Irish Examiner view: Energy savings — let the sunshine in

Solar potential
Irish Examiner view: Energy savings — let the sunshine in

'Do we have the industrial capacity to produce the number of solar panels that would be needed and, if not, how will that be overcome?'

At first glance, the case for converting hundreds of thousands of Irish homes and covering them with solar panels seems so overwhelming as to be a ‘no-brainer’. 

Electricity bills being reduced by €450 per year? The potential to supply 25% of Ireland’s household electricity needs? Meeting at least 8% of the country’s renewable energy targets, and possibly more? Eliminating 135,000 tonnes of carbon emissions without the need to give a cow a stern look? 

What’s not to like?

The figures, produced by the outstanding MaREI research foundation for energy, climate, and marine at University College Cork, show that, on face value, and given technological advance, there is a good argument to invest in solar for those who can afford it. 

Senior research fellow Paul Deane said: “We don’t associate Ireland as a sunny country, but there is sufficient sunlight shining on our Irish roofs to make a meaningful impact on electricity bills.” 

The MaREI team examined every rooftop in Ireland and found that more than one million homes have roof space and orientation suitable for 10 solar panels — equivalent to 3.4kW. Their findings coincided with the launch of the Government’s new “microgeneration support scheme”. 

Problems

Some calculations show that an initial investment, supported by a grant from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, can deliver a payback within seven years, which could be assisted, also, by allowing any unused energy to be redistributed nationally.

And therein lies at least one of the problems. Those people who might benefit most through taking control of their costs, those people who are falling into fuel poverty, are the least well-placed to kick-start the revolution. Their concerns are more likely to be focussed on putting food on the table in the next month than calculating RoI for 2029.

Incentivisation will require a higher level of thought if change is to accelerate to the point where it becomes meaningful. So far, only 24,000 homes have transitioned to solar.

Like the militant Insulate Britain campaign, and like the relatively slow growth of electric and hybrid cars in Ireland, everyone can see the benefits. What is more difficult to discern is precisely how they are to be achieved. 

And there are two other problems: Do we have the industrial capacity to produce the number of solar panels that would be needed and, if not, how will that be overcome?; And, even if that can be navigated, do we have an available workforce to carry out the installation at pace? 

It is one thing to have the lightbulb moment, quite another to ensure that change is implemented speedily, efficiently, and cost-effectively. But that level of planning is what governments and regulatory authorities do. So, you have our attention. What’s next?

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