A small group of people on west Kerry's Dingle peninsula are helping to shape the electricity network of the future for the whole country.

They are part of a €5m ESB Networks project to measure the impact a low-carbon lifestyle will have on the electricity system.

For the past three years, the company has been monitoring how the electricity demands of 35 families have altered as they made changes to the way they live, work and travel.

Two of those involved in the project will travel from Dingle to Glasgow by electric vehicle next week for COP26.

They will give the UN climate change conference an insight into the steps they have taken to reduce the carbon footprints of themselves and their families.

Deirdre de Bhailís was given an EV for a year

Deirdre de Bhailís is an engineer. She runs Dingle Creativity and Innovation Hub - sustainable rural development is her thing. Deirdre lives in Ceann Trá (Ventry) with her husband, Gary, and their three children.

As part of the ESB Networks project, Deirdre was given an EV for a year. A charging point was installed at her home. The costs - estimated at around €15,000 - were covered by ESB Networks. Deirdre's use of the car was monitored and her charging pattern was logged.

The information will help ESB Networks to assess how, for instance, overnight charging of increasing numbers of EVs will impact on the electricity network in the future.

In Deirdre's case, she swapped a petrol-driven people carrier for the EV. She says the people carrier was costing her €50 per week to fill with petrol, while the cost of charging her EV over the course of a week is less than €10.

Deirdre says she intends to use the money she saved over the course of the year to buy her own EV, once the ESB Networks project comes to an end in December.

"It's a dramatic reduction in costs," said Deirdre.

To prove the viability of EVs to others, Deirdre will set off from Dingle next Monday to drive to the United Nations climate change conference, COP26, in Glasgow, via Belfast.

"One of the reasons is that we want to really put the EV to the test," Deirdre said. "One of the things we would be told here on the (Dingle) peninsula is that it's quite difficult, we are so remote - how can we make electric vehicles work for us. So I'm on a mission to prove that we can do it and we can take it on an extended journey and make it work for us."

Deirdre also has an important message which she will deliver at the COP26 conference.

"The big message that I'd like to bring to COP is that rural communities like ourselves are very reliant on agriculture and on transport and we need solutions to address these," she said. "We're working to develop those solutions here and we're ready, but we need the supports to deliver on those."

Carol Uí Laoithe with her daughter Holly

A little further west on the Dingle peninsula, Carol Uí Laoithe is a primary school teacher from Baile an Fheirtéaraigh (Ballyferriter). Her house, which was built in the early 1990s, is home to herself and her husband, Seán, and their six daughters.

As part of the project, the house underwent a total retrofit, which was funded by ESB Networks to the tune of about €100,000, around half of which was refunded in grants. Their home was transformed. Just as importantly, Carol said her attitude to energy efficiency, energy conservation and climate change have also been changed significantly.

Carol Uí Laoithe's house undergoing renovation

"Well I definitely changed, and I'm a lot better than I was," Carol said of her experience of the Dingle Project. "I am more aware of my carbon footprint, and I'd like to think that the children will follow suit."

As part of the retrofit of Carol's house, the attic area was gutted and insulated; the walls inside and outside were re-slabbed and re-plastered; the windows were replaced. An air-to-water heat source pump was installed, which absorbs heat from the air outside and uses it to heat her home and provide hot water for the house.

Photovoltaic panels were installed on the roof of the house. These use sunlight to charge batteries in her utility room. The power from the solar panels is used first in her house and any excess is stored in the batteries.

The appliances in the house - everything from the washing machine and dishwasher to the cooker and the kettle - are powered by the solar/photovoltaic panels and by the batteries, and these are backed up, when necessary, by electricity from the grid.

In Carol's house, the attic area was gutted and insulated

The weather obviously has a huge impact on the amount of electricity Carol can self-generate within her own home: on a sunny summer's day, she said up to 95% of the house's energy needs can be supplied from within her own home. In the depths of winter, that percentage can shrink to single figures.

Carol was also given the use of an electric car for a year.

She readily accepts that the work on her house was a huge undertaking, which might have been beyond her means, had it not been funded by ESB Networks as part of the company's Dingle Project. However, having seen the benefits and the financial returns, she said she would have invested her own money too, if it came to it.

"Given the knowledge I know now, yes I would definitely explore the area of an EV (electric vehicle), because I do know the car has been such a big saving," Carol said. "I would also, without a doubt, definitely spend money on the PV (photovoltaic) panels, and I would put in the battery, because that's where I can see the biggest savings of all, in those three areas."

Carol has since traded the family diesel car for an EV. She accepts that the retrofit was difficult, but she's glad she did it.

"No, it wasn't plain sailing and I suppose we were very green when we started it too," Carol said. "We were oblivious to what might crop up. But, yeah, we encountered it all and we got over it. It was hard ... but it was all worth it in the end."

Solar panels were fitted on Dinny Galvin's house

Dinny Galvin's farm overlooks Dingle Bay at Aglish, outside the village of Lios Póil (Lispole) in west Kerry. He milks 50 cows and tends around 150 sheep. Dinny and his wife Nicola have five children.

Their house, built around 15 years ago, was fitted with solar/photovoltaic panels, an air-source heat pump and a battery management system as part of the Dingle Project. The work cost around €40,000 and was paid for by ESB Networks. Dinny was also given an EV for a year as part of the project.

He estimates that the savings in energy costs at home are around €100 per month, while the cost of running the car have come down by between €60 and €70 per week.

Dinny wants to be able to extend the savings he is making in the home to farms all over the country. He points to the sheds he has in the farmyard for the cows and for the milking parlour. He wants to put photovoltaic panels on the roofs of the sheds too - not just on the roof of his home.

Dinny wants farmers to become electricity generators so that they can feed into the national grid. He would like to see the electricity he generates - clean, green energy, from renewable sources - offset against the carbon footprint of his farm.

At the moment that's not possible, because the electricity network isn't currently able to cater for connections to the national grid of thousands of small-scale energy-generating farmers.

Dinny hasn't given up yet, though, and promises to continue campaigning for that to happen. He has set up a group called the West Kerry Dairy Farmers' Sustainable Energy Community. It has around 100 members. They share ideas on energy saving among each other, and they are dedicated to change.

"PV panels would be a big, big thing with me that I could see deployed on all the farms," Dinny said. "We have the roof space. They're not obtrusive to look at: they're just like big roof tiles," he said.

"We would create as much electricity as we could, and hopefully we would be allowed put the rest back into the grid. If we do that, we're pulling down our emissions; we're giving back to society. And I would be saying 'you can give back, there's an awful lot that can be done within the farms to reduce our emissions'. We're looking at small wind turbines. We're looking at hydros as well (hydro-electric schemes). We have a lot of water flowing off the mountains in west Kerry. Basically, you dam the water, you put it through a pipe and you feed it into a turbine and you've electricity out the other end."

Dinny Galvin will be in the passenger seat of Deirdre de Bhailís's EV on their way to the COP26 conference in Glasgow next Monday - he is anxious to deliver his message to COP26 too, on behalf of farmers in west Kerry.

In the meantime, the results of the research gathered through the Dingle Project in west Kerry over the past three years will be collated by ESB Networks when the project ends in December. The company chose the area because it offered urban, rural and village environments. The terrain is also challenging, both physically and from the point of view of the strong winds and sometimes heavy rain experienced there.

Claire McElligott of ESB Networks

ESB Networks hopes that the lessons learned in west Kerry can be applied to other communities throughout the country.

The knowledge will also be used to shape and design the electricity network of the future in this country.

It will also be used to educate other communities throughout the country that investment in energy efficiency is worthwhile.

Claire McElligott is ESB Networks' Community Engagement Manager. She believes the community ambassadors the company selected for the Dingle Project - like Deirdre de Bhailís, Dinny Galvin and Carol Uí Laoithe - will be central to that.

"Our ambassadors are out there. They're sharing their learnings and their experiences with their friends, family and neighbours," she said.

"And it's that trusted information that's going to motivate communities to change."