Report of our Powerful Communities Conference

A vision for the North West Region:

A region where, using renewable energy sources, every community can be self-sufficient, generating more power than they use, benefiting their communities and lowering Ireland’s carbon emissions.”


Paul Kenny at the Powerful Communities Conference

Paul Kenny at the Powerful Communities Conference

This was the ambitious future envisioned for NorthWest Ireland at the successful Powerful Communities conference on Friday 15th June 2018. Well-attended, with representatives from community groups all over the Northwest, technical organisations and statutory bodies, the day included a lot of time for discussion as well as speakers.

The conference was opened by Dr John Bartlett, Head of Research in IT Sligo and everyone was welcomed by Tony McLoughlin T.D. who reminded those present of the successful campaign against fracking and encouraged a similar drive to create Powerful Communities.

Next up was Aedín McLoughlin, who introduced the Powerful Communities vision and campaign, outlining the GEAI approach to kick-starting the move by communities to energy self-sufficiency and benefiting from renewable energy generation.  Presentation: The Powerful Communities Project

Mel Gavin (IT Sligo Research Unit) gave an overview of the Northwest Energy Communities Start-up (NECS) project that was carried out through a partnership between IT Sligo and GEAI, involving doing energy surveys of six communities in the Northwest and encouraging them to join the Sustainable Energy Communities (SEC) programme funded by SEAI. Two SECs have been formed following such surveys in Manorhamilton and Drumshanbo.  Presentation: Roadmaps to the Future of Energy use in NorthWest Communities – NECS Project

Francesca Franzetti gave an overview of micro-generation in Ireland – what it means, how it works and the possible benefits to the user.  Presentation: Micro-generation – Opportunities for All

Leslie O’Hora (substituting for Michael McCarthy, Irish Solar Energy Association) gave a brief overview of the potential of Solar Energy and stressed the absence of Feed-in Tariffs in Ireland.

He was followed by Pauline Leonard, who gave a presentation on research done by Western Development Commission (WDC) on the potential exploitation of biomass in the NorthWest, as part of the international GREBE project.  Presentation: The Potential for Biomass in NorthWest Ireland

Ruth Buggie at the Powerful Communities Conference.

Ruth Buggie at the Powerful Communities Conference.

Paul Kenny spoke about the potential for communities to get involved in bigger energy projects. His main focus was on wind energy and his advice for new groups getting involved in energy projects was to start small and build on experience.  Presentation: Larger Community Energy Projects – Opportunities and Barriers

The focus then turned to funding. Ruth Buggie from Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) gave an overview of the many funding programmes now available to communities – from SECs to Warmer Homes, from Better Energy Homes to Schools programmes. €120 million spent.  Presentation: Mentoring and Grant-Aiding – The SEC Programme

And finally, Seamus Dunbar spoke about our local SEC formed in North Leitrim that now is applying for funding to become a BEC and to get involved in local community energy projects in the areas of energy efficiency and energy generation. These include major retrofitting of houses to improve energy ratings and research into the possibility of setting up a solar farm.

Chris Chapman animated the Word Café.

Chris Chapman animated the Word Café during the afternoon.

After lunch, Chris Chapman facilitated a World Café style discussion around the major issues dealt with in the morning with provocative statements printed on flags to stimulate the conversations. Topics ranged from “Every house has solar PV panels” to “Every village owns a wind turbine” and “All communities become Powerful”.

The discussions were very lively. It was agreed that action on climate change and renewable energy has to be led by communities rather than developers. However, the government must first show leadership and put in place supports to empower communities to take their energy futures into their own hands. In particular, the absence of Feed-in Tariffs is a big obstacle to communities who want to get involved.

Powerful Communities Conference


This year, GEAI is going to launch the POWERFUL COMMUNITIES project at a conference being held on 15th June in I.T. Sligo from 10am to 3.30pm. This conference will bring together people and organisations working on the ground in communities throughout Ireland to promote community energy projects. The focus will be on the move away from fossil fuels to renewable energies, generating power for our homes, our heating and our transport. All while cutting the costs of our energy bills and improving our health and the comfort of our homes!

GEAI, in partnership with I.T. Sligo, has done energy surveys and seminars in six communities in the Northwest as part of the NECS project. The results of these surveys will be presented by Mel Gavin, mentor for the SEAI community programmes. Speakers also include Paul Kenny from the Tipperary Energy Agency and Ruth Buggie, SEAI, who will give details of community support schemes, including new grants for renewable energies installations, e.g. heat pumps and biomass boilers.

The event is FREE and lunch is included.

Please register via Eventbrite beforehand as places are limited. Click here to register.

The full programme is available here.

GEAI Data Protection is compliant with GDPR

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into effect on the 25 May 2018. GDPR aims to give individuals more rights, control and understanding of how their personal data is processed.

The GDPR will have no impact on the activities we carry on in the general interest. It does however require GEAI to keep you informed of the following:

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You will find all of this information in our Privacy Statement. This Statement is applicable to all activities carried out by GEAI, both subscribers to our newsletters and contacts in other organisations.

As always you can opt out of any of our group email communication using the unsubscribe link in the footer of all emails, or emailing me directly.

We appreciate the trust that you place in us by giving us your personal information. We will always use your personal information in a way that is fair and worthy.

Thank you for your continued interest.

Yours sincerely,

Del Thorogood, Data Manager


National Mitigation Plan: a quite depressing perspective

An afternoon in Leinster House, what an exciting experience! On April 24th Francesca, our EVS volunteer, had the opportunity to visit the buildings of the Irish Parliament (Oireachtas) in Dublin and participate as observer to the works of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Climate Action and the Environment.

Leinster House (Ph. Irish Examiner)

Chaired by Ms. Hildergarde Naughton, the committee’s purpose was to investigate the progress made on the National Mitigation Plan implementation process. Three delegations of experts were present, including the Department of Communications, Climate Action and the Environment (DCCAE) lead by Assistant Secretary for Climate Action and the Environment  Brian Carroll; the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) represented by its Chief Executive Officer Jim Gannon.

DCCAE, EPA and SEAI were asked to give an update on specific tasks and actions undertaken in compliance with the Plan. After the opening statements from all parties, the floor was open to questions.

The overview that has emerged is “quite depressing”, to quote a common feeling within the Committee. Ireland is going to miss its 2020 EU emission reduction targets of 20% below the 2005 levels. In fact, according to the latest EPA projections, the country will reach only between 4 and 6% of the targeted reduction. Our emissions are going on the opposite direction. In 2016, latest year available,  total national emissions soared by 3.6% with agriculture and transport numbers went up of 2.7% and 4.1% respectively while the energy industry (mostly power generation) saw an increase of 6%.

The National Mitigation Plan

When asked about acceptance of the critiques from the National Climate Change Advisory Council, DCCAE responded affirmatively and justified the slow pace of action by stating that “the National Mitigation Plan is a living document that will be updated as ongoing analysis, dialogue and technological innovation generate more cost-effective sectoral mitigation options”. Furthermore, Mr. Carroll emphasised that, with the publication of the first National Mitigation Plan, the government “explicitly recognised that it does not represent a complete roadmap to achieving the objective of transitioning Ireland to a low carbon, climate-resilient and environmentally sustainable economy by 2050”.

SEAI presented a more positive progress report related to their activities and tasks, almost all of which are on track to be achieved, while EPA emphasised the key role played in climate-related research and data input to support the Department’s actions.

Deputy Stanley inquired on views about microgeneration and the recent Bill he put forward, Microgeneration Support Scheme Bill 2017 (currently at its first stage), highlighting the importance of households and small businesses participation to the energy transition. Mr.Confrey, principal officer of DCCAE Electricity Policy Division, responded that the Department “is working closely with SEAI on gathering the evidence and the appetite among the public for the take-up of domestic microgeneration” perceiving “a good deal of enthusiasm” and pointing out that solar PVs costs have dramatically decreased in the last few years and will continue to do so.

Also, the electrification of transport and heating is inevitable, according to Mr. Gannon, and manufacturers are going in the same direction as governments by stopping fossil fuel-based cars production.

Other interesting aspects were discussed in the debate, ranging from peat extraction, the increase of electricity demand as consequence of new data centres, behavioural changes on transport to the new deal with China on thousands of cattle and dairy products export.

To sum up, the general feeling of the Committee members is that the National Mitigation Plan is not fit for purpose, inadequate to provide a clear pathway to 2050 and lacks of specific actions” Francesca commented.

Acknowledging that the publication of a national plan to mitigate the impacts on climate change is an important first step, it is far from enough. The Government must show leadership and fully implement the 106 actions listed in the document.

Francesca also added that “as citizens we have the right to demand the Department and Minister Naughten to take immediate and concrete action to fight climate change”. It is not too late, yet.

You can find a complete transcript of the debate here

GEAI field trip to Belmullet, Co. Mayo

Solar PVs on Teach Greannai community centre’s rooftop

What an interesting day we had in Belmullet!  Recently, some of us had a really interesting guided tour on Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency in Rural Communities organised by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) in partnership with IT Sligo and the Western Development Commission.



The purpose of the tour was to showcase the use of renewable energy technologies in rural areas adopted with the help of SEAI grants.  During the day, it also showcased the wonderful landscape of the area and the enthusiasm of the people!

Dr. Orla Nic Suibhne explaining the micro-grid system

The visit began in an Enterprise Centre at  Eachléim Udaras na Gaeltacha to see a demonstration on site of a micro-grid system. Forty-four south-facing  solar photovoltaic panels  (PVs), produce 11kW electricity in direct current (DC).  These are connected to transformers which convert the electricity into alternating current (AC), used by the building. In addition, there is battery storage system of 5-40 Kw/h and 3 smart electrical thermal storage units. The whole building management system is monitored remotely. The solar PVs were installed in 2015 and have produced a total of 23,000 Kw/h since then.

Afterwards, we went to the Community Hall which has been upgraded with two air to water heat pumps, internal and attic insulation, new windows and doors besides a 7Kw east-west solar PV array.

A very interesting part of the tour brought us to Belderra Strand, a stunning sandy beach, where the Atlantic Marine Energy Test Site is being developed by SEAI. The goal is to test full-scale wave energy converters which will be connected to an onshore substation.

GEAI volunteers looking at a solar PVs array

In addition to that, we also visited the Irish Wheelchair Association, where another array of 1Kw PVs is fully accessible to people in wheelchairs,  Teach Greannai, a Community centre, and Bangor Hall both of which were fully upgraded with SEAI interventions. We also had the chance to test drive an electric van!

It was a very insightful and informative day.  Dr. Orla Nic Suibhne, our brilliant tour guide, gave us lots of interesting information about renewable energy technologies and what’s available in terms of SEAI grants for householders, charities and community groups.

Renewable energies are a great opportunity for rural Ireland and we have all the technologies available to move away from a fossil-based economy.


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