Harnessing people power for carbon reduction



For a while now I have been wondering about being more energy efficient and guiltily putting off finding out about it. Retrofitting can seem daunting: what are you going to do, how much will it cost, what is the energy saving and can you even find a contractor to do it?

But I cannot ignore the horrifying evidence of climate change and the pinch of future winter electricity bills is another incentive to do something.

Synchronicity, though, is an amazing thing. Last week some of the answers landed almost on my doorstep where Enniskerry Village in Co Wicklow was holding a sustainable energy Community Energy Awareness Day. St Mary & Gerard’s school was swarming with punters anxious to find out how to save money by reducing their energy bills and carbon emissions and experts with information on everything from sheep’s wool to electric cars to tell them how at the free event.

This community initiative is also to create an energy master plan for the village and was launched a year ago with the help of a the Sustainable Energy Authority Ireland (SEAI) grant to hire an energy consultant, the Kilkenny-based Three Counties Energy Agency (3cea), now rebranded as South East Energy. Assessments were drawn up of eight different types of houses in the area plus one for the school and school hall together with the steps involved in retrofitting the properties. Energy efficient measures from roof insulation to solar panels were mapped out in displays together with the energy and cost savings involved.

The advantages of initiating community energy action go further than getting the facts, resulting in plans to make Enniskerry and other communities around the country more energy efficient and reduce carbon emissions. It also moves energy activism from being told what to do to people doing it for themselves.

Ina Roche, one of the organisers behind the event, explained other advantages: “Quite a few people here are interested in solar panels for instance so suppose 10 or so get together, it makes it much more appealing to contractors and suppliers to take on. We are also looking at the possibility of generating our own electricity here in Enniskerry, maybe a solar farm. People need to take action to decarbonise now.”

Under the Community Energy Grant Scheme, 83 communities and homes around the country have benefitted so far from €57 million in grants with energy savings of €156 million making for a more efficient and cost-effective route to the low carbon pathway. Retrofitting included insulation, heat pump systems, replacement windows/doors, solar technology, energy-efficient lighting, energy monitors and other energy upgrades.

Energy engineer Johan Faulkner with South East Energy has been involved in co-ordinating master plans for communities in counties Kilkenny, Carlow, Wexford , Waterford and Wicklow. A three step process is involved, creating awareness, drawing up a plan and followed  longer term plans to complete projects. The community in Callan are just about to launch their master plan and have already pioneered two solar powered EV chargers in the Supervalu car park with Leader funding.

When it comes to energy efficiency,”small things can make a different and it doesn’t have to cost the earth,” says local residentJonah. For instance, 25% of heat is lost through the roof, attic insulation costs from €80 to €150 depending on the size of the property and the State grant should cover about 80% of this. Servicing a boiler and resealing windows (no grant available, alas) can also make a difference.

The audits carried out on different house types in Enniskerry did not include the actual cost of the different steps in retrofitting, something I wanted to know about. Here again synchronicity came into play. Ciaran Grady and David Baker have a start-up company, Prima 19, offering a free service to consumers which would create an energy report based on data from their NPRI numbers and BER rating and then give consumers advice on different options and costings for retrofitting with consultation via phone, online or in person, the being met through partnerships with retrofitting contractors and suppliers.

It’s a service which would be useful for consumers who want to make their homes energy efficient step by step rather than use the one stop shop system for a deep retrofit to bring homes up to a B2 BER rating where the contractor looks after everything, grants are deducted upfront and there is a fully managed solution including paperwork and final report.

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