rural dwellers, although, as with many climate action measures, they are likely to be of most benefit to those who can afford to make the investment.

Transition to a low carbon rural Western Region- what will it mean?

The Actions under the Climate Plan discussed above give a brief flavour of some of the issues and opportunities for rural areas in the transition to a low carbon economy.  The WDC is currently undertaking a short study of the transition of the region to a low carbon economy.  Action 160 in the Under Citizen Engagement, Community Leadership and Just Transition in the Climate Action Plan Action 160 is to “Assess the economic and employment implications of the transition to a low-carbon economy”.  There are eleven pieces of research and studies which are counted as ‘Steps Necessary for Delivery’ under this action, including the one to be carried out by the WDC “Study of transition to a low carbon economy: impacts for the rural western region.”

This will be an initial scoping of the issues affecting rural dwellers in the Western Region.  The focus is on the three aspects of energy use which can have significant climate implications: Heat and energy efficiency in the built environment, Transport and Electricity.  This study examines issues relating to those for rural dwellers and it is hoped that we will, in future, be able to examine these issues as they affect rural enterprises, the changes they will need to make, the opportunities they may embrace and the employment issues associated with these changes.  Further into the future we may examine the issues for agriculture in the region, given the often extensive pattern of farming and the prevalence of part time farming.  Land use change and natural solutions are also important to rural areas and might in future be considered from a Western Region perspective.

In the short term, however, the focus is on the changes which must be made in energy use and the implications of these for rural dwellers.  These will be the subject of my forthcoming blogs with more detail on the targets, actions and the needs of and opportunities for rural areas.

 

Helen McHenry

[1] This is based on the CSO definition of the population outside settlements of 1,500 or more.  Other definitions show a higher proportion living in rural areas.  See this post for a detailed discussion on “What is rural?”.

[2] Thermal/heat energy is the second largest of the three modes of energy. It accounted for 37% of the final energy demand in 2017 https://www.seai.ie/publications/Renewable-Energy-in-Ireland-2019.pdf

[3] See here for discussion.  The benefits are highlighted although the values are dated https://www.wdc.ie/wp-content/uploads/reports_WoodEnergyStratEconomic-Impact.pdf  (PDF 3MB)

Carbon Tax: Use of revenue to address climate action issues in rural areas

The WDC made a submission to the Department of Finance Consultation on the options for the use of revenues raised from increases in carbon tax.

A detailed consultation paper was prepared by the Tax Division of the Department of Finance which provided background information on carbon tax revenues, proposed changes in the rate of the tax and possible implication of these increases for users.  They also outlined a number of options for the use of revenues from the tax.

The ESRI has also done a number of studies on distributional effects of carbon tax and revenue recycling options and noted that the carbon tax disproportionately affects lower income households and rural households.  I hope to look at these studies in more detail in a future post.

As regular readers of the blog know, the Western Region (the area under the WDC remit) is a largely rural region which takes in some of the most remote parts of the state. Using the CSO definition 64.7% in of the population live outside of towns of 1,500 or more. 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.  The five most rural counties in Ireland are in the Western Region (Leitrim, Galway county, Roscommon, Donegal and Mayo, and the Western Region also has a higher share of the population living in smaller towns.

In this submission we therefore concentrated on issues for rural areas and our region.  Climate action for rural dwellers is not often discussed in policy and there is no significant body of work (internationally or nationally) on climate change and emission issues for rural areas in developed countries and yet there are important differences in energy use patterns and emissions in rural areas.  Hence, the main focus of the submission was on key climate matters for rural dwellers including energy efficiency; home heating; transport; and stimulating rural enterprise.

The WDC emphasised that a portion of the revenues from increases in carbon tax focus should focus on addressing issues for rural areas, and on actions to ensure that rural areas are in a position to benefit from a move to a low carbon economy.  There are many opportunities to do so and targeted programmes would enable rural dwellers to make a fair contribution to national goals for renewable energy and to actions to mitigate climate change.

 

You can view the submission here.

 

Helen McHenry

Energy and Climate Action- the WDC View of the Draft National Plan

The Western Development Commission (WDC) has just made a submission to DCCAE on the Draft National Energy and Climate Plan 2012-2030 (NECP).  The development of clear energy and climate action to 2030 is essential to achieving the national goal of a low carbon economy in Ireland by 2050.  The WDC recognises that energy and climate action will bring important opportunities for our largely rural region, but at the same time it will bring challenges that we would wish to see addressed in the NECP.   The WDC made a detailed submission to the previous consultation on the draft NECP (November 2018), therefore in this submission we only addressed specific issues arising from this draft of relevance to our region and our remit.

The Draft National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP)

The NECP usefully brings together and summarises energy and climate policy.  However, much of the focus is on current policy and, while there is a recognition that it will be difficult to meet targets with the policy that is currently in place, there is little information about the additional policies or regulations which will be needed to ensure we achieve targets.

The Plan recognises that heating is a particular issue in rural areas (p4) but there is no specific commitment or policy to address the needs of rural areas either in relation heating or transport.  Nor is there a recognition that there are unique opportunities for rural areas from the low carbon economy.  We believe that specific rural focused policies could be introduced for this. This would have benefit both in terms of achievement of EU targets and in relation to the development of the rural and regional economies.

Similarly the NECP acknowledges that the dispersed population pattern results in particular challenges in terms of transportation options.  Again there is no specific commitment or policy to address the needs of rural areas.   The National Policy Framework on Alternative Fuels Infrastructure for Transport in Ireland 2017-2030 notes that it is likely that in future electricity will fuel the majority of passenger cars, commuter rail and taxis while natural gas and biofuels will play an increasingly important role for larger vehicles like HGV and buses.  While we would agree with this, we believe that services such as EV charging points and CNG fueling points must be widely available in rural areas where population is dispersed.  Without these services being available and reliable, rural dwellers could be reluctant to adopt the new technologies and it could deter visitors who might be concerned about the availability of charging/fueling points.  In the case of HGVs and buses, lack of refueling options could increase costs of delivery or services in more rural and peripheral regions.

Electricity transmission network

In relation to the development of the electricity transmission network there is no mention of the issues noted by EirGrid in the recently published Systems Needs Assessment (Nov 2018) in the West (high need for grid development), North West (high need for grid development) and Midland (moderate need for grid development).  These need to be included. A study recently commissioned by the WDC, which we blogged about here reviewed the transmission network and current planned renewable generation to identify areas of the Western Region that have transmission capacity for new renewable generation. It found that North Mayo/West Sligo and Co. Donegal have no capacity for new generation without substantial transmission investment. Sligo/Leitrim, South Mayo and West Galway has limited capacity and will require transmission investment in the future. The WDC believes that significant investment is needed in these areas, so that the current and contracted renewable generation requirements are met and that there is potential for further future connections to ensure areas of best resource can produce most.

Gas transmission network

There is a need to review the natural gas network coverage to ensure that it is future proofed to meet the needs of all key urban centres (currently large settlements such as Sligo and Letterkenny are not connected).  There is important potential for decarbonisation in the gas network, through the future use of biogas, and through the transmission of gas for CNG refueling.  There are also economic benefits for urban centres which are connected to the natural gas network.  In the context of the NECP the broader government criteria for developing the transmission network should be reviewed.  This should include information from the study of wider benefits of connecting regions to the natural gas which has been undertaken for DCCAE but which has not been published.

Electric Vehicles

We welcomed the target of 500K EVs by 2030 but to help achieve this charging investment needs to be early and widespread. This will not just benefit those living in rural areas but will be important for those for those visiting for business or pleasure.  Lack of charging points could in future become a disincentive for visitors and could further concentrate tourism and other economic activities in areas near larger urban centres.

Built environment

We agree energy efficiency is important and welcome the ambition to increase the number of homes with a BER rating of B and above.  However, the most recent BER ratings data from the CSO shows that currently only 15% of homes assessed nationally have a rating of B or above.  In the Western Region only 10% achieve this and it is as low as 7% in Roscommon.  This highlights the need to specifically address energy efficiency and home heating issues in more rural and less well-off regions.  For dwellings in the in lowest rating categories and the costs and difficulties of achieving upgrade to a B rating are most significant.

Most homes in our region use oil for heating.  There needs to be a specific effort to encourage change in rural areas which are oil dependent.  While many of the incentives are for the installation of heat pumps it should be remembered that the use of wood biomass for heating brings very significant local economic benefits.

Transport

Employment is only one factor generating trips and the National Travel Survey shows that majority of travel is associated with non-work trips.  The importance of these non-work trips and the potential for change in this demand needs to be more central to climate action planning.

Rural people are reliant on car based transport, they have little available public transport and tend to travel greater distances. Therefore clearly rural dwellers’ transport demand patterns need to be central to planning for climate action. There must be detailed consideration of transport issues for smaller settlements and rural areas.  The majority of the population will continue to live in the historical settlement pattern and spatial planning will not change that pattern significantly to 2030 or even in the longer term (to 2050). Thus the NCEP needs to focus on current spatial patterns.

In conclusion, the WDC believes that it is essential that part of the NECP should have a specific focus on issues for rural areas, and on actions to ensure that rural areas are both in a position to benefit from a move to a low carbon economy and to meet the challenges of doing so.  This will enable them to make a fair contribution national goals in relation to renewable energy and to actions to mitigate climate change.

 

Read our full submission here

 

 

 

Helen McHenry

Electricity Generation and Demand in the Western Region- A Renewable Story

The Western Region has some of the best resources for on shore wind generation in Europe, and in the future, as technology improves, for offshore renewable energy.  The draft National Energy and Climate Plan (NECP) submitted to the EU and published yesterday (19.12.18) made a number of commitments for 2030 in relation to electricity generation and use, including the following:

  • Renewables in our power system will rise from 30% to at least 55% with a broader range of technologies likely to be deployed, e.g. offshore wind, solar, biomass
  • Coal and peat will be removed from electricity generation which will almost halve the emissions from the electricity sector.
  • Penetration of electric vehicles into our transport fleet will build to around 20%.

These will all have a significant impact on how we will generate and use electricity.  It is therefore useful to understand the current pattern of generation and demand in the Region before considering options for the future.

The Western Development Commission (WDC) has recently conducted[1] a review of electricity transmission infrastructure in the Western Region. It examined current and future needs for transmission infrastructure in the Region, and considered how increased renewable electricity generation, along with new ways of using and managing electricity and new methods of improving the use of existing transmission infrastructure might impact on need for investment.  We have published a summary of its findings in WDCInsights Electricity Transmission for Renewable Generation- What’s needed in the Western Region?

In this post the focus is on current and future renewable generation connections in the Region.  Next year, when we have had the opportunity to review the draft NECP and consider the “all-of-Government” Climate Action Plan to be completed in early 2019, it will be clearer what renewable generation connections will be required further into the future, and from that, what further transmission investment will be important.

 

Electricity Generation in the Western Region

The Western Region already has a significant connected renewable generation; almost half of the generation in the Region is renewable (Figure 1).  There is 1,371MW of conventional generation. This capacity is mainly across Moneypoint coal fired power station in West Co. Clare (863MW), Tynagh gas fired power station in East Co. Galway (404MW) and Tawnaghmore oil fired peaking plant in North Co. Mayo (104MW). In 2017 these power stations generated 4,390 GWh, which was approximately 15% of the national demand in 2017.

Figure 1: Generation in the Western Region

Source: www.esb.ie, www.eirgrid.com and MullanGrid Consulting

There is 165MW of hydro generation in the WDC region. This capacity is mainly at Ardnacrusha hydro station in Co. Clare (86MW) and the Erne stations (65MW) in Co. Donegal.  On shore wind generation makes up the rest of the renewable electricity generation in the Region (the locations are discussed further below).

In the future with the ending of coal fired generation as committed to in the draft National Energy and Climate Plan, the vast majority of renewable electricity generation in the Western Region will come from onshore wind and other developing sources including solar and potentially offshore wind and marine generation.

 

Demand and Generation connections in the Western Region

There is substantially higher capacity of both renewable and conventional generation compared to demand in the region.  Renewable generation currently connected (1,343MW) produces approximately 3,750GWh of renewable electricity. Considering total peak demand of 651MW and assuming the nation-wide demand capacity factor of 65%, the total demand in region is approximately 3,700GWh.  It can be concluded that on an annual basis the Western Region is currently producing enough renewable generation to meet 100% of its own demand.   By 2020 the Region will definitely be a net provider of renewable electricity to the rest of Ireland making a significant contribution to the 2020 RES-E targets.

Figure 2 shows the levels of connected renewable generation in the region (1,343MW) and conventional generation (1,371MW) as discussed above.   Maximum demand (at peak) was estimated by MullanGrid as 651 MW with minimum demand 164MW.

Figure 2: Current Generation and Demand in the Western Region

Source: www.esb.ie, www.eirgrid.com and MullanGrid Consulting

By 2020 there could be approximately 1,760MW of renewable generation connected in the WDC region, 1,595MW of wind generation and 165MW of hydro generation. There is a further 1,000MW of renewable generation in the WDC region that will have contracted or been offered connections by mid-2019 (as shown in Figure 2 above) and there is 173MW of further potential on shore wind connections in the short term (as allocated under the Enduring Connection Policy Phase 1 (ECP-1)). Clearly the potential for renewable generation and the opportunities the Region provides are significant.

 

Generation and Demand at County level

It is interesting to look briefly at the patterns of generation and demand at county level in the Western Region (Figure 3).  Donegal, which has the third largest connected capacity of on shore wind generation in Ireland, is clearly significant force in the Region’s transition to renewable electricity.

It currently has 480 MW of connected renewable generation with significant hydro generation (75MW) and 405MW capacity of wind generation with a further 254MW of contracted generation.  Galway and Clare and the next most important counties for renewable generation, with Ardnacrusha making a significant contribution (86MW) in Clare, while most of Galway’s renewable generation (286MW) from wind.  These counties have high levels of contracted wind generation which will be connected in the short term.   Mayo currently has 83MW of connected wind capacity  but has 406MW of contracted generation to be connected.

Figure 3: Generation and Demand in Western Region counties

Source: www.esb.ie, www.eirgrid.com and MullanGrid Consulting

In all Western Region counties currently connected renewable generation is well above the average county demand[2].  Table 1 below gives the detail of the connected, contracted and ECP-1 capacity in each county in the Western Region alongside the estimated demand in each county (although Sligo and Leitrim are considered together).

Table 1: Connected, Contracted and future renewable generation and Demand in Western Region counties.

Source: www.esb.ie, www.eirgrid.com and MullanGrid Consulting

 

Transmission Capacity

The transmission system has been essential in enabling the Western Region to achieve these relatively high levels of renewable generation.  There has been substantial investment in the transmission network in the Region[3] the majority of which, recently, has been in upgrading the existing electricity transmission network to provide additional capacity.  However, to allow for the continued growth of renewable generation in the Region, further investment in new transmission infrastructure is required.

There is capacity in the current transmission system for more renewable generation in areas of the Western Region including large parts of Co. Roscommon, Co. Clare and Co. Galway.  However there is concern about the pace and scale of development of new transmission circuits elsewhere in the Region.  The areas of particular concern in the medium term are Co. Donegal and North Mayo.  In Donegal, by 2022, it is expected that the connected renewable generation will have exceeded the capacity of the existing transmission system.  While the planned North Connacht project[4] will provide critical infrastructure for currently connected and some of the planned renewable generation in development in North Mayo/West Sligo, it will not provide ffor further renewable generation in the area. In the medium to long term there could also be a need for new transmission circuits to Co. Sligo/Co. Leitrim. Considering the extended timelines (at least 10 years) to deliver new transmission infrastructure it is essential to take a long-term view of the generation needs and potential in these areas.

It is important that there is a three-pronged approach to developing the transmission grid in the Region:

  1. Upgrading existing transmission infrastructure;
  2. New transmission infrastructure;
  3. Implementing smart grid solutions.

Although new transmission infrastructure is the most challenging to deliver it is critical for the development of more renewable generation in the Region.  Other factors that will impact on growth of renewable generation are the planning process and the public acceptance of onshore wind generation. Recent new transmission projects have faced strong local opposition and a lack of local political support.

To achieve long term ambitious climate action increased renewable electricity generation will be essential. Therefore further investment in transmission grid with sufficient capacity for new generation connections is crucial.

 

Helen McHenry

 

[1] The Electricity Transmission Infrastructure Review for the Western Development Commission was conducted by MullanGrid Consulting.

[2] This is a simple average of minimum and maximum demand.

[3] EirGrid and ESB Networks, regulated by the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities (CRU), invest in and develop the electricity grid.

[4] http://www.eirgridgroup.com/the-grid/projects/north-connacht/the-project/