Fossil fuel boilers in new builds driving up future retrofit numbers

Published by Niall Sargent on

May 15th, 2019

The number of houses requiring energy efficiency retrofits is increasing as the State still allows fossil fuel boilers to be installed in new build homes, the Oireachtas Committee on Planning has heard.

Speaking before a Committee hearing this morning, Paul Kenny of the Tipperary Energy Agency (TEA) said that we need to hit 45,000 homes a year between now and 2050 to achieve both our national and global policy objectives.

The Government target to retrofit 45,000 houses annually is likely to be increased to 75,000 homes based on a recommendation from the Committee on Climate Action in its recent climate report.

In 2018, somewhere between 500 and 1,000 homes were renovated to the Near Zero Energy Build (NZEB) standards to reduce housing carbon emissions, Mr Kenny said, with between 40 and 45 per cent of new build homes also achieving this standard.

Houses built following the NZEB standards require nearly zero or very low amount of energy that can often be covered by renewables such as rooftop solar thermal panels.

The NZEB policy is part of an EU Directive that requires all new buildings to be almost zero energy by the end of 2020.

It is estimated that almost 90 per cent of our housing stock was built before energy efficiency requirements were introduced.

To achieve the “rapid increase” required to hit our targets, Mr Kenny called on the State to urgently phase-out fossil fuel boilers in all new builds as a priority, and then commence phasing out appliances in our older housing stock.

“We are currently installing fossil fuel systems in homes so developers can save a few hundred Euros or less and the state will need to incentivise these homeowners to remove them,” he said.  

“We are currently going backwards in the number of homes we need to retrofit, as we are locking in more fossil fuels in new build homes as we are removing [them] in renovated homes.”

Mr Kenny added that the State also needs to put a “heavily subsidised deep retrofit” fund in place for “fuel poor, solid fuel heated homes”, particularly in peat burning areas.

This would have an added benefit of reduced health care costs due to lower respiratory illnesses and a stimulus of creating thousands of jobs, he added.

The state should also get more directly  involved in development of the retrofit market, Mr Kenny said, citing the example of Upper Austria – a region the size of Munster – that has achieved a 45 per cent cut in carbon emissions from its building in a decade.

The key, he said, was a system of grants and carbon taxes in combination with a “significant market development presence” and mandatory energy training requirements for relevant professions and trades.

“In Ireland, there is no heat pump installation standard, no required training course, and little enforcement outside of grant programs,” he added.

In order to tackle the affordability of deep energy renovations, Mr Kenny said that we need a “blended low-cost loan program” that offers householders cheap long-term finance and grants.

“In addition to the finance, a carbon tax to encourage investment balanced with a subsidy is the only affordable way the state will achieve a widespread shift to efficient renewably heated homes,” he added.

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Niall Sargent

Niall is the Editor of The Green News. He is a multimedia journalist, with an MA in Investigative Journalism from City University, London