Ireland has set themselves the ambitious task of fully upgrading the energy efficiency of all their homes by 2050.
In their last budget they allocated 8 billion Euros – about 13 and a half billion Australian dollars - to upgrade a quarter of them by 2030. That’s 500,000 homes in just 6 years.
It’s the highest funding ever allocated to residential energy efficiency.
Reducing energy use and emissions from the residential sector now features prominently in Ireland's Climate Action Plan.
Ireland has been one of the highest emitters of energy related carbon dioxide in the European Union. Up until 2015, homes in Ireland emitted 58% more than the average EU dwelling.
That’s due to their greater use of hydrocarbon fuels – the vast bulk of their heating is generated from oil, coal or peat, and 80 per cent of energy use in Irish homes is for heating and hot water.
But it’s not just money the Government has allocated to helping Irish homeowners with the energy transition.
Ireland has already spent several years running pilot energy projects and programs that have become the foundation for rolling out a residential energy program at scale.
They’ve now built an entire ecosystem of one stop shops, mandatory building energy ratings, home energy assessments, qualified trades, supply chains, project management, financing, and quality assurance.
From their extensive research, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) determined that while many householders were confident with the basics of energy efficiency – they could install ceiling insulation for instance – when it came to installing newer technology like heat pumps, or thermal bridging, etc they needed the help of experts.
“What we needed to do was take them right from information through to advice, then to actually finding the contractors for the upgrade, and finally, getting the work done,” Josephine Maguire, the Coordinator of SEAI’s Better Energy Homes program, told the SwitchedOn podcast.
Ireland has established a series of registered one-stop-shops that are on the ground with householders helping project manage the whole energy efficiency process from end to end.
“Making people comfortable with those new technologies that are coming out like heat pumps, ventilation, solar panels,” says Maguire. “But also getting the balance right of making sure that its energy efficiency first. Make your home energy efficient so that you don't have a very high energy need.”
“So people trust and have confidence that when they get these measures installed, that there is somebody making sure that it is a quality job.”
Pilots and trials
Key to launching their ambitious Better Energy Homes program were the pilot projects and trials they’d already run – they provided a foundation to expand the program to the entire country.
“We learnt a lot about how to set up a grant program, and all of the governance around it, registering contractors, a quality assurance regime on those contractors, a quality assurance regime on the products being used, and listening to the consumer, and building in the support that they need,” says Maguire.
“[Pilots and trials] are the sandpits where you learn what works and what doesn't work….. you're just learning all the time about what matters to consumers.”
Maguire argues that talking to householders is key to a successful program.
“You're talking to them, you're doing surveys with each and every consumer, you are having focus groups with the consumers to see how things work.”
And it’s not just focus group and survey research that’s needed.
“No matter what you put in in a questionnaire, or put in a focus group, when you have people sitting around having a cup of tea at a table, they tell you things that you wouldn't otherwise find out.
Green finance needed
Whilst government funding has been hugely important for the energy transition in Ireland, along with skilled advice, and reliable supply and service chains, green finance has also been imperative.
Maguire estimates that energy upgrades can cost around 50,000 Euros (about AUD $84,000) in Ireland, and whilst you might get 20,000 Euros (AUD $33,500) in grants from the government, householders then have to look at what finance is available in the market.
Which is why the SEAI has worked with banks and credit unions to make ‘green finance’ available, including personal green loans, and green mortgages at lower interest rates.
The government has also recently announced it will be launching a home energy loan scheme run through high street banks and other lenders at reduced interest rates.
Mandatory disclosure of energy efficiency
Mandatory disclosure of a building's energy efficiency was introduced in Ireland in 2008 through their Building Energy Rating system (BER), following a directive to all European Union states.
“Anyone putting a home up for sale or rent has to have a Building Energy Rating and disclose it publicly,” says Maguire. “It has to be available publicly.”
The Building Energy Rating scale goes from A to G, with A being the most energy efficient, and G the least. Most of Ireland’s homes are D or worse, so their Better Home Energy Program aims to upgrade all homes to a B rating or more.
Maguire says the BER system has been very beneficial for Ireland. Several research reports that have looked at the BER system have found higher rated properties get higher rents, and higher sale prices.
A recent story in one of Ireland’s national newspapers, reported that three-bedroom homes with a B or better rating were getting 88 000 Euros (AUD $148,000) more than equivalent properties with less than a B rating.
“That was equivalent to probably a 20% higher price than if it hadn't [a B rating],” says Maguire.
Biggest takeaway for Australia
Maguire’s primary advice to Australia as it attempts to scale up the roll out of residential energy efficiency and electrification is to talk to householders.
“Listen to people. Talk to householders. Find out what their needs are, what their challenges are, what their barriers are, and how can you solve them.”
Also crucial is an entity, like the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, that can oversee the rollout and ensure everything is in one place, and the whole suite of energy efficiency and electrification measures can be properly created and delivered.
You can hear the whole interview with Josephine Maguire on the SwitchedOn podcast here.
Josephine Maguire will be one of the headline speakers at the Residential Energy Performance Summit run by the Energy Efficiency Council in Melbourne on 21 November, 2023. You can find more details here.