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Ireland needs to retrofit 150,000 houses a year to achieve sustainable energy targets

Date Released: 12 March 2013

Ireland needs to retrofit 150,000 houses a year for a decade if it is to meet its sustainable energy targets, Professor Brendan Halligan, Chairman, Institute of International and European Affairs and of the Sustainable Energy Authority, Ireland, has told the Energy Action Conference on Reframing Fuel Poverty in Europe.

He did not think much further analysis was needed into the problem. They knew the causes of fuel poverty and the solutions. “The first thing to do is come at this with a high degree of impatience, with a certain amount of anger, and with a willingness to offend people. If we go on being polite with each other about this in the public sector we are not really going to get anywhere.”

He described the state of buildings and housing stock in particular as “appalling. But the public sector allowed that to happen. Bureaucrats at local level, at national level and national politicians and parliamentarians allowed these low standards to continue. And the building industry was as culpable as anybody else”. Every attempt to raise standards had been fought “inch by inch”.

The SEAI was responsible for the Building Energy Rating system “and we are at the stage now where we have sufficient BER that we can begin to draw conclusions for the whole population of housing stock. We probably have 12% evaluated and it is utterly and absolutely appalling.” He added that a “deep retrofit” programme to eliminate fuel poverty and achieve and acceptable energy efficiency for dwellings would probably cost “about €25,000 per average household”.

While this was a lot of money it was perfectly clear no one knew how to carry out a national retrofit programme. “I don’t mean the mechanics of doing an individual house” but how to carry out retrofits on a large scale through a Community based approach using industrial techniques. “To move it from a cottage industry where you do one-off houses” to being able to retrofit hundreds in the same area. “We have to jump from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century in terms of manufacturing.”

Pioneering work was taking place on projects in Ballymun, Bagenalstown and Tralee but hundreds of similar schemes were needed throughout the country. There was also an urgent need for mandatory standards at national and European level.

Other solutions that involved the role of renewable energy such as Solar PV (Photovoltaic) panels had to be looked at. The price of such units had fallen tenfold in 15 years. Even more important was the need for government departments to work together. The benefits were obvious, “but we don’t respond with the obvious. I am afraid there is a huge amount of resistance comprised of private interests, institutional inertia, and Nimbyism”.

He warned that the greatest threat of carbon taxes being diverted from achieving energy efficient targets came from the Treasuries and Finance Ministries of Europe. This threat could only be defeated by mobilising people through campaigns that made public representatives accountable for delivering sustainable energy targets.

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