€37.5bn bill to make homes energy efficient

Prof Brendan Halligan, chairman of the Institute of International and European Affairs and of the Sustainable Energy Authority Ireland, said the country needed to retrofit 150,000 houses a year for the next 10 years to meet its sustainable energy targets.

Ireland’s housing stock is in such an “appalling” condition that it would cost between €27bn-€37.5bn to properly retrofit the homes to an “acceptable” level of energy efficiency, an expert has warned.

Prof Brendan Halligan, chairman of the Institute of International and European Affairs and of the Sustainable Energy Authority Ireland, said the country needed to retrofit 150,000 houses a year for the next 10 years to meet its sustainable energy targets.

Speaking at the Energy Action conference on fuel poverty (the inability to afford to heat one’s home), he said he did not see the need for any further analysis of the problem as the causes of fuel poverty were known, as were the solutions.

“The first thing to do is come at this with a high degree of impatience, with a certain amount of anger, and with a willingness to offend people,” he said.

“If we go on being polite with each other about this in the public sector, we are not really going to get anywhere.”

He described the state of buildings and housing stock in particular as “appalling”: “But the public sector allowed that to happen... Bureaucrats at local level, at national level, and national politicians and parliamentarians allowed these low standards to continue. And the building industry was as culpable as anybody else.”

Every attempt to raise standards was fought “inch by inch”, he said.

The SEAI is responsible for the building energy rating (BER) system and Prof Halligan said: “We are at the stage now where we have sufficient BER that we can begin to draw conclusions for the whole population of housing stock. We probably have 12% evaluated and it is utterly and absolutely appalling.”

He said a “deep retrofit” programme to eliminate fuel poverty and achieve an acceptable energy efficiency for dwellings would probably cost “about €25,000 per average household”.

However, he said it was perfectly clear that nobody knew how to carry out a national retrofit programme.

“I don’t mean the mechanics of doing an individual house. But how to carry out retrofits on a large scale through a community-based approach using industrial techniques.

“To move it from a cottage industry where you do one-off houses to being able to retrofit hundreds in the same area. We have to jump from the 19th to the 21st century in terms of manufacturing.”

Another speaker at the conference, well-known architect Duncan Stewart warned that fuel poverty across the country’s population was only going to get worse.

“Fuel poverty is going to grow much bigger,” he said. “By 2020 we will probably be at 50% of the population in fuel poverty. We’ve 25% now... We’ve a massive issue in Ireland in that we import 90% of our energy and 99% of the energy in our homes is fossil fuel. It is only 1% renewable and the energy efficiency performance of our buildings is very poor.”

He called for a carbon tax target of €150 per tonne in 10 years time.

“Every year we could go 10% towards that figure and if all that money was ring fenced, first to make sure that the poor who are now suffering from high energy prices are protected, and then to ensure that the rest of the money would be reinvested, could we not in Ireland face up to this massive challenge?”

He also said the Government was spending money on the wrong type of infrastructure.

“I will give you just one example. The Department of Transport announced recently a €550m investment in a motorway from Gort to Tuam. It is going to generate 200 jobs a year for three years.

“The same amount of money put into retrofitting homes would generate 15 times the number of jobs that will go into the motorway.”


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