Thursday, 29 September 2022
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
At the outset, I want to thank Deputy Matthews for raising this issue. My office had, through the offices of the other Ministers for whom I am deputising, reminded them to tell colleagues if they were not available, so I do not know what happened in respect of the other issue.
I want to thank the Deputy for raising this issue, as it provides me with an opportunity to outline the current position on retrofitting and sustainable energy in school buildings for the Department of Education. The Department is at the forefront of design with respect to sustainable energy in school buildings. This performance has been recognised at both national and international levels.
The National Development Plan 2021-2030, which was published on 4 October, provides capital funding of more than €4 billion for investment in school infrastructure during the period of 2021-2025 and there continues to be a strong climate action dimension in this. The Department of Education’s technical guidance documents set the benchmark for sustainable design in school buildings with a clear focus on energy efficiency. Schools that are designed and built in accordance with the Department’s school technical guidance documents have been receiving A3 building ratings since 2009, with current schools typically achieving up to 20% energy performance and 25% better carbon performance than required by the current building regulations, along with 10% of primary energy provided via photovoltaics and infrastructure provided for electric vehicle charging. All new technologies and approaches are tested to ensure compatibility with school design and operational requirements. Successful and repeated results are then incorporated into the new school designs and refurbishments.
The Department’s policy is supported by a strong research programme with more than 50 research projects at various different stages. In the interest of sustainability, it is critical that renewable applications are properly suited to the schools’ needs, so as to reduce energy costs and carbon and not just apply for the sake of having renewables. It is also critical that we minimise the demand for energy before we invest in renewable energy applications. This has been assisted in previous years with wall and attic insulation programmes and a water conservation programme, which the Deputy referred to.
The Department of Education and the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications jointly funded the pathfinder programme, which the Deputy also referred to. That is administered through Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI. The pathfinder is a great example of collaboration, ensuring deployment of new design approaches and technologies are introduced in an education environment and an evidenced-based approach. The programme continues to assist the Department of Education to explore options and test various solutions in the school building network. It is paving the way for and informing a much larger national programme for the energy retrofitted schools built prior to 2008, as included in the national development plan, NDP. It is facilitating research on a range of typical retrofit options, which will have to be tried and tested, and is providing valuable development information for a solution-driven delivery strategy, which will be founded on a solid evidence base and proven to be robust and scalable, of renewable solutions within the school sector.
The pathfinder programme has retrofitted 41 schools across the country to date, with work on an additional 15 currently at various stages of design. Each school undergoes a comprehensive assessment to ensure that the measures are suitable for that school and will deliver value both to the school and the environment. The works typically include upgrades to the building's fabric, including walls, roof, doors, windows, airtightness improvements, lighting, heating and other renewable technologies. As part of the cost-of-living measures to be enacted this year, €90 million is being provided in a once-off additional funding to support increased running costs for primary and post-primary in the free education scheme in dealing with the challenges that they face due to high energy costs. This will be paid at a rate of 40% of schools’ basic and enhanced rates of capitation.