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

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

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

Energy efficiency in Western Region homes

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

What is retrofit?

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

The SEAI provides the following information on Deep Retrofit:

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

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

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

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

How much will the homeowner save?

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

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

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

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

How much does a deep retrofit it cost?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

 

 

Helen McHenry

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

 

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

Low carbon transition for Western Region homes- what’s the base line?

One of the most important elements of the transition to a low carbon rural region will be emissions reduction from homes in the Western Region by improving energy efficiency and switching to renewable energy sources for heating in particular (as discussed in the last blog post on this topic the focus of current WDC work on the transition is on rural dwellers).  The government, in the Climate Action Plan 2019, has set very ambitious targets for improving energy efficiency (retrofitting 500,000 buildings to a much higher level of efficiency (BER B2 or cost optimal or carbon equivalent) and moving to more renewable heat sources (with a target to install 600,000 heat pumps  (of which 400,000 will be in existing buildings).  In order to understand how what needs to be done to meet these targets we need to know where we are starting from.  This post sets out, in detail, some of the baseline information on homes in the Western Region.  Knowing the current situation means that we can better understand what we need to do to make the transition possible and ways to make it happen.

Homes in the Western Region

To understand the challenge it is first useful to look at the number and types of homes in the seven county Western Region.  According to Census 2016 there were 303,081 ‘permanent housing units’, that is all permanent residents excluding caravans, mobile homes and other temporary structures, (these accounted for 987 residences in 2016).  While newer homes have been built since the Census in 2016, the numbers are relatively small and those homes are not the focus of the efficiency and energy upgrades envisaged in the Climate Action Plan, so the Census remains the key data source.  The Western Region, in 2016, accounted for 17.98% of the permanent homes in Ireland which is in line with the share of the population living in the region (17.4%).

Galway county had the largest number of homes (62,729) and when combined with Galway city (as it is in some data discussed below) it has significantly more homes (91,556) than other Western Region counties.  Leitrim, the smallest Western Region county, had 12,404 homes (see Figure 1 below).

 

Figure 1: Permanent homes by county in the Western Region, 2016

Source: CSO Census of Population, Profile 1: Housing in Ireland Table E1002

 

The types of homes in the Region are also important, given that different types have different levels of energy efficiency and can have different options for switching to more renewable energy sources. For example, terraced houses will have lower heat loss than detached houses while flats and apartments are more suited to a central or district heating systems than more dispersed housing.  Figure 2 shows the significance of different housing types in the region and state.

 

Figure 2: Type of permanent housing units in the Western Region, 2016

Source: CSO Census of Population, Profile 1: Housing in Ireland Table E1002

Clearly, with the exception of Galway city, detached houses are the most common housing type in the region (64% of all homes in the region compared to 37% of homes in the rest of the state).  As would be expected the more rural counties have an even higher proportion of detached homes (Leitrim 73%, Roscommon 74%).  Counties with a higher urban population (Clare 59%, Sligo 57%) have a smaller proportion of detached homes but all are still above the state average (42%.  As noted above this has implications for the types of changes we need to make in relation to efficiency and heat sources.

The age of homes in the region is also important to planning the transition.  Figure 3 shows when homes in the different counties were built.  Significant house building in all counties between 2001 and 2010 is very apparent, with more than 30% of homes in Galway County (32%), Leitrim (35%), Roscommon (31%) and Donegal (31%) built in that period, while all other Western Region counties also have a higher proportion of homes built in that period than the rest of the state (25%).  Homes built in the different periods have different requirements for energy efficiency upgrades, and will face different costs and challenges.  The oldest homes will often face the most significant challenges, though it should also be recognised that they are not necessarily the least efficient.  More than a quarter of homes in Leitrim (26%) were built before 1960 while only 17% of those in Donegal were. In Galway City only 10% of homes were built before 1960.

 

Figure 3: Age of homes in the Western Region, 2016

Source: CSO Census of Population, Profile 1: Housing in Ireland Table E1005

 

While there will be different requirements for transforming homes from different eras, given the more recent improvement in building standards it is generally assumed that homes built  after 2010 will require least upgrading and therefore the focus of the SEAI grants, for example for heat pump  installation, is on homes built before 2011.  Figure 4 shows the proportions of homes in the Western Region built before and after 2011 (excluding those not stated).  In most counties, and in the State, only 2% of homes were built from 2011 onward (the exceptions are Galway City (1%) and Galway County (3%).

Figure 4: Number of Homes built pre and post 2011 in the Western Region, 2016

Source: CSO Census of Population, Profile 1: Housing in Ireland Table E1005

 

Evidently there is a very significant amount of work ahead with almost 98% of homes likely to require energy efficiency upgrades and fuel switching to complete a move to a low carbon economy. There are of course some pre 2011 exceptions such as the small number of homes which were built to higher efficiency standards than required or which have completed the process already).

 

Efficiency of Homes: Building Energy ratings (BER)

A Building Energy Rating (BER) certificate indicates a building’s energy performance rates on a scale of A-G. A-rated homes are the most energy efficient and G-rated are the least energy efficient.  It is calculated through energy use for space and hot water heating, ventilation, and lighting.  Figure 5 shows the different energy ratings given to buildings covered in each county up to 2018.  In all counties more than 90% of homes achieve a B3 rating or less.  While this data is very useful, in most areas fewer than a third of homes (often considerably fewer) have had a BER assessment[1] and so it is not clear if the homes which have been assessed accurately reflect the housing stock.

Figure 5: Percentage of rated buildings in each BER class for Western Region counties, 2019

Source: CSO, 2019, Domestic Building Energy Rating Table EBA02

 

The Climate Action Plan focus is on improving homes to a BER rating of at least B2 (or cost optimal or carbon equivalent.  Currently in the Western Region Galway and Mayo perform best with 5% of homes with a BER rating achieving B2 while only 2% in Leitrim and Roscommon do so.

The SEAI has recently produced an interactive map of BER ratings and with detailed BER data mapped at small area level.  Figure 6 below is a snapshot the national map where green DEDs have a median rating of B and above (there are not many on the map), while yellow shows DEDs with A median C rating, orange  is D, Red is E, Dark red, F and purple G.  The map should be viewed with caution as many DEDs have fewer than 20% of their homes with a BER rating and so the data may be skewed.  It is, however, really useful for planning and can be viewed in full here.

 

Figure 6: Map of median BER ratings by ED

 

Source: SEAI https://www.seai.ie/technologies/seai-maps/ber-map/

 

Fuels used in home heating.

While much of the discussion above has related to improving energy efficiency in homes, the other element necessary for reducing the carbon foot print of our homes is the fuel used for heating.  We will need to decarbonise 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. wood energy, biogas from anaerobic digestion or a liquid biofuel).

The highest priorities for change are buildings heated using the most carbon intensive fuels (oil, coal and peat) and homes in the Western Region are particularly reliant on these, being rural, with little access to the natural gas grid and often using very traditional forms of central heating.  Figure 7 below shows the percentage use of oil and solid fuels (excluding wood energy) used in homes in the Western Region (from Census 2016).  In the Western Region as a whole more than four fifths of homes use oil, coal or peat for central heating, compared with 44% of homes in the rest of the state.  In Donegal 9 out of 10 homes use these fuels, with Mayo and Roscommon almost as high (each 87%).  Galway city has the lowest use of these fuels in the region (57%) and even that is higher than in the rest of the state.  Clearly homes in Western Region counties need to be prioritised in the switch to low carbon heating.

Figure 7: Oil and solid fuel as a percentage of central heating fuels in Western Region counties

Source: CSO Census of Population, Profile 1: Housing in Ireland Table E1053

 

While much of the discussion on home heat (e.g. in the Climate Action Plan) has focussed on heat pump installation, it may be that homes heated using coal and peat might find a switch to other renewable solid biomass such as wood energy to be more appropriate, especially in older homes which will need very significant retrofitting and may have particular ventilation requirements.  The focus of heat pump installation may therefore be on homes heated using oil.  Figure 8 below shows the percentage of homes in Region which use oil for central heating.

 

Figure 8: Oil as a percentage of central heating fuels in Western Region counties

Source: CSO Census of Population, Profile 1: Housing in Ireland Table E1053

Almost 60% of homes in the Western Region use oil for central heating compared to 36% in the rest of the state.  Again Galway city is lowest (at 50%) with the highest oil use in Leitrim (65%) and Donegal (64%).  A fifth of homes in Galway city (21%) are using electricity for heating which reflects the higher number of flats and apartments there (21%).  Roscommon has relatively low oil use (55%) because of the very significant use of peat (27%) to fuel central heating.  Homes in Galway county also commonly use peat (23%).

 

Heat Pump ready?

While it is important to change the type of energy used to heat homes in the Region, as discussed above  energy efficiency and good insulation are the first steps which need to be taken with a ‘fabric first’ approach advocated by SEAI for home energy improvement.  This is particularly important when heat pumps are to be installed as the home must be well insulated in order for heat pumps to work properly.

SEAI have used Heat Loss Indicator (HLI) data from BER certifications (see more here) to assess how many homes built prior to 2010 are ready to have heat pumps installed.  A prerequisite for heat pump installation is a HLI of ≤ 2 W/K/m2 and the percentage of homes ready for heat pump installation in the Western Region is shown in Figure 9 below.  Interestingly, this is a similar percentage of homes[2] in the Western Region (11.7%) as in the Rest of the State (12.8%).  Sligo is the Western Region county with the highest proportion of heat pump ready homes (15.6%) followed by Galway (14.0%) and Leitrim (12.6%).  Roscommon (8.6%) and Mayo (9.3%) have the lowest number of homes ready for heat pumps.

Figure 9: Heat Pump ready homes (HLI ≤2) by Western Region county

Source: https://www.slideshare.net/SustainableEnergyAut/key-learnings-from-the-seai-heat-pump-programme and CSO Census of Population, Profile 1: Housing in Ireland Table E1002. Own calculations.

 

The HLI of ≤ 2 is the most stringent measure of heat pump readiness, but given the very significant target for heat pump installation in the Climate Action Plan (400,000 in existing homes by 2030) if it also useful to look at other homes which are close to this level of readiness.  SEAI have, therefore, also estimated the number of homes which are heat pump ready using a HLI of ≤2.3 with certain caveats (see this for the detail of these).

 

Using this measure there are a considerably higher proportion of heat pump ready homes (see Figure 10) in the Western Region (23.2%)[3] which is higher than the rest of the State (22.5%).  Again Sligo has the most heat pump ready homes (27.8%) with Galway (23.9%), Leitrim (24.1%) and Clare 23.9% all higher than the Region average.  The lowest proportion of homes ready for a heat pump is in Roscommon (18%) and Mayo (19.4%).

 

Figure 10: Heat Pump ready homes (HLI ≤2.3) by Western Region county

Source: https://www.slideshare.net/SustainableEnergyAut/key-learnings-from-the-seai-heat-pump-programme and CSO Census of Population, Profile 1: Housing in Ireland Table E1002. Own calculations.

 

Although only 23% of homes are currently heat pump ready in the Western Region this still amounts to 65,187 homes in total in the region (and 351,295 in total for the state).  Prioritising these homes would make a very significant start on meeting the target in the Climate Action Plan.

Conclusion

In this post I have given some of the baseline information necessary for planning the transformation of our Western Region homes to more energy efficient, low carbon dwellings.  Clearly the scale of the transformation required is enormous and some of the issues which need to be addressed and actions which might be put in place will be discussed in my next post.

 

Helen McHenry

 

[1] BERs are usually done because a home is to be sold and a BER cert is required for this.

[2] Heat pump ready homes by county is shown as a percentage of permanent homes built before 2011 from CSO Census of Population 2016.

[3] This figure includes all those homes with a HLI of ≤2.0

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)

Energy and Climate Action in the Western Region- what is the way forward?

The Western Development Commission (WDC) recently made a submission to the Initial Consultation on Ireland’s National Energy and Climate Plan 2021-2030 (NECP).  This consultation was based on the template for the draft plan which Ireland is required to complete by the end of the year. The draft plan, once completed, will itself be the subject of a separate consultation process.  The WDC response focused on areas on which we work and on issues of key importance to the Region including rural issues, renewable energy and biomass use and electricity and natural gas transmission infrastructure.  The full WDC submission is available here.

Rural Issues

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

Not only is the Western Region is very rural, it is important to also remember in regard to this Plan, that Ireland is one of the more rural members of the EU. It is critical, therefore, that the NECP takes this pattern of living into account and addresses the opportunities it provides as well as the challenges. Climate action for rural areas is not often discussed in policy and there is no significant body of work (internationally or nationally) on climate change and emissions issues for rural areas in developed countries and yet there are important differences in energy use patterns and emissions, in rural areas. While it is often acknowledged that rural dwellers have higher individual emissions the ways of addressing these are not usually explored partly because emissions reductions may be more difficult to achieve in rural areas and partly because the focus is usually on larger populations and ways to reduce the emissions of individuals living in more densely populated areas.

It should be remembered that, as in other policy areas, urban/rural is a rather simplistic division, which ignores the ‘suburban’ and the differences between rural towns and the open countryside which all have distinctive emission patterns. It is also important to be aware that people’s carbon footprints are closely linked to their incomes and consumption patterns and so do not necessarily relate directly to their location (urban or rural). In fact research in Finland[1] has highlighted higher emissions from urban dwellers based on their higher consumptions patterns. Nonetheless, despite the difficulties with a simple urban/rural dichotomy, there are of course concerns specific to rural dwellers emissions that deserve consideration.

Electricity, heat and transport are the three forms of energy use and therefore the source of emissions, for residential and commercial users and so the different urban and rural use patterns for each of these should be considered.  For more discussion of rural dwellers and climate mitigation see this post.

The WDC believes that it is essential that part of the NECP should have a specific focus on issues for rural areas, and actions to ensure that rural areas are in a position to benefit from a move to a low carbon economy (and there are many opportunities for them to do so) and that rural dwellers make a fair contribution to national goals for renewable energy and to actions to mitigate climate change.

Renewable Energy and Biomass

The WDC has been active in developing measures to promote the use of energy (in particular heat) from biomass, assessing biomass availability and the development of supply chains for its local use. Our experience has shown that strategic policy interventions must recognise the wider market environment in order to design and deliver effective, value for money policy and identify actions which result in sustainable market growth.

The WDC has shown that the renewable heat market has the potential to create considerable levels of employment across the Western Region and to provide long-term stable markets for low value wood fuels which can compete with fossil fuels and stabilise energy prices for end users (see here for WDC work on renewable energy).

An OECD report Linking Renewable Energy to Rural Development contains a useful examination of policy options and actions in fifteen OECD regions. It shows how bioenergy can provide greater local and national economic benefits than other renewable energies  and notes that bioenergy policy interventions are typically most effective when delivered at a regional and/or local level where they can be tailored to local resources and conditions.

Energy efficiency

Energy efficiency is one of the most important areas to be addressed in our NECP and this will require strategies for public, private and domestic users. The WDC believes that the public sector should be a model for energy efficiency and for use of renewable energy in heat and transport. In doing so, as well as providing examples and participating in pilot actions, the public sector will be an important customer for businesses in the developing renewable energy or climate action sectors. Given the difficulties of matching supply and demand at local levels in emerging renewable heat markets, public sector investment in energy efficiency and making use of renewable energy in day to day activities will help to stimulate the development of businesses and allow  supply chains to develop securely.

The WDC also believes that it is very important to ensure that local communities are in a position to participate in energy efficiency and renewable energy development projects. Given that a complex mix of policy instruments will be required to incentivise and empower people to achieve 2030 targets, it should be remembered that the SEAI Better Energy Community Programme has delivered almost 10% of the overall Irish energy efficiency target. If there was a suite of additional community supports in addition to the grant aid even more could be delivered. Community groups often lack time, technical expertise, access to finance and financial expertise, bargaining skills, equipment and capacity to complete lengthy grant application documents.

Energy Infrastructure

Electricity transmission

The WDC believes that it is important that we make the most of our opportunities to generate electricity where the best resource is available. For this it is essential that there is investment in transmission infrastructure in areas which have the greatest potential resources.

The WDC recently commissioned a study[2] of current and future needs for electricity transmission infrastructure in the Region.  The Western Region has a significant capacity of connected renewable generation. By 2020 there could be approximately 1,760MW of renewable generation connected in the WDC region, consisting of 1,595MW of wind generation and 165MW of hydro generation. The Western Region is currently producing enough renewable generation to meet 100% of its own demand. By 2020 it will be a net exporter of renewable energy, providing approximately 15% of the total national demand and making a significant contribution to the 2020 RES-E targets.

The Western Region has some of the best resources for on shore wind in Europe, and in the future, as technology improves, for offshore energy generation. It is therefore important to the Region and to Ireland, as well as the rest of the EU, that there is development of significant electricity transmission infrastructure projects in Donegal and North Mayo[3] in order to make the best use of this resource. While there are opportunities to use smart grid technologies to maximise the use of existing transmission infrastructure, further investment in new infrastructure is also needed. Developing electricity transmission infrastructure is a slow process, so it is important that the NECP has clear objectives in this area which can then feed into any new Grid Development Strategy so that EirGrid can develop a transmission grid fit for a low carbon economy in the long term.

Gas transmission

A significant part of the north west of Ireland does not have access to the natural gas transmission grid. As has been discussed by the WDC elsewhere, the development of the gas grid can give rise to significant savings for both commercial and domestic users (see Why invest in gas? Benefits of natural gas infrastructure for the north west). As a lower emission fossil fuel natural gas can also contribute to a reduction in emissions by users who connect and, in the future with the development of renewable gas, there will be further opportunities to lower emissions through its use in place of natural gas.

In addition, a high level study commissioned by government (conducted by KPMG) last year into the Irish National Gas Network examined issues relating to the wider economic costs and benefits of potential extensions to the Irish natural gas network, including decarbonisation, air quality, climate and emissions and regional and rural development benefits. The findings of this study have not yet been published but they should feed in to the NECP. The WDC believes that further focus on the use of natural gas as a transition fuel and on the development of gas transmission in the north west should form a key part of the NECP.

Conclusion

In this post I have outlined some of the key points in the WDC submission to the NECP Initial Consultation.  The WDC believes that the renewable energy and climate action have the potential to create considerable employment across the Western Region and to provide long term stable markets for many low value biological outputs, as well as ensuring that much of the money spent on energy remains in Ireland.  However, in order to make this happen we suggest that high level targets in the NECP should be translated into a regional and local context so they can drive the delivery of a thriving low carbon economy and spread the benefits throughout the country.

 

Helen McHenry

 

[1] Heinonen J and S Junnila, 2011 A Carbon Consumption Comparison of Rural and Urban Lifestyles Sustainability 2011, 3, 1234-1249;

[2] This study was conducted for the WDC by MullanGrid and will be available shortly.

[3] In addition to the North Connacht Project which is currently planned in North Mayo and which is unlikely to have any spare capacity by the time it is commissioned

How can we develop renewable heat use in the Western Region?

The WDC has recently published an analysis study of opportunities for the development of the renewable heat sector in the Western Region.  The study ‘A Regional Renewable Energy Analysis: Using Biomass to Contribute to the National Renewable Heat Target’ was under taken as the Western Development Commission (WDC), along with SEAI, were tasked under the Action Plan for Jobs: West Region 2015 – 2017  (Action 134 ) to undertake a Regional renewable energy analysis on the use of biomass as a local contribution to the national renewable heat target and develop a range of actions to support the development of renewable energy in the region”.

The study considers the use of biomass use in the WDC region (Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon, Mayo, Galway and Clare), along with an assessment of the potential contribution to the national renewable heat target.  The analysis focused on ‘solid biomass’ – that is forest derived wood fuels used for energy production[1].

The use of biomass for heat generation is likely to have the greatest potential for the Western Region in the immediate future in achieving the renewables heat target and reducing carbon emissions.  An EU 2020 target of 16% renewable energy is to be achieved by 2020 across the electricity, transport and heat (and cooling) sectors in all member states. Ireland is one of only four countries in Europe expected to miss its renewable energy target[2][3].  Heat is the largest of these three sectors, and Ireland has a target of 12% of final heating demand be derived from renewable sources by 2020.

Between September and December 2017, the survey of biomass deployment in the WDC region was undertaken which found seven large industrial biomass schemes using 110,000 tonnes of wood fuels a year. The installed capacity of these schemes ranges from 2,000kW to 22,000kW (31.2 Kilotonne of Oil Equivalent (ktoe)). The survey also found 43 smaller non-domestic biomass installations with installed capacities ranging from 50kW to 550kW. Only 24 of these are known to be operational, representing 6,600kW of installed capacity using 6,269 tonnes of wood fuel a year (1.74 ktoe).

In the WDC region, total biomass deployment is equal to 32.94 ktoe. This represents 8.1% of the Western Region heat market.  Taking into account the already installed biomass, this means 7.78 ktoe of new biomass deployment is needed by 2020 to achieve a target of 12% renewable heat for the Region.

This would require €35 million of capital investment and would create 70 new full time jobs and save 28,000 tonnes of CO2. As the potential total market is estimated to be 275MW, suggesting that 35MW of new capacity is a viable aspiration.

The WDC proposed 2018 – 2020 Action Programme, which is part of this report, considers how some of these barriers can be overcome and the growth of biomass could be achieved in the Western Region.

 

Helen McHenry

 

[1] There is a modest percentage of non-solid biomass used to generate renewable energy, and this has been commented upon in the report where appropriate.

[2]https://www.seai.ie/Publications/Statistics_Publications/Energy_Modelling_Group_Publications/Ireland%E2%80%99s-Energy-Targets-Progress-Ambition-and-Impacts.pdf

[3] The others are the UK, the Netherlands and Luxembourg

Key Issues for the National Planning Framework – Submission from the WDC

The WDC  made its submission on Ireland 2040 – Our Plan: National Planning Framework   yesterday.  The Issues and Choices paper covered a wide range of topics from national planning challenges to sustainability, health, infrastructure and the role of cities and towns.  A key element of the paper considered the future in a “business as usual” scenario in which even greater growth takes place in the Dublin and Mid East region with consequent increased congestion and increasing costs for businesses and society, while other parts of the country continue to have under-utilised potential which is lost to Ireland.  The consultation paper therefore sought to explore the broad questions of alternative opportunities and ways to move away from the “business as usual” scenario.

The WDC submission considers these issues from the perspective of the Western Region, the needs of the Region, the opportunities its development presents for Ireland’s economy and society as a whole and the choices, investments and policy required to achieve regional growth and resilience.

This post highlights the key points made in the submission.  The complete, comprehensive submission on the National Planning Framework by the WDC can be read here (4.5MB PDF).  A shorter summary is available here (0.7MB PDF).

 

What should the NPF achieve?

  • The National Planning Framework (NPF) provides Ireland with an opportunity to more fully realise the potential of all of its regions to contribute to national growth and productivity. All areas of Ireland, the Capital and second tier cities, large, medium and small-sized towns, villages and open countryside, have roles to play both in the national economy and, most importantly, as locations for people to live.
  • While spatial planning strives for ideal settlement or employment patterns and transport infrastructure, in many aspects of life change is relatively slow; demographics may alter gradually over decades and generations and, given the housing boom in the early part of this century, many of our existing housing units will be in use in the very long term. If the NPF is to be effective it must focus on what is needed, given current and historical patterns and the necessity for a more balanced pattern of development.
  • To effectively support national growth it is important that there is not excessive urban concentration “Either over or under [urban] concentration … is very costly in terms of economic efficiency and national growth rates” (Vernon Henderson, 2000[1]). Thus it is essential that, through the NPF, other cities and other regions become the focus of investment and development.

Developing Cities

  • As the NPF is to be a high level Framework, in this submission the WDC does not go into detail by naming places or commenting on specific development projects, as these will be covered by the forthcoming Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies (RSES). The exception to this, however, is in relation to the need for cities to counterbalance Dublin.  In this case we emphasise the role of Galway and the potential for Sligo to be developed as the key growth centre for the North West.
  • The North West is a large rural region and Sligo is the best located large urban centre to support development throughout much of the North West region. With effective linkages to other urban centres throughout the region and improved connectivity, along with support from regional and national stakeholders, Sligo can become a more effective regional driver, supporting a greater share of population, economic and employment growth in Sligo itself and the wider North West region.

Developing Towns

  • While the NPF is to be a high level document and the focus is largely on cities it is important not to assume that development of key cities will constitute regional development. All areas need to be the focus of definite policy, and the NPF should make this clear.
  • While cities may drive regional development, other towns, at a smaller scale, can be equally important to their region. Recognising this is not the same as accepting that all towns need the same level of connection and services.  It is more important to understand that the context of each town differs, in terms of distance and connectivity to other towns and to the cities, the size of the hinterland it serves and its physical area as well as population.  Therefore their infrastructure and service needs differ.
  • Towns play a central role in Ireland’s settlement hierarchy. While much of the emphasis in the NPF Issues and Choices paper is on cities and their role, for a large proportion of Ireland’s population small and medium-sized towns act as their key service centre for education, retail, recreation, primary health and social activities.  Even within the hinterlands of the large cities, people access many of their daily services in smaller centres.  The NPF needs to be clear on the role it sees for towns in effective regional development.

Rural Areas

  • Rural areas provide key resources essential to our economy and society. They are the location of our natural resources and also most of our environmental, biodiversity and landscape assets.  They are places of residence and employment, as well as places of amenity, recreation and refuge.
  • They are already supporting national economic growth, climate action objectives and local communities, albeit at a smaller scale than towns and cities. But a greater focus on developing rural regions would increase the contribution to our economy and society made by rural areas.
  • The key solution to maintaining rural populations is the availability of employment. It is important that the NPF is truly focused on creating opportunities for the people who live in the regions, whether in cities, towns or rural areas.

Employment and Enterprise

  • In the Issues and Choices paper a narrow definition of ‘job’, ‘work’ and ‘employer’ as a full-time permanent employee travelling every day to a specific work location seems to be assumed. This does not recognise either the current reality of ‘work’ or the likely changes to 2040. Self-employment, the ‘gig’ or ‘sharing’ economy, contract work, freelancing, e-Working, multiple income streams, online business are all trends that are redefining the conceptions of work, enterprise and their physical location.
  • If the NPF mainly equates ‘employer’ with a large IT services or high-tech manufacturing company, many of which (though by no means all) are attracted to larger cities, then it will only address the needs of a small proportion of the State’s population and labour force.
  • Similarly the NPF must recognise the need to enable and support the diversification of the Irish economy and enterprise base. It must provide a support framework for indigenous business growth across all regions and particularly in sectors where regions have comparative advantage.

Location Decisions

  • While job opportunities are a critical factor in people’s decision of where to live, they are by no means the only factor. Many other personal and social factors influence this decision such as closeness to family (including for childcare and elder care reasons), affordability, social and lifestyle preferences, connection to place and community.
  • Many people have selected to live in one location but commute to work elsewhere or, in some cases, e-Work for a number of days a week. The NPF needs to recognise the complexity of reasons for people’s location decisions in planning for the development of settlements.

Infrastructure

  • New infrastructure can be transformative (the increase in motorway infrastructure in recent decades shows how some change happens relatively quickly). Therefore it is essential that we carefully consider where we place new investments.  To do so, capital appraisal and evaluation methods determining the costs and benefits of different investment projects need to be re-examined if we are to move from a ‘business as usual’ approach.
  • Investment in infrastructure can strongly influence the location of other infrastructure with a detrimental impact on unserved locations. The North West of the country is at a disadvantage compared to other regions with regard to motorway access. This situation will be compounded if investment in rail is focused on those routes with better road access (motorways) in order for rail to stay competitive, or if communications or electricity networks are developed along existing motorway or rail corridors.
  • The WDC believes that the regional cities can be developed more and have untapped potential, however better intra-regional linkages are needed. The weaker links between the regional centres – notably Cork to Limerick and north of Galway through to Sligo and on to Letterkenny, are likely to be a factor in the relatively slower growth of regional centres in contrast to the motorway network, most of which serves Dublin from the regions.

Climate Change

For the future, the need to move to a low carbon, fossil fuel free economy is essential and needs to be an integral and much more explicit part of the NPF.  The National Mitigation Plan for Climate Change is currently being developed, and it is essential that actions under the NPF will be in line with, and support, the actions in the Mitigation Plan.

How should the NPF be implemented?

  • While much of the role of the NPF is strategic vision and coordination of decision-making, in order for the Framework to be effective it is essential that the achievement of the vision and the actions essential to it are appropriately resourced. The Issues and Choices paper does not give a detailed outline of how the NPF implementation will be resourced, except through the anticipated alignment with the Capital Investment Programme.
  • It should be remembered that policy on services and regional development is not just implemented through capital spending but also though current spending and through policy decisions with spatial implications (such as those relating to the location of services). Therefore it is essential that other spending, investment and policy decisions are in line with the NPF rather than operating counter to it.
  • While the NPF is to provide a high level Framework for development in Ireland to 2040, it seems this Framework is to be implemented at a regional level through the RSES. The Framework and the Strategies are therefore interlinked yet the respective roles of the NPF and the RSES are not explicit and so it is not evident which areas of development will be influenced by the NPF and which by the RSES.
  • In order to ensure that the NPF is implemented effectively it is important that there is a single body with responsibility for its delivery and that there is a designated budget to help achieve its implementation.

 

It is expected that a draft National Planning Framework document will be published for consultation in May.  Following that a final version of the Framework will be prepared for discussion and consideration by Dáil Éireann.

 

As mentioned above the full WDC submission on the Issues and Choices paper Ireland 2040 Our Plan- A National Planning Framework is available here (PDF 4.5MB) and a summary of key point and responses to consultation questions is available here (PDF 0.7MB).

 

 

Helen McHenry

[1] http://www.nber.org/papers/w7503

Sustainable Transport and Rail Freight

Just last week, the Minister for Transport, Paschal Donohoe, T.D., announced the allocation of €13.5 million in 2016 for sustainable transport projects in our regional cities. The Minister noted, ‘Providing more sustainable travel options in our regional cities is becoming increasingly important as congestion levels are on the increase again’.  Projects that will benefit are road improvements and junction upgrades to improve bus priority, the provision of additional cycle infrastructure and improvements to railway and bus stations.

Another option for promoting more sustainable transport, saving on CO2 emissions and relieving our congested road network is to support greater freight traffic by rail.

It is not well known that three of the four rail freight services currently in operation start or finish in the West. A report published last month by the Western Development Commission (WDC), Rail freight and the Western Region notes that rail currently moves less than 1% of surface freight across Ireland and most of this rail freight originates in the Western Region[1]. Irish Rail plans to quadruple national rail freight traffic within 4 years and much of this traffic could be from the Western Region. In the short-term this could double from 4 to 8 trainloads per weekday and each trainload removes approximately 18 truckloads from the road network.

Rail freight, where available, offers several advantages over road transport. It generates less than a quarter of the emissions of road haulage, removes heavy goods traffic from the road network  and it can provide an alternative and efficient route to market for business, avoiding congested routes and availing of the existing rail network.

The WDC report identifies traffic which could be transported by rail and also identifies the policies needed to support this growth.

Demand for new rail freight services comes following a period of continued under-investment and rationalisation of rail freight infrastructure and rolling stock. To assist Irish Rail develop the traffic potential and associated direct / indirect benefits to the country, the WDC report highlights some policies which can support the growth of this sustainable mode including:

  • A policy framework for freight transport is needed which sets out the multi-modal context of road, rail, air and sea which is central to supporting the wider economy.
  • Safeguarding and/or enhancing rail access into ports is needed – Dublin and Waterford have played a valuable role in the recent growth of rail freight. Policy support and investment in other ports such as Shannon Foynes, Galway and other ports, will be needed to reduce potential congestion and/or over-dependency on Dublin.
  • Maximising the use of the existing rail network such as using longer trains, use of the rail network at night, and engaging a bigger fleet of traction and rolling stock will all help grow the traffic volumes carried by rail.
  • Across many counties there have been initiatives to support new rail freight services – in Europe this has been largely based on the environmental benefits of rail freight compared to road freight. This has been done in absolute terms for example the European Commission’s former ‘Marco Polo’ mode shift programme (which closed in 2013) provided grants to offset the costs of starting up new intermodal and multimodal freight projects, the level of grant based on rail’s societal advantage over road estimated at €0.004 per tonne km. The Commission is currently considering a possible replacement for the Marco Polo programme.
  • In the UK supports are available based on the benefit:cost ratio (eg 4.27:1 for Great Britain rail freight revenue support grants[2] and 12.51:1 for Marco Polo mode shift grants[3]). Most of the intermodal services in the UK serving maritime and domestic customers have at some stage received revenue support grants.

The Government needs to de-carbonise the economy and the transport sector represents a major contributor to energy consumption and emissions. If greater efficiency is to be derived from freight transport, both road and rail will need to be exploited to their maximum extent, with the rail network having considerable untapped capacity. This is even more apparent with the increasing congestion evident on parts of the road network.

It seems the Department of Transport is now considering whether and how rail freight can play a greater role. According to Building on Recovery: Infrastructure and Capital Investment 2016-2021 (September 2015) the Government will commission a feasibility study to examine options for expanding freight transport on the railways. This is to be welcomed and it is to be hoped work on this will commence very shortly so that opportunities to move traffic more suited to the rail network will not be lost.

While rail freight will continue to play a relatively small role compared to road transport, there is potential to grow volumes which will not only capitalise on our existing rail network but will also deliver wider public and societal benefits in terms of lower emissions and reducing traffic on the congested road network.

 

Deirdre Frost

 

[1] WDC counties; Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon, Galway and Clare

[2] Department for Transport Review of Revenue Support Freight Grant Schemes Summary Report, Arup 2014

[3] Ex ante Evaluation Marco Polo II (2007-2013), Final Report for the European Commission, ECORYS Transport June 2004, section 10.4