Saving Ireland Billions via Deep Building Retrofits.

The EU has rightly stated that the energy that buildings consume represents the greatest potential for saving energy.

In its Energy Efficiency Directive (EED) it has set two targets for energy reduction in buildings – 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050. Probably even more important from a climate change point of view is this will reduce Ireland’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 11 Million Tonnes (11MtCO2).

These are substantial reductions and while nobody would argue with the intent behind this initiative, the ‘elephant in the room’ of course is how are we going to pay for this? Well over €30 Billion of funding is available from Ireland’s current response to a previous EU ‘challenge’ the so called ‘NREAP’ or National Renewable Energy Action Plan from 2009. The NREAP has spawned a series of very costly and divisive projects including Grid25, Wind farms, Interconnectors, Sub Stations and Fast Response Gas Power Stations.

Some of you may know that NREAP seeks to provide 40% of Ireland’s electricity via wind energy but how many know the cost of this both financially and also the unintended consequences of loss of visual amenity and social divisiveness in areas where these pylons and wind turbines will be located? To date most commentators have said that while these projects do have negative effects they ask ‘what is the alternative?’

Well the alternative is we can divert investment from the remainder of the NREAP projects into the new EED 2030 and 2050 targets and achieve all three project objectives including NREAP in one step.

Put very simply and in very round numbers the following is the choice on offer:

Option 1 – Continue with NREAP

  • To provide for 40% of electricity demand from wind energy a spend in the order of €30 Billion+ is planned.
  • This will provide an additional 1500MW+ of wind on the grid – however it will also nearly double the cost of electricity and will not save a single kWh of electrical demand – just increase the supply.
  •  Furthermore it will only save 2.5 MtCO2  not counting spinning reserve and 1 MtCO2 allowing for spinning reserve… and this saving will only be possible if electrical demand does not grow above the 25 Terra Watt hours (25 TWh) Ireland currently consumes. If demand does grow even these paltry CO2 savings will be wiped out and in fact emissions will start to rise after we pass 26.5 TWh.

Option 2 – Cancel remaining NREAP projects and Divert these Funds into EED

  • Buildings account for 40% of energy usage nationally, both electrical and non-electrical.
  • Investing the same €30 Billion+ in retrofitting buildings will save 75% or more reducing the energy demand of buildings from 40% to 10% of the current national demand. This will free up 30% of the energy consumed. This equates with 1500MW of peak electrical power and €2 Billion per annum off our annual Energy Imports bill which currently costs €6.5 Billion.
  • Reducing electrical demand by 1500MW has the same benefit as adding 1500MW of electrical Wind Power – but allowing for spinning reserve has 11 times the CO2 savings – but – not one more wind turbine or pylon needs to be built to achieve this benefit – in fact the only requirement is to live in a much more comfortable home!
  • Next instead of increasing electricity prices it will lower energy bills including electricity by 75%. The net result is for every €100 spent on energy today for buildings this will drop to €25.
  • Finally as the demand for electrical energy drops the existing wind will automatically ‘grow’ to match the original NREAP objective of 40% – which basically is the maximum possible as 42% is technical limit for ‘wind penetration’ on the existing grid.

So which would you choose?

  • Option 1 – Spend €30 Billion+ increasing electrical supply by 1500MW+ and doubling electricity costs …and only saving 1 MtCO2 (as long as demand remains at the current 25TWh level!)


  • Option 2 – Redirect that €30 Billion+ into retrofitting and reduce energy demand for buildings by 75% saving €2 Billion per annum of energy imports and reducing electrical demand by 1500MW and last but not least saving 11 MtCO2.

Some might argue we can do both but this is folly. There isn’t an unlimited pool of capital available, we need to compete for funds and of course we have to pay them back. If we spend the €30 Billion+ increasing electrical supply and doubling electricity costs and then another €30 Billion+ retrofitting the building stock any future cost benefit of retrofitting the building stock will be wiped out. In effect we will have spent €60 Billion only to bring electricity bills back to the level that they are at today. If we just ‘leap frog’ straight to option 2 we will get a return on our money from day one, reduce our energy consumption and achieve our NREAP commitments. We also create jobs, improve our market competitiveness, improve our energy security, avoid blighting the landscape, save 11 times the CO2 emissions wind saves and avoid burdening ourselves with a debt of €60 Billion.

One hesitates to use the phrase ‘no brainer’ but isn’t option 2 the best choice by some distance?

By David Hughes B. Arch. MRIAI RIBA