Resources are only available to fund retrofitting work on one-third of the 75,000 homes and buildings required to be upgraded each year between now and 2020 to meet our EU energy targets.
Energy use across all sectors is inefficient, according to the latest Environmental Protection Agency State of the Environment report, leading to high energy costs, cold and uncomfortable housing and an increase in CO2 emissions.
According to the report, 50 per cent of Ireland’s housing stock had a Building Energy Rating (BER) of D or lower in 2014. BER is measured on energy performance and CO2 emissions, ranging from A – the most energy-efficient – down to G.
Data from the European Environment Agency also shows that daily household energy use in Ireland is the second-highest in Europe at just under 50kWh daily.
This leaves us facing a “major and immediate challenge” to reach our 2020 target of a 20 per cent improvement in energy efficiency, the report states.
The Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Governmentgave €85 million to local authorities from 2013 to 2015 to retrofit over 46,000 local authority homes.
However, according to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), 75,000 buildings from our housing, commercial, and public sector need to be upgraded each year between now and 2020.
Increased funding is required to reach this goal, according to Philip O’Brien, research specialist at the EPA. “The resources available will probably only cover maybe 25,000 of that,” he said. “We don’t see those financial instruments in place as yet. That’s a challenge.”
With the residential sector making up one-quarter of our total energy requirements, the report also calls for replacing fossil fuels with renewable sources to power and heat our homes and drive Ireland toward decarbonisation by 2050.
The report adds that this will be difficult as we are still “highly locked into carbon-intensive systems”, with about 90 per cent of energy-use reliant on fossil fuels such as imported oil and natural gas.
The report says this is both expensive – imports cost €5.7 billion in 2014 – and environmentally unsustainable.
EPA programme manager, Dr Jonathan Derham, envisions little change if we continue to subsidise fossil fuels to the tune of €386 million annually. “We have to identity the incentives, the taxes that are in place, which are counter to the environmental policies that we want to pursue,” he said.
The EPA is working on a project with the Economic and Social Research Institute to measure the environmental impact of subsidies for the likes of peat extraction and agricultural diesel.
However, with the winter fuel allowance accounting for a large chuck of subsidies, Dr Derham said that it will take some time before we figure out the balance between our social, economic and environmental needs.
One thing is for sure, however, according to EPA director general Laura Burke: “The fossil age is over.”
A version of this article appeared in The Irish Times in November 2016