Rural homes and businesses urgently require a wider suite of accessible, affordable and fairer options to help them transition away from oil and other high carbon fossil-based fuels, according to a report published on Wednesday.
Analysis by Liquid Gas Ireland (LGI) concludes lower-carbon and renewable fuels like liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and BioLPG (propane produced from renewable feedstocks such as plant and vegetable waste material) offer significant potential to assist rural Ireland to decarbonise.
This is especially the case where households cannot afford to undertake a deep retrofit in one go, even with existing grants, it finds. LGI represents companies in the LPG and BioLPG sector.
The report sets out how support for “renewable-ready gas boilers”, which can be combined with moderate fabric upgrades to a typical home using kerosene oil, to deliver a building energy rating (BER) uplift to B1 at a cost of about €11,000.
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It calls for “a mixed technology approach” to support rural dwellings to reduce energy carbon emissions by integrating LPG, BioLPG and rDME (renewable dimethyl ether) into Government policy, “ensuring a wider choice of viable options for homes and businesses located off the natural gas grid”.
The first supplies of rDME will be available in Ireland later this year, but the Government should examine how a manufacturing facility could be established in the Republic using energy crops; food waste, slurries and other feedstocks, the report recommends.
Speaking at a briefing, LGI policy director Philip Hannon said: “Rural homeowners should have the same variety of options to decarbonise as those based in urban settings. This currently is not the case, as the Government continues to pursue its ‘one size fits all’ approach which prioritises installation of heat pumps. This is straitjacketing options available to rural dwellers, the majority of whom traditionally rely on high carbon fossil fuels like oil for energy.”
The Government has a target to retrofit 500,000 homes to achieve a BER of B2 or higher by 2030 and aims to install 400,000 heat pumps in existing premises to replace older, less efficient heating systems. Already, however, deep retrofitting in rural Ireland “is lower than anticipated”, the report notes.
Mr Hannon said: “While the environmental impact of heat pumps is obvious, a sole focus on this alone is too blunt an instrument and is not a good fit for rural Ireland. For many homeowners, installation of a heat pump is simply too expensive an option, potentially costing more than €60,000 where a deep retrofit is required. For older rural properties, it’s just practically unviable.”
Some consumers would gravitate towards new technologies based on their preferences and building types, while others would find the convenience of using drop-in renewable fuels, like BioLPG, in their existing heating system, to be more appealing, he said.
Energy economics specialist with the ESRI Muireann Lynch said there was no urban-rural gap in supporting climate action, nor was there a “Dublin policy” being forced on the rest of the country. But there was an absence of behavioural research on the best way to decarbonise and analysis of the capacity of the construction sector to meet both housing and retrofitting targets.
This was in a scenario when energy targets were missed. The exception was for renewable electricity, where consumers did not have to do anything. This suggested the best approach was to “decarbonise the fuel” in relation to heat and transport.
Behavioural and economic constraints such as capacity in the construction sector and transport options in rural areas, had to be taken into account. If not, it would mean decarbonisation efforts would come up short, she added.
Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen said many in rural areas wanted to decarbonise but could not afford going to an A-rated home in one move, when steps such as insulation and solar were “doable and effective”. With the help of LPG and bioLPG the required transition was achievable over time, he said.
The political will to support a broader range of options was present, Mr Cowen said. While he did not doubt the bona fides of Minister for Environment and Climate Eamon Ryan or the Green Party, he said “present provisions will not get us there on decarbonisation”.
Options had to be available in the next suite of measures provided by the State so cost-effective and affordable choices are available. While he accepted the need for zero-emissions new buildings, any move to ban gas boilers by 2024, as had been suggested by Mr Ryan, “will be resisted by other parties”. He believed this would also be the predominant view in the Government.
Duncan Osborne, chief executive of Calor Gas, said rural consumers were being given one option when there were a number of steps available. They were struggling “and feeling a bit trapped at the moment; not understanding what route to take” – other than one large step to the end game.
John Rooney, managing director at Flogas Ireland, said there was “a capacity issue” for consumers; a grid issue, and questions over affordability and being able to vacate homes when major works were being done. In such circumstances, “the default position is to do almost nothing”, he suggested.