Analysis: here are some challenges the Government face in making small scale electricity generation a reality for Irish households

By Wendy Rowan and Stephen McCarthy, UCC

In the Climate Action Plan, the Government describes how households and communities can play a role 'in shaping electricity demand and decarbonising homes and businesses' by producing their own electricity. On paper, helping people to produce their own electricity seems relatively straightforward. New incentives are introduced to make it easier for rooftop solar panels to be installed on houses or changes are made to planning legislation to allow for small wind turbines to be constructed in gardens.

But a number of other hurdles will also need to be cleared if households, communities and businesses are going to meet the ambitious targets laid out in the Plan. Our research into similar projects across Europe has identfied some of the challenges ahead

(1) Cost

It goes without saying that the technology that allows households to produce their own power needs to be affordable. Given that retrofitting remains beyond the reach of many people, something that both we and our colleagues in the Centre for Co-operative Studies at UCC have highlighted, it is imperative that the government places accessibility at the heart of any scheme that promotes small scale electricity production. The intention to ‘blend low-cost loans with SEAI grants to make retrofitting affordable’ is listed among the objectives in the Climate Action Plan.

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From RTÉ Radio 1's Brendan O'Connor Show, Patrick Bradley from For Gut Sake Milk in Leitrim on solar panels

Striking the right balance between loans and grants will be key to capitalising on the appetite of households and communities to produce their own, something that Eirgrid recognised during the consultation phase of its most recent strategy. Fortunately, as roof top solar panels have been specifically called out by Eirgrid, the Government have an opportunity to build a targeted plan that focuses on a specific source of energy.

(2) Tenants and apartments

Any such programme needs to take tenants into consideration, as well as those living in large apartment complexes. Unfortunately, the State’s current retrofitting scheme sits at the uncomfortable interface between the climate and housing crises, with tenants, in particular, unable to access many grants. There is no easy fix here, with any solution requiring a multi stakeholder approach that looks beyond providing schemes for solar panels so that tenants, landlords and planners can all be satisfied.

Mapping out a solution will be a tough ask given the environment in which we find ourselves. But if we are really interested in pursuing a just transition, tenants need to be able to access schemes that have been specifically designed for them.

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From RTÉ Radio 1's Today With Claire Byrne, Electric Ireland Superhomes experts Stephen O'Connor and Mike O’Rourke answer listeners' questions on retrofitting

In the case of apartment blocks, management companies need to deploy systems that allow for the fair distribution of the energy or income generated from rooftop solar panels. Again, this will require dialog between management companies and occupiers, who will need to agree on any number of issues that require consensus.

(3) Communications

The Government’s messaging around small scale electricity generation needs to be very clear and should focus on the financial benefits for households. Our research has found that there is a low level of awareness around household renewable energy solutions and technologies for energy self-generation right across Europe.

People want to know how much money they will save through microgeneration and how the incentives will serve them first and the planet second. For us, this finding was driven home on RTÉ Radio One's Morning Ireland during COP26, when a member of the public told Cian McCormack that she'd love to retrofit her home, but that she wouldn’t do it for the planet, she’d do it for herself.

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From RTÉ Radio 1's Morning Ireland, Cian O'Connor looks at the challenges of retrofitting 500,000 Irish homes by 2030

(4) Selling excess electricity

There will need to be clarity around how much energy households can produce and transparency on what happens to any excess that might be generated. Micro electricity generation creates new business models, whereby households and communities switch from being energy consumers who receive and pay for electricity from a utility company to become energy producers who could potentially sell renewable power to the national grid.

This means that people and communities will be more actively involved in the management of energy consumption and even in the governance of the grid. This change could transform the structure of the energy market and the way utilities act in future, with Eirgrid's most recent strategy acting as a signpost for the level of public engagement required.

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From RTÉ One's Nine News, Eirgrid discusses the goal for Ireland to run on 70% renewable electricity by 2030

(5) Storing excess electricity

We also need to consider how communities might be given the opportunity to store surplus power so that they can access it during times of peak consumption. In much the same way as Ireland, Lithuania is planning to reduce its dependence on the importation of energy, with the Baltic state aiming to source 45% of electricity from renewables by 2030. Storing electricity during peak times of production so that it can be distributed during lulls is central to that ambition.

To that end, earlier this year, the Lithuanian Government opened its first large scale battery park, with four larger sites set to become operational in 2022. An example of best practice in the field of microgeneration, Lithuania saw over 4,000 individuals make applications to install solar panels during the beginning of 2021.

If the excess power generated from these sources is stored at strategically located battery parks, then Lithuania will have paved a path for us to follow.

Dr Wendy Rowan is a Post-Doctoral Researcher in Business Information Systems at Cork University Business School at UCC. Dr Stephen McCarthy is a Lecturer in Information Systems and Co-director of the MSc Business Information and Analytics Systems course at the Cork University Business School at UCC. Both are senior researchers on a Horizon2020 funded project ECO2 which developed ACT4ECO, a free education platform that empowers consumers to sensibly consume energy in the home.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ