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.

Climate Change “not a priority for the North and Western Regional Assembly”

Our recent submission to the NWRA concerning their Regional Spatial Strategy, has been hard-hitting concerning the report’s lack of emphasis of Climate Change and the urgency of responding to it.

Once again, serious climate change commitments are lacking at regional as well as national levels. Climate change is real and is happening right now and every delay or reticence in adopting further policies to cope with it will result in huge economic and financial losses for the Irish economy. Moreover, there seems to be a lack of clear vision regarding the concept of “sustainability” throughout the whole Strategy as neither indications nor goals and targets are provided on how to achieve it.

Ireland North and Western Region (Ph. NWRA issue paper)

We at GEAI were responding to a Public Consultation on the new Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy (RSES) launched by the Northern and Western Regional Assembly in December 2017. The RSES Strategy aims at “reaching a shared understanding about regional economic development processes […] and promoting innovative, competitive and a productive region”. In our view, the document fails in this aim as it fails to recognise the fact that Climate change is a serious threat to Ireland’s North and Western Region and adaptation is an immediate requirement.

Its view is that “the transition (to a low carbon economy) will require a cultural step change in the approach to Green Energy Development”. However, it does not include a roadmap to such cultural change and, indeed, relegates climate action to just one section of the report.

What is not realised is that this transition includes a big opportunity now to unlock the renewable energy potential of the Northern and Western Region. We propose a vision of the Region becoming a self-sustaining macro-generator of electricity, producing a significant proportion of the nation’s total need for power. This can only happen through community energy ownership and Government support for microgeneration. As a first step towards achieving this vision, it is vital that Government initiates immediately a scheme for fair feed-in tariffs for all electricity generation from 50 watts to 6 megawatts.

Awareness raising is key to undertaking such a cultural change. We therefore suggest to create and implement a Climate Change & Renewable Energy Awareness Programme to boost behavioural change.

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

 

SMART ENERGY ACTION LOCALLY!

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GEAI volunteers on their way to do an Energy Survey

 

Energy surveys have been carried out in Carrick-on-Shannon, Drumshanbo, Ballinamore and Carrigallen (Leitrim); in Grange (Sligo) and Ballyshannon (Donegal) this summer, as part of the NECS project organised by Good Energies Alliance Ireland (GEAI) and I.T. Sligo.  Six Smart Energy Action events are now organised for the target towns and all are welcome.

The events will take place as follows:

Carrick-on-Shannon on Tuesday 12th September in Bush Hotel, 10am – 2pm.
Drumshanbo on Thursday 14th in Áras Padraig, 10am – 2pm .
Grange on Friday 15th in the Temperance Hall, 10am – 2pm.
Carrigallen on Monday 18th in the Old Schoolhouse, 10am to 2pm
Ballinamore on Tuesday 19th in the Scouts Den, 10am – 2pm.
Ballyshannon on Thursday 21st in the Breesy Centre, 10am – 2pm.

Each event will include

  • Case Studies
  • Results of the Energy Survey
  • Discussions on clean energy schemes and funding and
  • The way forward for each town.

All events are free and refreshments and lunch are included.  All welcome.

For further details, please contact GEAI at 087 2382324.

The problem with Biomass – it can emit more carbon per unit of energy than most fossil fuels!

 

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Is wood a carbon-neutral energy source?

In February 2017, Chatham House published Woody Biomass for Power and Heat: Impacts on the Global Climate, by Duncan Brack.  The report argues that policies promoting wood for renewable energy production are based on the flawed assumption that wood is a carbon-neutral energy source.  In fact, as reported, emissions from wood burning may be higher than the fossil fuels replaced.

Biomass in general emits more carbon per unit of energy than most fossil fuels. EU policies do not account for the emissions from bioenergy in the energy sector, because it is assumed that these emissions are accounted for at the point of harvest in the land use sector. However, whether these emissions can be recuperated by future growth of biomass is not only uncertain, but often unlikely.  The report finds that part of the emissions may never be accounted for, such as when EU countries use biomass imported from the United States.

Policies must distinguish between different types of feedstock

The report, in line with earlier recommendations by environmental groups, proposes that policies clearly distinguish between different types of feedstock and provide support only to those which reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the short term, taking into account changes in forest carbon stocks. With regard to wood harvesting, only residues that would otherwise have been burnt as waste or would have been left in the forest and decayed rapidly can be considered to be carbon-neutral over the short to medium term.

In principle, sustainability criteria can ensure that only biomass with the lowest impact on the climate are used; the current criteria in use in some EU member states and under development in the EU do not achieve this.

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