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

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

Agency Worker Employment

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

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

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

CSO definition

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regional Share of Agency Workers

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

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

Proportion of employees who are agency workers

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

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

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

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

Conclusions

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

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

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

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

 

 

Deirdre Frost

Reprioritising and Updating Transport Policy and Investment

Recently, there have been a few publications which focus on the need to reprioritise policy and investment across various aspects of Irish transport infrastructure and services.

The Irish Exporters Association (IEA) has published a paper entitled Building a Transport infrastructure that fosters Irish exports to the world, see here. The IEA, whose focus is on supporting Irish exporters and ensuring efficient international transport access, sets out policies and recommendations which they believe are necessary to more effectively support exporters across Ireland. From a Western Region context, a few of these are particularly relevant.

Atlantic Economic Corridor (AEC)

The IEA believes that the Atlantic Economic Corridor needs to be supported through improved connectivity from the North West to the South West of Ireland. The IEA sees the AEC and Ireland’s regions as an important counterbalance to Dublin and the transport infrastructure needs to more effectively support Ireland’s agri-food and Life Sciences industries along with all other industrial clusters located there.

Rail Freight development

The IEA are asking for policy supports to move more freight by rail, noting the relatively tiny share of traffic carried by rail in Ireland (0.9%) compared to an EU average of 17% in 2016. The Western Region is the source of most rail freight in Ireland. The IEA is asking for supports such as reduced track access charges for rail freight, which is a practice common across Europe. This is discussed further in a report commissioned by the WDC and available here. Apart from the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (rail freight can reduce the carbon footprint by 70%), the other significant driver is the huge degree of congestion which generates significant costs, highlighted in a report discussed further below.

Ports

The IEA believe that with Dublin Port operating at or near capacity, further upgrading and diversifying Ireland’s export gateways must be a strategic Government priority. This need is compounded by Brexit. The IEA believe the Government should further develop Ireland’s regional seaports to provide exporters across Ireland with viable, cost efficient and accessible alternatives to Dublin port. They welcome the proposed redevelopment of both Rosslare and Galway Ports.

Airports and air cargo

Similar to the concentration of traffic through Dublin Port, the IEA recognises the concentration of air cargo through Dublin airport. It believes that cost-efficient, viable and well-connected alternatives should be promoted in the West and South to facilitate high-frequency aviation connections to key European and global cargo and business hubs and ensure sustainable economic growth nationally.

This echoes the views expressed by the WDC in its submission to the recent consultation on the Regional Airports Programme, arguing for the need to update transport policy generally and aviation policy specifically to reflect the overarching objectives of Project Ireland 2040, see the WDC Submission here.

The CSO Aviation statistics, see here, highlight the trend of the increasing concentration of air passengers travelling through Dublin airport compared to other airports. For example, in 2014, Dublin accounted for 81.9% of all passengers (total = 26.5 million), compared to 85.6% in 2018 (Total = 36.6 million). This represents an increase of 9.6 million passengers in 4 years with Dublin Airport accounting for 95.2% of total passenger growth in that period. So along with a significant increase in total air passenger numbers, there is an ever-increasing share travelling through Dublin airport. The WDC considers that with Dublin Airport now operating at or near capacity, and capacity available at other airports such as Ireland West Airport Knock and Shannon, cost-efficient and accessible alternatives to Dublin should be utilised and promoted.

Level of concentration unusual in a European context

Just last week a report by Copenhagen Economics entitled Assessment of aviation policy as a driver of economic development in the West and Mid West of Ireland, see here noted the particularly high concentration of passenger traffic in Dublin relative to the other airports in Ireland which is especially high when compared to other small, open economies in Northern Europe. According to this report, the concentration of Dublin’s share of passenger traffic in Ireland represents the second highest, behind only Schiphol in the Netherlands. However, while Dublin’s share continues to increase that of Schiphol has been decreasing over time. This is partly due to Dutch aviation policy, which sets maximum aircraft movements through Schiphol, and actively encourages flights via other national airports in the Netherlands. Dutch aviation policy recognises that airport development is viewed as being part of regional development outlined in the Randstad 2040 Strategic Agenda. The report calls for initiatives to improve Shannon Airport’s global connectivity. A better capacity utilisation at Shannon Airport (in addition to other airports outside of the Capital) will enhance the growth capacity of the West and Mid West regions, and at the same time alleviate pressure on Dublin without requiring costly infrastructure investments.

Budget 2020

It seems Government maybe listening and in Budget 2020, a marketing support fund was announced, comprising approximately €10 million over three years to Tourism Ireland which is to be made available to support the regional airports outside Dublin, including Shannon Airport see here. This is a small but welcome development but more policy supports will be needed to ensure that other airports can grow their numbers and their share of national traffic which in turn will help them to become self-sustaining.

The Costs of Congestion

Finally, recent reports by the Department of Transport indicate that rebalancing traffic away from an increasingly congested Greater Dublin Area (GDA), will not only support the goals and objectives of Project Ireland 2040 but will also make financial and economic sense! The research measured the costs of congestion, specifically around the Greater Dublin Area (GDA) see here. Some of the congestion in the GDA and the M50 are contributed to by passengers and freight originating in the catchments of ports and airports in the West and South such as Shannon and Knock but who currently travel through the GDA to access services at Dublin Port and airport.

The reports estimate the annual value of time lost to road users due to aggravated congestion in the Greater Dublin Area (GDA), as compared to where the road network is performing well. The cost of time lost due to aggravated congestion is measured at €358 million in 2012 and is forecasted to rise to €2.08 billion per year in 2033.

These estimated costs do not include other costs, for example, increased fuel consumption and other vehicle operating costs, or increases in vehicle emissions or the impacts of congestion on journey quality. Additionally, congestion also has an impact on the wider economy, and Ireland’s competitiveness. All else equal, high levels of congestion will reduce the attractiveness of a location to work and live in, as well as directly affecting the cost of transporting goods and services. These costs are not captured by this study, and as such, the total costs of aggravated congestion are likely to be higher than those estimated in this report.

Conclusions

It is clear that the benefits of supporting better transport infrastructure and services across ports, airports, the rail and road network outside of the GDA and specifically along the Western Region and Atlantic Economic Corridor makes sense from an economic, social and financial perspective. Implementation of Government policy already set out in Project Ireland 2040 through the NDP and the updating of various sectoral policies needs to take place to give effect to these policies and to a better Ireland for all its regions.

 

Deirdre Frost

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)

The Business of Literature – Major Literary Tourism Initiative Set to Enhance Commercial Capacity in Northern European Region

Major new three-year literary tourism pilot programme set to launch across four Northern European countries this Autumn.

Spot-lit is a new three-year project that aims to grow the literary tourism sector in the Northern Periphery and Arctic region by supporting the organisations and businesses in this culturally-rich region to grow collaborate and better engage audiences together. Literary Tourism is an emerging niche sector within the wider cultural tourism sector, where places with literary heritage offer author and fiction-related literary tourism opportunities along with opportunities arising from literary festivals, trails and book shops.Funded by Interreg Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme, the regions participating in the Spot-lit programme area are Western Ireland, Northern Ireland, Eastern Finland and South-West Scotland.

All share a number of common features such as low population density, low accessibility, low economic diversity, abundant natural resources, and high impact of climate change.

Collectively, the region is home to world-class literary icons and landscapes, however, research suggests there is potential for this sector to work together and grow significantly. Current low levels of joined-up literary tourism activity in the Northern Periphery and Arctic Region make it a sector that is ripe for development.

Spot-lit addresses the need for shared development and marketing of existing assets and the development of new ones, which respond to emerging literary and cultural consumer needs. This will result in a better cultural tourism offering and deliver greater economic impact than projects developed in national isolation.

The programme will include the development of a cluster network across the regions, a series of support workshops, the development of 20 new literary products or services and shared learning and transnational marketing.

Some of the Spot-lit partners at a recent partner meeting in Scoltland (left to right) Filip Sever, Mary Keaveney, Minna Mustonen, Helena Aaltonen  Marlene Kohllechner-Autto, Shane Campbell.

Speaking on the occasion of the launch of the project, CEO Tomás Ó Síocháin of the Western Development Commission said: “We are delighted to launch this programme today following an extensive period of research and development. Spot-Lit has the capacity to deliver tangible benefits to under-tapped regions across Europe through the literary tourism sector which we know has the potential to be a major economic driver. We encourage any organisation or business in the literary tourism sector to visit our website and sign-up for our information roadshows in early October.”

This Autumn, the Spot-lit partners in Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Finland will deliver a series of workshops for businesses interested in Literary Tourism development.

Workshop 1: Building Successful Literary Tourism Experiences for Visitors
Workshop 2: Designing and developing your Literary Tourism product or service
Workshop 3: Knowing and growing your market

Following on from the workshops, businesses will be invited to participate in a Literary Business Support Programme. The programme will be open to SMEs, social enterprises, community groups and literary associations with a unique idea for the development of Literary Tourism in their area. This bespoke programme will involve a series of monthly engagement workshops, learning journeys, business advice clinics and individual mentoring supports. The programme will engage with 5 businesses in each country and will include a €10,000 innovation voucher. The focus of the business idea/product will be for the development of Literary Tourism.

The project will officially launch on September 25th with a new website at http://www.spot-lit.eu, dedicated social media channels @spot_lit_eu, followed by a call out for literary businesses and organisations to register their interest for upcoming events and workshops.

 

 

 

 

 

Our 5th Birthday! 5 years of the WDC Insights Blog

Five years ago today we published the first WDC Insights blog post.  This special anniversary post today is our 208th post.

As we noted in the celebration for our 200th post, the blog covers a wider range of topics from the impact of the famine on the Region’s population, to the analysis of economic and social issues for the Western Region.  We are delighted that the blog has given us an effective way to let you all know about our work and given us, the authors, the opportunity to explore issues we might not have otherwise considered.

In this short celebratory post we thought we should give you a little insight[1] into the workings of the blog and show you some of the other places where you can find our work.

About us

The WDC Insights blog is written by the Policy Analysis Team in the Western Development Commission.  There are three of us, Deirdre Frost, Pauline White and me, Helen McHenry.  Regular readers may have spotted that, while we all post on social and economic issues for the Western Region and for rural areas, we also have a few specialist areas. Deirdre, for example, is our telecoms and rail expert; Pauline posts on employment and enterprise; and I cover energy and low carbon issues.  These are just examples of some our work areas. We all cover specific issues relevant to different aspects of regional and rural development and , of course, have a particular focus on our seven county Western Region.

In general we rotate posting among the team, so we are all familiar with the three week deadline and the ‘what will I write about this week?’ question.   Sometimes it is obvious.  We may have completed or published some analysis, attended an interesting event or given a presentation.  Sometimes it is not so obvious.  The posts we write on these occasions, in retrospect, are often most fun to prepare, covering some issue important to the Region following something of particular interest to us, or analysing unusual data available at county level (something that still excites us!).  One great thing I have learned about those posts is that you never know when a piece of analysis will suddenly become relevant or useful.

Where to find our work

As the blog is a showcase for the work of the Policy Analysis Team at the Western Development Commission this is a good opportunity to highlight some of the other work we do which may be of interest.  All our work is on the website of the Western Development Commission www.wdc.ie and you can read more about the areas covered by the team here.

On the website we have statistics about each of the seven counties and the Western Region in our County Profiles.  The areas covered include:

  • Physical data (e.g. land mass)
  • Human Resource
  • Centres of Population
  • Education levels
  • Natural Resources
  • Employment
  • Local Sustainability
  • Tourism
  • Enterprises

 

So, if you want to know more about one of our seven counties (Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon, Galway or Clare) or the Western Region itself, check out the County Profiles.

 

Publications

The best place to find our range of outputs in on the publications page of the WDC site which has all of our reports and papers and our submissions.

We produce a range of reports and papers including:

 

Submissions

We also make submissions to national policy consultations on an on-going basis to provide a Western Region perspective to national and regional policy making.  These are on the submissions page.  Recent submissions were on European Union guidelines for the development of the trans-European transport network, the options for the use of revenues raised from increases in Carbon Tax and to the Northern and Western Regional Assembly on the Draft of its Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy. See all of our submissions here

 

We hope that you continue to enjoy the blog and find our analysis useful and interesting.  Don’t forget that to be sure of getting our weekly posts you can follow the blog here.  You can also sign up to the WDC Insights Policy Mailing List for monthly updates on our work and publications or follow us on twitter where we are @wdcinsights.

In the meantime we are off to celebrate our five years of blogging!

 

Helen McHenry, Deirdre Frost and Pauline White

[1] Pun intended.

Travel to Work Areas and Border Labour Catchments

The WDC will present analysis on Travel to Work Areas (TTWAS) and the smaller labour catchments located along the Border at a conference in Derry, organised by NERI on 1st May see here for more details.

This work is part of a larger piece of work examining the smaller labour catchments across the Western Region which in turn is part of the WDC programme of research on Travel to Work Areas and Labour Catchments which has been a key element of the WDC Policy Analysis work programme for the last 10 years.

The work on smaller labour catchments follows on from the WDC report published in 2018, Travel to Work and Labour Catchments in the Western Region, A Profile of Seven Town Labour Catchments (2018). This provides a detailed labour market profile of the principal towns in each of the seven counties of the Western Region, based on travel to work patterns, namely: Galway, Ennis, Sligo, Letterkenny, Castlebar, Roscommon and Carrick-on-Shannon and is available for download here. (14.2MB)

The map below illustrates all the labour catchments across the Western Region, arising from the analysis of Census 2016 data.

Map 1 Labour Catchments across the Western Region 2016

The analysis of smaller labour catchments reviews the remaining 26 complete labour catchments contained within the Western Region and the 26 reports will be published shortly. Here is a sneak preview of some findings and points of interest.

The 26 complete smaller labour catchments are distributed across each of the counties of the Western Region as the table below shows.

Table 1 The 26 smaller Labour Catchments in Western Region Counties, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The smaller labour catchments range in size from the largest, Ballina in Co. Mayo with 9,034 resident workers, to the smallest, Charlestown-Bellahy with 962 resident workers.

Each labour catchments has a greater number of workers living there compared to the figure reported in the Census for the town at its core, indicating a greater labour supply available than might otherwise be considered.

Of the 26 smaller labour catchments 15 reported an increase in numbers over the 10 year period from 2006 to 2016, while 11 of the smaller labour catchments reported a decline in numbers over the same period.

Generally, those that reported a decline are somewhat remote, for example five of those that reported a decline are located in Co. Donegal, namely, Ballybofey-Stranorlar, Buncrana, Killybegs, Bunbeg and Ballyshannon. Belmullet in west Mayo also recorded a decline in the number of resident workers living there over the 10 year period. A further four catchments in east Mayo/Roscommon reported a decline; namely Charlestown, Ballaghaderreen, Boyle and Castlerea, while Gort in co. Galway also had a decline in resident workers living there over the 10 year intercensal period.

In the case of the labour catchments in Co. Donegal, the larger labour catchments of Donegal town and Letterkenny, both recorded an increase over the period indicating move from the smaller more rural catchments in the county to the larger centres and this in part accounts for the changes.

For the centres in Mayo and Roscommon which reported a decline in numbers, some of this can be accounted for by growth in adjacent centres such as Castlebar and Carrick-on-Shannon but further analysis is needed to explain the changes in detail.

There is also some evidence of greater levels of longer distance commuting to Dublin and other locations, for example, the numbers travelling from the larger catchments of Galway city, Sligo and Ennis to work in Dublin has more than doubled over the 10 year period. This trend is likely to be evident for the smaller centres also.

However, it is also true that rural areas remain very important places of work. Across many of the 26 labour catchments the second most important place of work after the town itself is the rural parts of the county. Smaller centres and rural areas are very important employment centres and the analysis will show that this employment extends across sectors such as Education, health and Social Work, Manufacturing and Wholesale, Retail and Commerce.

Further detail will be available following the presentation at the NERI conference and will be posted here

 

Deirdre Frost