The Covid-19 pandemic has created a pivotal moment for Government to adopt sustainable practices for working from home, which means an urgent need for new low-cost home heating solutions, including mass retrofitting of existing stock.
Those are some of the conclusions from scientists at the International Energy Research Centre (IERC) at the Cork-based Tyndall National Institute, who compared Irish homes with four other European countries to gauge housing stocks and heating analysis.
The EuroHeat Report, a joint project with Ervia and Gas Networks Ireland, has "significant and urgent policy recommendations that are now even more timely as Ireland begins phased recovery from Covid-19".
Report author and senior energy market analyst at the IERC, Piyush Verma, said: "With both employers and employees realising the benefits of remote working over the past few months, work from home looks set to become a common practice in Ireland.
"This change creates a pivotal moment for Government to adopt the significant policies needed for us to make our new work from home lifestyles sustainable.”
The EuroHeat report examined Ireland against Belgium, France, the Netherlands and the UK because of similar climates and social practices.
Mr Verma said heating already accounts for 60% of domestic energy consumption in Ireland, the highest among the five countries compared.
This percentage is set to significantly increase as more of the Irish workforce works from home instead of commuting to an office, he added.
“Nobody wants to see a huge increase in home heating bills because we’re spending an extra 40 hours a week in our houses.
"Ireland already has a significantly higher proportion of people struggling to keep their homes warm compared to the Netherlands, France and Belgium, so we need to urgently look to low cost, sustainable energy solutions.”
Sustainability researcher and advisor at the IERC, Rosemarie Mac Sweeney, said as recommended in the Joint Oireachtas Report on Climate Action and by the EU Strategy on Heating and Cooling, city or municipal level targets and strategies for domestic heating should be developed.
According to the EuroHeat report, providing significant support for energy efficient retrofitting of existing housing stock is a key priority for neighbouring EU countries who share a similar temperate climate to Ireland.
The report also endorses a vastly expanded role for local authorities to deliver national heating energy targets along with an intensive marketing, promotion and information campaigns for new technologies.
According to the report, the UK has developed a community heat network toolkit to support community-led heat network projects, backed by significant Government investment.
It said that in France, local authorities have been made responsible for the public distribution of heating and cooling.
In the Netherlands, the report said, the Environmental Assessment Agency expects that 20-30% of homes should be connected to this kind of local district heating by 2050.
In Belgium, the government is considering the possibility of a ban on the installation of cooking, heating and domestic hot water appliances that use natural gas or butane/propane from 2030, the report added.