GEAI at SEAI 2017 National Event on Sustainable Energy Communities

SEAI SEC National Event in Athlone IT

On Saturday 25th November 2017 our EVS Volunteer Francesca attended the annual National Event on Sustainable Energy Communities (SECs) organised by SEAI, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, and hosted by Athlone Institute of Technology, Athlone, Co. Roscommon.
The event brought together SEC representatives from all over the country to network with other SEC groups and share personal experiences as well as useful information.
The opening remarks by Julie O’Neill, SEAI Chairperson, celebrated the successful expansion of the Sustainable Energy Community Programme, with 124 SECs currently all around Ireland – this number has doubled during the last twelve months.

The event was structured around several workshops designed using a LEARN – PLAN – DO approach and tailored to meet the needs of SECs at different stages of development.
During the day participants and SEC representatives had the opportunity to get insights from SEAI mentors and guest speakers and share national and international experiences.
Topics of the workshops included Engaging Energy Citizens: Tools and Support; SEAI Citizen Engagement Programmes; Engaging Business Energy Users and lastly, Energy Master Plans and Renewable Energy.

“ThinkEnergy” toolkit

It was particularly interesting to learn about “ThinkEnergy”, a Home Energy Saving Kit developed by Codema aimed at better understanding the energy consumption at household level and cut down energy bills. The kit contains a fridge/freezer thermometer, a temperature and humidity meter, a radiator key, a thermal leak detector, a plug-in energy monitor and a stopwatch in addition to a user-friendly guide with tips and solutions. At the moment the kit is available to borrow free-of-charge in libraries across Dublin City and it will be soon made available in other parts of the country. (Watch the explanatory video here)

 

BMW i3 model (EV)

During the day our Volunteer had also the opportunity to test driving a five-door urban electric BMW i3. “It was really exciting to test it as it was the first time I drove an automatic and electric vehicle” Francesca said adding that “the event has been a fantastic experience to interact with people involved in energy issues at local level and to acknowledge efforts made by SEAI to engage with citizens and promote energy efficiency”.

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Energy Challenges and Solutions Conference

Last Thursday, 30th November 2017, a Conference on Current and Future Policy Energy Challenges and Solutions organised by Leitrim County Council was hosted at The Dock Arts Centre. The event gave good insights on the ongoing EU-funded SECURE Project – Smart Energy Communities, part of the Northern Periphery and Artic Programme 2014-2020, along with possible solutions needed for the energy transition in Ireland.

The conference kicked off with an introduction and welcome by Mr. Shane Tiernan of Leitrim County Council, followed by speakers such as Leo Strawbridge, Niall Kiernan or the DCCAE Principal Strategic Energy Policy, Martin Finucane. An explanation was given on the challenges that Ireland is facing and will continue to face over the next years as well as the wide range of technology we have at our disposal to fight against the climate change.

The talks included some international partners working on the SECURE project such as Kaija Saramäki (University of Applied Sciences, Finland) and Emma Norton (Nova Scotia, Canada). They shared with us policy energy measures in some regions around the world as examples of potential solutions to implement in the current Irish Energy System.

Illustration 1: Energy secure communities

Our volunteers Francesca (Italy) and Bruno (Spain) attended the event as GEAI delegation.  Paul Mc Nama from IT Sligo also gave a presentation on the NECS Project (Northwest Energy Community Start-up) carried out by IT Sligo and Good Energies Alliance Ireland in six local communities in Co Leitrim, Sligo and Donegal. The project was shown as an example of community engagement through activities such as door-to-door energy surveys, seminars and the World Café which stimulated interesting discussions. During the coffee break the volunteers had the opportunity to chat with different attendees and share views and opinions on the presented project.

National Adaptation Framework on Climate Change – still a long way to go

Last September a public consultation on the National Adaptation Framework on climate change  was launched by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and we, at GEAI, submitted our opinion, making thirty-seven recommendations.

The document gave a fairly comprehensive overview of the projected impacts of climate change in Ireland d illustrated the governance process to be put in place for adaption. Nonetheless, on reading the draft it is evident that there is an element of “passing the buck” to the local authorities in terms of climate change adaptation.

2009 floods in Carrick-on-Shannon (Ph. Leitrim Observer)

In our view it is crucial that Government takes its own ambitions of being a “Leader in Climate Action” seriously and shows courage and determination in setting appropriate goals and targets to achieve this.

The National Adaptation Framework highlights the local authorities as key actors at the front line to fight against climate change. Even though we agree that local authorities will play a significant role, we argued that they must be supported with further appropriate financial and human resources.

If Government is not seen to provide leadership on Ireland’s response to climate change; if it does not tackle with appropriate legislative measures the three main causes of our high carbon emissions – the use of fossil fuels in energy generation and heating; meat production without adequate waste treatment measures; and our fossil fuel-guzzling transport sector – than it is not reasonable to expect and adequate response from regional or local levels.

Furthermore, we believe that the regional level could create an important forum for discussion for localised climate action. We therefore suggest the establishment of Climate Action and Resilience Groups, with a statutory status, where three or four counties geographically close to each other  coordinate to ensure more effective information sharing processes and, consequently, more cooperation. The country-wide Public Participation Networks must also be considered as vehicles to boost Climate Action and provide opportunities for discussion.

Other suggestions presented included, for instance, establishment of local smart grids to protect power supplies in the event of extreme weather conditions; mainstreaming of climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction concepts into sectoral policies and plans; new overarching school curricula on climate action and climate justice to be developed and implemented at all stages of education; ensuring that resources are made available for extreme weather adaptation measures at household level for communities and vulnerable groups of people.

Read our full submission

Microgeneration vital in the move towards a low carbon economy

We at GEAI responded to the public consultation on the Design of a new Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS) launched the 04th of September 2017 by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment.

The consultation document contains an economic assessment of a new RESS in Ireland followed by an assessment on how to increase community participation and suggestion of a model. Our response focussed mainly on the section “providing pathways for increased community participation” and microgeneration.

In our view, micro-scale electricity generation is a very crucial step towards a low carbon transition. However, this vision seems not to be fully shared by the Department.

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Rooftop solar PVs

In fact, the RESS report states that “the relative cost of micro-generation is very high” and cites the example that domestic rooftop solar PV is 4100/MWh more expensive than large and medium solar PV in 2020. It then concludes that “meeting renewable electricity targets and renewable diversity ambitions are more cost effectively achieved at large and medium scale levels”. For the above mentioned reasons it is then proposed that “microgeneration would not be supported via the main RESS”.

We think this conclusion is based solely on economic grounds, which does not take into consideration the added value of getting the community’s goodwill and commitment to make the change to renewables.

Furthermore, rural areas play an important role in the transition towards a low carbon economy and community participation is the key of this process, mainly because it has the potential to revitalise rural areas through reskilling workers, creation of local jobs (e.g. installers, maintenance) that would keep workers in their communities and generating new income streams for businesses and farms.

A microgeneration support scheme would engage householders and farmer’s attention; it would introduce them to the possibility of change in their sources and uses of energy; it would make them more amenable to consider new ways of doing things.

In particular, if the individual feels that he/she is being supported to participate in the new world of renewables, this will make them far more amenable to support proposals for larger-scale developments such as wind farms.

Another consideration is that, despite some projects being designated as community-led under the scheme, the perception will remain that renewable energy projects are again examples of developers coming into a community and imposing changes on residents to “their” landscape that they have not agreed to nor want.

Where there is dissatisfaction, there will be active opposition. To win the hearts and minds of communities who already are opposed to wind turbines (for example) will take more than talk about community benefits; the better approach is to give them ownership of their own energy future.

At this stage, people know that we have to change the way we do things. A supported microgeneration scheme is the best way of allowing the change to start.

Read our full submission

 

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