Ireland will miss EU energy efficiency targets, study says

traditional Irish house.jpg

Ireland will have to double its efforts in making dwellings more energy-efficient or it will have to pay fines to the European Commission for not complying with the EU's newly adopted Energy Efficiency Directive, a new study shows.

The EU-funded research conducted by the Tipperary-based Sustainable Energy for the Rural Village Environment (SERVE) project argues that Ireland is to miss its EU energy efficiency target by 2020. 

The recently agreed Energy Efficiency Directive will require Ireland to introduce more demanding energy-saving measures, including an obligation for energy companies to save 1.5% energy annually.

By April 2013, each member state will have to submit their national plans for the implementation of the directive and if the measures they propose to take do not meet the target the EU is hoping for – an accumulated 20% energy savings by 2020 – then countries will be asked to re-plan or pay up.

If Ireland does not renovate 90,000 buildings by 2020, it will most likely have to pay fines for missing its targets, the report said.

The Irish government has already said it 'wanted' one million buildings to be retrofitted by 2020, but this would mean doubling the current 50,000 retrofits annually.

“Unless there is Government intervention, Ireland faces possible EU fines and a situation whereby Irish householders and businesses will continue to waste millions of euros each year on heating poorly insulated and energy inefficient buildings, said Seamus Hoyne, manager of the SERVE project.

Government points to many barriers

But on its way to achieving the right savings, the Irish government has already encountered a few stumbling blocks, mainly in the the buy-in from householders, another study showed.

The researchers of the study said they confronted “a complex set of social behavioural, financial and macroeconomic factors” when studying the potential of house retrofits in Ireland.

This study, Towards a New National Climate Policy, is an interim report of the National Economic and Social Council Secretariat, a government think tank, and was commissioned by the Irish department of environment. This report will be followed by final one in December 2012 on Ireland's transition to a low-carbon future by 2050.

Some of the main challenges this study found included:

  • Financial barriers
  • Split incentives (owner decides energy efficiency measures in a building and tenants pay the electricity bills)
  • Imperfect information
  • Behavioural and social factors

Also, whilst revisions to buildings regulations have instituted high minimum standards for thermal efficiency of new dwellings, past experience suggests that compliance with these regulations is far from guaranteed, the study said.

In addition, Ireland faces resource constrains in policy analysis, policy making and implementation, the same report said.

However, the research showed that energy efficiency in buildings "undoubtedly" has the greatest technical potential for reduced emissions.

Ireland's building stock has high emissions by international standards and this stresses the scope for improvement. More exactly, the average Irish residential dwelling emitted 47% more carbon dioxide than the average dwelling in the UK and 104% above the level of the EU-27 in 2005. 

"The great challenge is how to achieve widespread investment in energy efficiency, especially in households, small firms and the public sector," the government think tank study said.

But most such investments, in particular energy efficiency ones, can pay for themselves in reduced energy costs and reduced dependence on imported fossil fuels, the study argued, saying: "For these reasons, it would seem that this should be a central focus of Irish policy in the years and decades ahead."

The analysis suggests that energy efficiency could offer significantly greater technical abatement potential than is currently enshrined in Irish policy and that this could, in principle, be a cost-effective route. "Yet, for a variety of reasons, the necessary investments are not made."

Financial routes

At the moment, there are a few schemes in place that help house owners revamp their homes. The current grant regime is focused on providing support for individual measures. The average spend per retrofit is approximately €3,000 per customer, which includes the grant payment of about a third of the total investment – but this money usually comes from people's personal savings and not from borrowing, according to the study.

Also, one important set-back is the tenure of the houses. Out of the existing approximately 1,7 million occupied dwellings, a third are now rented and the costs of energy bills, after a retrofit,  would have to be paid by the tenants.

However, financial assistance in energy efficiency solutions is to become more of a priority for the Irish government, which will introduce 'fairer' payment schemes in 2014. More exactly, Ireland is planning to introduce a Pay-As-You-Save (PAYS) scheme, which would guarantee the initial investment is made by a third party, whilst the householder will repay the loan once the energy efficiency solutions start paying off and energy bills start decreasing.

But the researchers of the government-commissioned study made another suggestion for easing some of the financial constraints associated with the needed upfront investments in energy efficiency: the introduction of a property tax for energy costs at the moment of purchasing a house.

Also, more measures should be taken to encourage the use of energy services companies – which absorb the upfront costs and the associated risk, increasing investors' appetite for this type of deal.

The challenge is to devise a pragmatic plan which relaxes the constrains as much as possible and which feeds into other policies, such as those aimed at boosting employment and reforming the public sector.

"Whilst the surest way to meet Ireland's 2020 targets would be to shrink the economy, this approach would not be pragmatic and would lack dynamic thinking," the report said. 

Analysis of energy savings of 300 homes which completed upgrades, showed approximately €200,000 was saved in energy consumption. If this level of savings was applied to all Irish homes the total savings would be €1bn per annum, said Seamus Hoyne, acting head of L.I.T. Tipperary's Technology, Media and Science Department.

“With increasing fuel prices the rate of return will increase further making energy efficiency a sound investment. Furthermore, homes which have poor insulation levels not only lose energy but also are uncomfortable for residents. Our analysis has shown that during major changes in external temperature (from 2C to 3C), the internal temperature only changes by 2C in a well-insulated house,” he added.

Europe aims to reduce its primary energy use by 20% by 2020, a target which is not legally binding.

The Energy Efficiency Directive was proposed by the European Commission in mid-2011 as part of its effort to reach this objective. The European Parliament and Council, together with the Commission, reached a deal on the proposed directive in June 2012.

The directive:

  • Proposes individual measures for each of the sectors that could play a role in reducing energy consumption - apart from transport, which is voluntary. This includes a controversial obligation on energy companies to achieve 1.5% energy savings per year on their customer's bills.
  • Asks member states to develop long-term strategies for the energy-efficient refurbishment of Europe's building stock.
  • Obliges authorities to renovate public buildings, although this only applies to those "owned and occupied" by national governments, not regional or local authorities.

Member states must present their energy efficiency targets and the set of measures they will implement to reach their targets by April 2013. If member states do not collectively set the EU on its path to achieve 20% energy savings by 2020, they will have to re-assess their measures and targets or risk penalties.

  • April 2013 Member states present their national programmes for the implementation of the Energy Efficiency Directive
  • 2014, 2016: European Commission reviews the Directive.

EU official documents


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