Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 10 May 2022

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action

New Retrofitting Plan and the Built Environment: Discussion (Resumed)

Mr. Seamus Hoyne:

I am grateful for the invitation to engage with committee members today. In preparing my statement, I have sought to provide insights from three different perspectives to support the committee’s work. First, the context of research, development and innovation will be vital if we are to deliver on our emissions reduction targets. It is imperative that in Ireland we take every opportunity to co-operate with European partners in order that we can gain insights into models, technologies and systems which can support the delivery of our current emissions targets and, indeed, plan for future targets which will arise out of the EU Fit for 55 legislative package and the re-powered EU action plan. Extensive funds are being provided via Horizon Europe, LIFE and other EU funding programmes but more needs to be done to mobilise Irish companies and researchers to access these funds. Communities of practice on areas such as deep retrofit, embodied carbon and related areas which engage researchers with industry partners need to be established to share best practice and drive innovation. All arms of the State, including the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, Enterprise Ireland and others need to continue to expand their efforts and have funding available to grow the knowledge base and deliver innovative solutions into the market.

Compared with many other countries, our bank of building performance data, specifically operational data, is limited and much more needs to be done to conduct research and share such data to facilitate analysis and benchmarking and stimulate further innovation. Data repositories, data-sharing agreements and the clear dissemination of results will increase sectoral know-how and expertise. Just one example of this is research completed by TUS on the performance of air source heat pumps in retrofits, which highlighted opportunities to optimise heat pump performance through appropriate design approaches and the important role that commissioning plays. Improvements of up to 10% on the heat pump coefficient of performance were achieved, leading directly to reduced building emissions, and the results were published in a good-practice guide to inform industry.

The proposed research action within the national retrofit plan on the heat loss indicator, HLI, has become a critical issue. The HLI is an indicator of the overall performance of the building fabric and is currently used to indicate whether a building is eligible for Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, heat pump support. Achieving the required HLI level of 2.3 can sometimes result in significant increased retrofit costs, which have limited energy and emissions benefits. This research task, identified with the retrofit plan, must be completed urgently to unlock the retrofit opportunities for a significant cohort of buildings.

The second perspective I would like to share comes from my role as chairperson of the board of directors of the Tipperary Energy Agency. The agency, which is a social enterprise, was established in 1998 and is a partnership between Tipperary County Council, TUS and other regional actors. It established the Superhomes one-stop shop pilot in 2015. From completing ten retrofits in 2015, it grew to a point where in 2021, it entered into a joint venture with Electric Ireland, with the ambition to deliver more than 8,500 retrofits annually by 2031. Critical to Electric Ireland Superhomes and other one-stop shops will be growing the quantity and expertise of staff within the one-stop shop and of the contractors they work with.

While the national retrofit plan provides the basis on which companies can chart career paths for workers within the sector, there is clear challenge at present within the construction sector to recruit and retain staff. Ireland risks not achieving our proposed emissions targets unless we consider further innovations to attract people to work in construction, and specifically within the sustainable built environment.

The final area I raise relates to education, training and skills development. TUS is leading a consortium to deliver the digital academy for sustainable built environment, DASBE, initiative with the ambition of scaling up the delivery of upskilling in the interconnected areas of energy efficiency, digitisation and the circular economy. DASBE partners already have developed new programmes related to the circular economy, energy infrastructure, digital tools and community energy systems. It recently validated programmes in residential energy retrofit management and the energy renovation of traditional buildings. The majority of these programmes will be offered in online or blended learning formats to facilitate access and have been designed with strong engagement from industry stakeholders. Using a unique digital platform, DASBE will enable those seeking to upskill to target their specific requirements and understand progression pathways and opportunities. Critically, DASBE is co-operating with the further education sector and initiatives such as Build Digital to maximise synergies and impacts.

The challenge of upskilling our workforce cannot be underestimated given the resource constraints that exist, and our plumbers, electricians, construction workers, engineers and architects will be at the forefront of delivering emission reductions in the built environment.