Orla Nic Suibhne



The Energy Transition in Erris Co Mayo. Public, private and community sector initiatives.


The twenty-first century is expected to bring many challenges for energy systems across the globe. The energy transition and the long term structural change involved in moving to a low carbon economy are imminent, and this changing energy environment is having a profound impact on the way in which energy is viewed. The traditionally high degree of perceived separation between the typical consumer and energy generation is diminishing and the overall effect is the potential for a higher level of local energy autonomy, i.e., the ability of a community to function and even prosper with less need for imported and centrally-generated energy. This approach to energy is playing an important role in sustainable development at both the community and the regional level. It has implications for the local and wider economy and technical energy system.

A Sustainable Energy Community (SEC) is a community in which everyone works together to develop a sustainable energy system for the benefit of the community. This is achieved by: aiming, as far as possible, to be energy efficient; using renewable energy where feasible; and developing decentralised energy supplies. The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) is driving this initiative, and will sign three year partnership agreements to support communities develop SECs. This partnership approach allows each SEC to provide local knowledge, time and people; whilst SEAI will assist with supports like skills development, funding and access to a technical support panel. There are almost 40 communities signed up to the SEC programme nationally since the launch in early 2016, and rollout is ongoing. All eight of the Regional Authority regions are involved, and the SECs are a variety of structures and sizes.

The benefits derived from the SEC networks are:

  • Social: 65% of SEC’s involved new partnerships across public, private and community sectors; these multi-stakeholder mechanisms are key to project delivery. Projects can address energy poverty and improve social wellbeing and cohesion.
  • Economic: SEC initiatives produce financial savings due to reduced energy use and generate local employment. Innovative financing models can deliver sustainable, self-financing projects.
  • Energy: SEC initiatives produce real energy savings with 100’s of GWh of savings contributing to energy policy at different scales.

There are five steps to the SEC Model once the community group is established and after interest in joining the SEC network has been expressed. They are:

  1. Commit. The first stage of the proposed model is to develop a community charter and sign a three year agreement with SEAI. SEAI have supports in place to develop a Master Energy Plan
  2. Identify. The second stage is to commence the Master Energy Plan with SEAI, and explore the options within the project
  3. Plan. This stage involves putting together a programme of activities based on the Master Energy Plan. An assessment of the core competencies that will assist the transition will be carried out. The resources and skills that have been identified following consultation with 24 community energy champions are: strong partnerships/local energy champions, integrated planning, strategic financing, energy efficiency, renewable energy, smart energy and sustainable transport.
  4. Take action. This stage allows for deeper community engagement, and the implementation of “quick energy wins”. Communities also report on the on the energy saving measures adopted so far and assess these measures. There is a link in this stage of the SEC model to the existing SEAI “Better Energy Community” (BEC) Programme that has operated since 2012. In 2016, the BEC will provide €20m in direct funding to a total investment in energy efficiency is almost €48 million, supporting more than 700 direct and indirect jobs right across the country. This year’s funding will provide for energy efficiency upgrades to more than 2,600 homes and almost 300 community and commercial facilities.
  5. The final stage is to assess the impacts and share the learnings throughout the network.

The community of Erris in Co Mayo has engaged in energy saving measures since 2014 including the following: installation of energy efficient upgrades for buildings in the area (including all types of insulation, fabric upgrades, heating upgrades); adoption of Renewable Energy technologies (Photo voltaic cell arrays to produce electricity, solar hot water panels, heat pumps, electric vehicles, wind turbines); Distributive Generation (Microgrid demo site to include PV/wind); and Smart Grid technologies (smart meters, intelligent building controls). This bottom up approach is working with real energy savings outlined below.

Year Cost for energy retrofitting Structure of Funding


(BEC= SEAI’s Better Energy Community Programme)

KWhs Saved Electrical Savings per year (15c/kWh) Thermal Savings per year (5c/kWh)
2014 €340,163 50% SEAI BEC

40% Community Gain Fund

10% Community Groups

194,143 €29,121.45


2015 €385,729 50% SEAI BEC

40% Community Gain Fund

10% Community Groups

323,624 €48,543.60 n/a
2016 €402,777 80% SEAI BEC

20% Home Owners

373,470 n/a €18,673.50


About Dr Orla Nic Suibhne:

Government of Ireland Postdoctoral Fellow.

At the start of 2016, Orla was awarded a two year Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Irish Research Council. University College Dublin are the academic hosts for the research project, and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland is the Enterprise partner. Orla completed her PhD at the National University of Ireland in Galway which was again funded by the Irish Research Council. Her research investigated the implementation of Energy Management Information Systems using an adapted Adaptive Structuration Theory model. The research was driven by technological advances, increased environmental awareness, rising energy costs, legislation, and end-user perceptiveness; and the model encompassed smart metering, automated load controls, demand side management, building energy management systems, and on site generation (combined heat and power). From Feb 2014 – Dec 2015, she was employed by Údarás na Gaeltachta to coordinate an INTERREG IVB funded project entitled GREAT (Growing Renewable Energy Applications and Technologies). GREAT aimed to accelerate the deployment of Smart Grids in North West Europe. There were 10 European partners and a budget of €2.8m.

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