Written answers

Thursday, 31 March 2022

Department of Education and Skills

School Facilities

Photo of Neale RichmondNeale Richmond (Dublin Rathdown, Fine Gael)
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272. To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if her attention has been drawn to schools being built, including a school in Cherrywood (details supplied), with gas boilers; if a more environmentally friendly option can be found; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17205/22]

Photo of Norma FoleyNorma Foley (Kerry, Fianna Fail)
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My Department is at the forefront of design with respect to sustainable energy in school buildings and this performance has been recognised at both National and International level with sustainable energy awards for excellence in Design and Specification.

New renewable technologies and approaches are tested to ensure compatibility with school design and operational requirements under the research programme. Successful and repeatable results are then incorporated into all new school designs and refurbishments through my Department’s Technical Guidance Documents, which set the benchmark for sustainable design in school buildings with a clear focus on energy efficiency. The Department’s policy is supported by a strong research programme with fifty three research projects at various stages including the energy website, www.energyineducation.ie, which is a joint partnership with the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI).

Schools designed and built in accordance with the Department’s schools technical guidance documents have been achieving A3 Building Energy Ratings since 2009 with schools typically achieving up to 20% higher performance than required by the current Building Regulations, along with 10% of primary energy provided via photovoltaics and infrastructure provision for electric vehicle charging.

These new schools include:

- A3 BER standard

- Fully evaluated natural ventilation strategy to all spaces

- 20% higher energy performance and 25% better carbon performance than required by the 2019 Building Regulations even thought it was designed pre-2019

- 10% of primary energy provided via photovoltaics

- Provision to enable Energy Supply Companies (ESCO's) to sell renewable biomass heat to the school under the Support Scheme for Renewable Heat (SSRH), as the heat as a service area matures in Ireland. SSRH is a government funded initiative designed to increase the energy generated from renewable sources in the heat sector.

- A system that automatically shuts down power to nonessential electrical power outlets when the school is closed (eliminating energy use out of hours)

- Infrastructure provision for electric vehicle charging

- Rainwater harvesting

- CO2monitors

- Excellent daylight

- Internal and external LED lighting

- Variable speed pumping

- Building Management System control of energy including energy metering

- Zone and individual room heating control

- Educational signage draws attention to environmental aspects of design

- Support will be offered to the school in terms of understanding energy usage and optimising controls.

The A3 BER in schools is achieved using a hybrid approach of:

- Maximising nature through passive solar design, quality daylighting and quality ventilation.

- Enhanced technologies including LED lighting and controls with daylight and absence detection, digital individual room heating controls, maximum water efficiency and rainwater harvesting systems, high quality air tightness and photovoltaic panels to produce an electrical renewable energy.

- Schools have a system that automatically shuts down power to nonessential electrical power outlets when a school is closed (eliminating energy use out of hours).

In the interest of sustainability, the potential of renewables is maximised in school design, whilst ensuring that renewable applications are properly suited to needs and reflective of school opening hours and school holiday periods. It is also critical that an energy reduction plan is part of any investment in renewable energy applications.

The Department’s approach is also based on future proofing to ensure school buildings are renewable compatible and are able to take advantage of developing technologies as they become viable, thus enabling a just transition for school management, teachers, pupils and parents to include:

- Direct modulating high efficiency gas boiler systems that can support the integration of heat pump systems, in series at a base level, with controls.

- Optimum envelope fabric that will not require additional enhancement for compatibility with decarbonised heating systems, (note further enhancement of the external building fabric will result in overheating in Spring and Autumn, requiring air conditioning).

- Low water content radiators and operating temperatures for compatibility with decarbonised heating systems.

- Provision to enable Energy Supply Companies (ESCO's) to sell renewable heat to schools using biomass boilers, with provision for the ESCO to provide, operate and maintain the boiler plant system and maximise the Support Scheme for Renewable Heat.

The Department have been using test schools to evaluate the suitability of renewable energy options for schools over the past twenty plus years. Nearly 60 % of the research programme features renewable aspects. These renewables include wind generation, solar hot water heating, photovoltaics, rain water recovery, geothermal heat pumps, air source heat pumps and biomass heating systems. Results have varied with respect to their applicability in a school environment. Research continues in many areas.

My Department and the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications established a jointly funded pathfinder programme with the SEAI, testing and demonstrating energy efficiency and decarbonisation retrofit approaches. This pathfinder is a great example of collaboration ensuring the deployment of new design approaches and technologies are introduced to the educational environment on an evidence based approach.

This Pathfinder programme is paving the way for, and informing, a much larger national schools’ programme for the energy retrofit of schools built prior to 2008 as included in the National Development Plan. It is facilitating research on a range of typical retrofit options, which will have been tried and tested. It is providing valuable development information for a solution driven delivery strategy which will be founded on a solid evidence base that has proven the robustness and scalability of renewable solutions within the schools’ sector.

The Department and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland are involved in an energy efficient retrofit pathfinder scheme for schools since 2017. The longer-term outcome of the pathfinder will be to create an accurate and scalable model for energy efficient retrofits of schools across Ireland. A deep energy retrofit programme for schools built prior to 2008 is due to be rolled out as included in the National Development Plan.

The pathfinder programme has retrofitted 41 schools across Ireland to date with work on an additional 9 schools added in 2021 underway. 2022 sees six additional schools undergoing deep retrofit to a Building Energy Rating (BER) of B with renewable heating systems. Each school undergoes a comprehensive assessment to ensure that the measures are suitable for that school and will deliver value to both the school and learnings for the national retrofit programme.

The pathfinder programme builds on significant investment by the Department of Education in energy efficiency through the 2009/10 Cavity and Attic Insulation/Water Conservation Scheme and ongoing Summer Works and refurbishment projects.

The schools for the 2022 programme are:

- Ennis Community College

- Bishopstown Community School

- St Marys Secondary School Killester

- Our Lady of Consolation Killester

- Scoil Mhuire NS Abbeyleix

- St Annes Primary school, Tallaght

The upgrades target a Building Energy Rating of B, 50% energy efficiency improvement and 51% emissions reduction. The works typically involves upgrades to the building fabric including wall and roof insulation, doors and windows, air tightness improvements, LED lighting and heating upgrades as well as renewable technologies.

The Department recognises that transition to full decarbonisation raises the bar even higher in terms of requirements with feedback from our pathfinder projects as noted above indicating a greater depth of challenges at a significantly enhanced cost for primary and post primary schools.

The Climate Action Plan 2021 Annex of Actions published last month actions the Department to confirm its decarbonisation pathway trajectory to meet 2030 and 2050 targets for the schools sector by end of 2022.

Work is ongoing on decarbonisation options for new schools with a focus on the standard of required design criteria and specification to achieve a net zero energy school building and establishing the trajectory for the integration of suitable solutions on a phased basis in a risk controlled manner providing a credible cost effective transition to zero carbon school buildings while ensuring no delays to school accommodation delivery.


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