Thursday, 16 November 2023
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
Renewable Energy Generation
2. To ask the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment how many households have availed of the microgeneration support scheme to date, broken down by year; how many are feeding electricity into the grid; how many are projected for installation in 2023; how many have availed of the maximum grant; if he has increased the budget for the scheme in 2024; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [50385/23]
How many households have availed of the microgeneration support scheme to date, broken down by year? How many are feeding electricity into the grid? How many are projected for installation in 2023? How many have availed of the maximum grant available? Will the Minister consider increasing the amount available for the scheme in the budget for 2024?
The domestic solar photovoltaic, PV, grant scheme under the microgeneration support scheme is administered on behalf of my Department by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI. The current scheme came into operation in February 2022 and built on the success of a previous pilot version of the scheme. Since 2019, over 36,500 homes have been supported under the scheme. In 2022, there were 10,017 completed installations and to date in 2023, there have been 17,766 completed installations. To date, over 24,000 homes have been awarded the maximum solar PV grant available at the time.
No adjustments to the administration of the domestic solar PV grant were announced as part of budget 2024. However, a planned mid-scheme review of the microgeneration support scheme, MSS, is currently under way, which will provide an update on its performance and total projected cost, as well as any recommendations for improving its effectiveness. In line with the parameters set forth in the MSS final scheme design, the maximum grant for 2024 will be €2,100.
On the scheme budget, 2022 saw a significant rise in demand with over double the level of funding provided compared to 2021, at over €24.4 million, and 2023 is expected to be even more successful, with grants projected to reach over €55 million by the end of the year, in support of over 22,000 households. The budget for 2024 will be based on demand but given the strong level of interest in solar PV, it is expected to be similar to this year.
On the number of households that are feeding electricity into the grid, while there is no single register to record the number of microgenerators exporting at any one time, ESB Networks maintains a register of NC6 submissions, which records the number of microgenerators that have had their export capabilities registered. As of 3 November this year, ESB Networks has received 73,286 valid NC6 form applications from microgenerators nationwide, which amounts to approximately 273 MW of electricity generation capacity.
I thank the Minister for that information. The scheme has had a number of teething problems, some of which would probably have been expected. Many people are concerned about the bureaucracy relating to it. I have a question about those who are in the system. The Minister has outlined the figures for how households many have participated. Why is a static rate being paid per kilowatt for energy from the likes of Electric Ireland, while consumers are being charged fluctuating rates? Why can we not mirror both going in both directions?
There is also an issue with cost. In the Committee of Public Accounts recently, we found out that the SEAI is way behind in other aspects of its work. There had to be multiannual transfers between budgets. Can we not move some more of the funding into this area to bring more people in? The cost is prohibitive, especially to those who are vulnerable or on lower budgets.
Finally, on the payments back, the Minister has outlined the numbers of people who are getting payments. Some suppliers are doing it monthly or by time periods, while others are waiting until the whole following year, which seems a bit ridiculous. In the mid-term review, can we create a standardised process for how consumers are being paid for the electricity they are generating back to the grid?
First, I would say that this has been incredibly successful. I would say the same about any scheme where one has got a doubling from 2021 to 2022, and then a doubling again from 2022 to 2023. Those sorts of numbers, with 22,000 homes involved this year, are not small. It is hugely successful, and a very welcome success in times of high energy costs.
On what the supply companies do with regard to flexible rates and incentives to customers to be able to sell power back, and also to purchase power at flexible rates, that needs to improve. We have 13 different supply companies.
On the time-of-day pricing and flexibility, particularly now with 1.5 million householders using smart meters and pretty much all those with PV being able to use smart metering, we need to become more innovative in promoting and incentivising more flexibility in selling power back and also in purchasing power.
The main constraint, I would argue, is not bureaucratic; it is the number of contractors and the supply chain. That is improving because contractors are seeing steady, strong demand. That has been the biggest constraint rather than any bureaucratic hold-up.
It is across a whole range of issues, including the volume of contractors and people working in the area. That is why the retrofit scheme is so far behind and that is why there have been multiannual transfers of budgets. It is quite unusual that it is going on two years in a row. Can we not transfer some of the budget that is not being used so we can bring more people in on this scheme? I do not doubt the figures the Minister is outlining but we need to do more.
We also need to make provision to ensure those on lower or more modest incomes, and those who are actually vulnerable, can participate in the scheme because they cannot do so at present. I have two questions. It has been purported that after 2024, the grant of €2,400 will actually go down. Why is it projected that it will start decreasing? In his reply, I would like the Minister to give us the figures for those in the farming community who are participating in the targeted agricultural modernisation scheme, who are getting the capital allowance that has been allowed from this scheme? How many, and how is it working?
I do not have the schemes here in front of me but I will endeavour to get the figures and share them with the Deputy. There is a whole range of initiatives happening. In the coming weeks, we will start the building out of the solar panels that we are going to put on top of every single school roof in the country. We have already introduced schemes for the most vulnerable, particularly those using medical devices who have a consistent requirement to be using electricity in their homes, and provided for that. We will be introducing new low-cost loans that will help householders to access and avail of retrofitting grants.
I will make this point. When I was at the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications yesterday to discuss a Supplementary Estimate, I explained why we are shifting money into the faster roll-out of the national broadband plan. There was not any indication in that of a lack of commitment to retrofitting, or a lack of success in that. Just as in solar PV, the number of houses being retrofitted is ahead of target.