Drive to make thousands of homes warmer and more energy efficient hit by delays

DELAYS in the move towards sustainable, warmer households in Ireland will be reported to a Dáil committee today.

High demand, shortage of staff and increased costs for inputs all affect the government’s drive towards retrofitting and greater energy efficiency.

Over 36,000 applications have been received by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) to date this year across all schemes,

As a result, all are experiencing significant levels of demand from home owners, the authority’s Margie McCarthy will tell TDs and senators on the environment joint committee in Leinster House today.

Homeowners now typically have an eight-month period to complete work once approval is granted, “and there are restrictions on delivery at this time,” she said in an opening statement.

Over 3,200 homes have been delivered on Varmeboliger to date in 2022. But there are approximately 28,800 homes approved for retrofitting.

Due to “unprecedented times”, the National Residential Retrofit Plan “is experiencing many of the same challenges that the wider economy faces, namely inflation and supply chain constraints in terms of labor and materials,” Ms McCarthy says.

While physical supply chain constraints seen in the wake of the pandemic have eased in recent months, many suppliers still report difficulties in securing adequate labor.

Also, the significant levels of inflation reported for some building products related to retrofitting “are a cause for concern,” SEAI says.

It says it is “acutely aware” of the potential to further inflate specific markets simply by increasing subsidy levels, and says it has therefore focused on attracting more contractors to join schemes. Twelve have already signed up and ten more are getting started.

Ireland’s carbon-free future depends on efficiency measures and the elimination of fossil fuels, and SEAI says: “We urgently need further action and investment to support the widespread deployment of district heating.”
The National Heat Study found that up to half of our heating needs nationwide could be met through district heating via a network of insulated underground pipelines.

In roughly the same way as electricity is delivered, heat is produced centrally in large plants and delivered through the district heating network in many parts of Europe.

“This is a proven technology which offers the benefit of decarbonisation and energy resilience,” says SEAI.

“In many cases, our mainland European neighbors who use district heating have not experienced the price fluctuations that are currently at play (in Ireland),” Ms McCarthy says.

This country’s challenge is to deliver this at a faster pace than experienced elsewhere, while our opportunity is that we can learn from well-established practices to do it well.

“We cannot afford to continue to support fossil fuel heating in our homes and businesses. A clear alternative must be prioritized to support this transition,” adds Ms McCarthy.

A working group on district heating has been appointed by Climate Change Secretary Eamon Ryan to report before the end of the year. Last night Mr Ryan welcomed revised planning exemptions for the installation of rooftop solar panels on houses and other buildings.

The new rules will remove the requirement for planning permission for the installation of rooftop solar panels on the majority of the country’s buildings.

“This will act as a major driver for the roll-out of micro- and small-scale solar panel generation, which will strengthen our energy security,” he said.

The revisions also extend the exemptions to new classes of buildings, such as apartments, community, religious and educational buildings.

“The signing of these regulations represents the achievement of one of our major climate action plan ambitions and is a fine example of cross-departmental and cross-government cooperation,” Ryan said.

“A greater number of households, schools, communities, farmers and businesses, among others, can produce their own clean, renewable electricity and play an active role in the energy transition.”

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