Dr Orla Nic Suibhne

Udaras na Gaeltachta


Dr Orla Nic Suibhne, Postdoctoral Researcher, UCD

Topic: Energy efficiency potential through SEAI’s Better Energy Community Programme.

Submission: A paradigm shift is underway to retire the current carbon-based energy system, and this energy transition to a low carbon world will be the most difficult challenge that this generation will face. Ireland’s 2020 renewable energy target is to increase the share of final energy consumption made up of renewable energy sources (RES) to 16%. This target is broken into three key sectors with individual targets for each sector: 40% of electricity supply (RES-E), 12% of heating (RES-H), and 10% of transport (RES-T). Through the National Energy Efficiency Action Plan (NEEAP), Ireland has a national target of 20% energy savings in 2020 (relative to the 2001-05 average), complemented by an additional target of energy reduction in the public sector by 33% by 2020. The third National Energy Efficiency Action Plan in 2014 identifies measures that could reduce annual emissions of around 7.3Mt and save approximately 31,955GWh of energy by 2020. In a recent report from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland[1] (SEAI) [1], it is evident that Ireland is not on target for 2020 (see table below), and that a focused effort will be required to meet these targets.


Measurement 2020 Target Where Ireland is at end 2016
Renewables in Final Energy Use 16% 9.1%
RES-E 40% 25.3%
RES-H 12% 6.5%
RES-T 10% 5.7%
Energy Efficiency (Overall) 20% reduction in demand 10% Not legally binding
Energy Efficiency (Public Sector) 33% reduction in demand 21% by 2015 [2]

Table 1: Ireland’s 2020 targets and current levels


SEAI’s Better Energy Community (BEC) Programme was initiated in 2012 as a pilot project with a budget of €3m; since then it has grown to a budget of €30m in 2017 supporting over €100m of energy efficiency projects throughout Ireland. The BEC programme objective is to support project structures that can be easily replicated, and hope to showcase retrofit project models that can be implemented without SEAI support in the future. The International Energy Agency (IEA) recommends that governments treat energy efficiency as the “first fuel” in their energy mix [3]. Energy efficiency is the first option within the BEC model so it is following best practice with the IEA. The most cost effective energy is the energy that is not used. IEA analysis demonstrates that EE has the potential to support economic growth, enhance social development, advance environmental sustainability, ensure energy system security and help to build wealth [4].

Figure 1: BEC Overview 2012-2016.

Figure 1: BEC Overview 2012-2016.

Since 2014, Údarás na Gaeltachta has engaged with the BEC process. Throughout this period, almost €3m has been invested in energy efficiency and renewable energy upgrades throughout the Gaeltacht resulting in over €500,000 worth of energy savings. The upgrades involve the community (50% grant aid), public (30-50% grant aid) and private sectors (30% grant aid); with projects including all types of insulation installation, LED lighting upgrades, public lighting upgrades, doors and window replacement, industrial motor upgrades, PV installation, wind turbines installation, heat pumps, and boiler upgrades. Each year a percentage of the buildings are chosen for 12-month monitoring and verification (M&V) process to verify the actual savings. The table below shows examples of some of the 2016 projects and associated predicted and actual energy savings.

Figure 2: Actual energy savings verified as part of the M&V process for the 2016 Údarás na Gaeltachta BEC.

Údarás na Gaeltachta will continue to engage with SEAI’s BEC programme to support the client companies and the thriving Gaeltacht Communities in the West of Ireland.

Why are we not on target for 2020? The inevitable move from centralised, economically attractive, carbon based energy production to decentralised, low carbon, locally focussed energy systems needs to progress at a much faster rate. It is evident from the literature that a complex mix of policy instruments is required to force, incentivise and empower people to achieve sustainability [5] [6] [7]. The Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS) public consultation that was announced recently (September 4th 2017) could be one of these policy instruments that will enable increased renewable electricity production; both at a commercial and a community scale. New roles are emerging for local communities, transitioning them from passive consumers to active prosumers with local generation, demand response and energy efficiency measures possible now at local levels.


Future Research? Moving forward, research will need to be focussed in the following areas to ensure both a just energy transition, and also a timely energy transition:

  • Role of communities in the transition. SEAI’s Sustainable Energy Community (SEC) Programme and the BEC Programme playing a vital role for communities and needs further rollout and financial commitment from Government.
  • Ensure industry in Ireland is fully aware of the potential energy efficiency measures that are possible alongside the resultant energy savings and cost reductions. The most cost effective energy is the energy that is not used…
  • Barriers to renewable energy deployment, especially wind which has such an important role to play in Ireland’s low carbon transition, need to be addressed. Barriers such as community acceptance, community engagement, community ownership, lack of local resources, lack of local expertise, availability of a neutral energy intermediary, local benefit frameworks and their governance, and the ability to navigate the political environment.
  • Microgeneration such as 1-2kW of roof mounted PV on every suitable house in Ireland playing a larger role in the future energy mix. Excess going to EV charging, or hot water buffer tanks or receiving a grid payment if RESS consultation is successful!
  • Rollout of smart meters is essential



[1]      Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, Ireland’s Energy Targets. Progress, Ambition & Impacts, 2016.

[2]      Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, Annual Report 2015 on Public Sector Energy Efficiency Performance, (2015).

[3]      Department of Communications Climate Action & Environment, National Mitigation Plan, 2017.

[4]      International Energy Agency, Capturing the Multiple Benefits of Energy Efficiency: Executive Summary, Capturing Mult. Benefits Energy Effic. (2014) 1–232.

[5]      S. Moloney, R.E. Horne, J. Fien, Transitioning to low carbon communities — from behaviour change to systemic change : Lessons from Australia, Energy Policy. 38 (2010) 7614–7623.

[6]      T. Bauwens, B. Gotchev, L. Holstenkamp, What drives the development of community energy in Europe? The case of wind power cooperatives, Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 13 (2016) 136–147.

[7]      C. Rae, F. Bradley, Energy autonomy in sustainable communities – A review of key issues, Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. 16 (2012) 6497–6506.



BIO:  In 2016, Orla was awarded a Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Irish Research Council. UCD are the academic hosts for the research project, and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) is the Enterprise partner. The focus is the Sustainable Energy Community Programme that SEAI are currently championing. Orla completed her PhD at the National University of Ireland in Galway and this was also funded by the Irish Research Council. Her research investigated the implementation of Energy Management Information Systems into large organisations.  Orla also coordinated a €3m smart grid project for Údarás na Gaeltachta entitled GREAT (Growing Renewable Energy Applications and Technologies). She is also a H2020 expert evaluator.



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