Cork couple behind breakthrough for energy solutions in energy renovation projects

A Cork-based startup is aiming to tackle the dual problems of carbon emissions and fuel poverty with its software solution for housing providers.

Cork couple behind breakthrough for energy solutions in energy renovation projects

A Cork-based startup is aiming to tackle the dual problems of carbon emissions and fuel poverty with its software solution for housing providers.

Husband and wife team Xavier Dubuisson and Susan O’Flaherty have developed a strategic toolkit for local authorities and housing associations to plan their energy renovation projects.

Mr Dubuisson, who has 25 years’ experience in sustainable energy, set up XD Consulting in 2011. The RetroKit concept was created in 2017. The cloud-based platform uses building energy rating (BER) data, geographical information system functionality to provide spatial analysis of energy renovation scenarios, and data analytics to generate an overview of the current energy performance of the housing stock.

The RetroKit team based in Clonakilty includes co-founder Ms O’Flaherty who has a background in project management and has recently completed the Exxcel programme at Cork Institute of Technology’s Rubicon Centre.

Mr Dubuisson recently attended Energy Action’s Fuel Poverty Conference in Dublin which looked at the Government’s Climate Action Plan to upgrade 500,000 existing homes to a BER of B2 or higher by 2030.

Citing “staggering” figures released at the conference, Mr Dubuisson says that almost one in four households are suffering from fuel poverty, defined as spending more than 10% of disposable income on home heating.

The consulting engineer grew up in Belgium where his family were involved in social enterprise, and he feels strongly about fuel poverty, which has a “significant impact at a household level in terms of health and wellbeing. Improving the situation can bring multiple benefits. For example, reducing respiratory problems that might be linked to mould. Let’s say, kids being unable to study in a quiet space because their bedrooms are too cold and older people becoming isolated because they don’t invite people in their house or they heat only one room.”

He says massive investment will be needed to meet carbon targets, and as a result, energy is going to become more expensive. “The most vulnerable people will feel the most impact, and that needs to be mitigated by improving their housing conditions and reducing their energy bills.”

Rather than focusing on harnessing renewable energy to meet demand, he says increasing energy efficiency is one of the most cost-effective ways of reducing carbon emissions.

To date, most of the retrofits have been at a relatively shallow level such as putting insulation in the attic or pumping walls, he says. RetroKit takes the current BER data and models it in such a way that it reflects different scenarios of energy renovation aiming to answer the big questions: “How do we do that? How much is it going to cost? Where do we start? What’s the right strategy to achieve those targets?” The platform provides models of a range of energy renovation scenarios to fit various budgets and targets for carbon emissions, fuel poverty and housing standards which can be delivered as a customised report to present to decision makers.

The report will assist providers in defining future goals by setting key performance indicators to measure progress. Having a clear budget and five-year action plan will put the provider in a better position to apply for funding and achieve faster progress on projects.

Mr Dubuisson says that the team’s ambition is to make RetroKit the platform that “providers use to realise their projects and benefit from the digital solutions that will drive efficiencies, reduce costs and accelerate the project so that they can be in a better position to meet those targets.”

RetroKit is starting with residential housing as Mr Dubuisson says it is probably the most pressing issue, contributing to a quarter of carbon emissions.

He envisions the platform as a toolkit to see housing projects through to completion and beyond with potential maintenance and energy monitoring functionality added in the future.

Having completed the first phase of testing with Cork City Council, RetroKit is about to launch its beta testing version in the coming weeks.

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