Ireland’s plan to retrofit half a million homes is... optimistic, to put it kindly

Government ambitions to retrofit 500,000 homes by 2030 might need a rethink, so says Kathriona Devereux
Ireland’s plan to retrofit half a million homes is... optimistic, to put it kindly

Former President Mary Robinson, who said we need to use the crisis in the Ukraine to go for clean energy. Picture: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

STRANGE as it might seem but scary climate reports about an unlivable future, rising fuel and energy prices and the despotic attacks on Ukrainian innocents are all good reasons to insulate our houses.

My front door is 84 years old. It looks nice but it doesn’t comply with any modern building regulations bar keeping out intruders and it certainly doesn’t help the energy efficiency of my house.

Upgrading our home, bringing it into the 21st century and heating it with electricity not natural gas has been a goal for a number of years. Two pandemic years stalled plans but 2022 was to be the ‘year of the retrofit’. Generous government grants sealed the deal promising to cover a significant chunk of the cost but it looks like those grants aren’t going to provide as much bang for their buck as the cost of everything, including building and insulation materials, soars. Ireland’s plan to retrofit half a million homes to a B2 rating by 2030 looks optimistic, to put it kindly.

Replacing old windows and insulating walls and attics creates comfortable houses and reduces the need to pop on the heating.  I’m very conscious of how inefficient our house is to heat and the environmental consequences of burning gas so from October to April you’ll find me sporting multiple jumpers and accessorising with a fetching hot water bottle. 

I was so excited about upgrading the house but was quickly deflated when I realised that the chances of getting someone to actually do the work this year was low. 

Builders that do return phone calls warn that prices are rocketing and a quote for a job today may have ballooned by 20% by the time the builders appear on site.

Clearly there are a myriad of reasons for rising costs and companies have to pass on those costs to the consumer but if government grants are going to be entirely swallowed up by companies trying to capitalise on climate action then householders and consumers won’t be motivated, or have the money, to do the upgrades. If these trends continue the government’s plan to upgrade half a million homes will need a re-think.

We may be numbed to hearing how off course we are for a safe future but the latest UN climate report published last week is different. 

Instead of just laying out how screwed the planet is, it lays out what we need to do to avert climate catastrophe. It’s a blueprint or a yardstick for the future.

If we don’t make certain targets in cuts of oil, coal and gas usage in the next three years then we are going to overshoot the 1.5C warming target, we’re already at 1.1C of warming and carbon emissions are rising.

On The Late Late Show last month former President of Ireland, and long term climate advocate, Mary Robinson voiced her “utter frustration” that the crisis of an unprovoked war in Ukraine was distracting humanity from the climate crisis. The latest reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “spelled out a world that’s very disrupted by climate all over the world” where the prognosis is not good; “We are not on course for a safe world”.

Robinson said we have to take this Ukrainian crisis (which is funded by the sale of Russian fossil fuels) and “go absolutely for clean energy like a moonshot”. 

She emphasised the need to spend money so people can insulate their homes, go electric, more cycling, rewilding and all the other things that climate scientists have been banging on about for years.

Scientists are frustrated too. Last week over 1,000 Scientist Rebellion activists in more than 25 countries took disruptive, non-violent actions and engaged in civil disobedience targeting governmental, scientific and corporate institutions, many risking arrest, in order to highlight the urgency and injustice of the climate and ecological crisis.

Scientific Rebellion is like an academic wing of the climate movement Extinction Rebellion - PhDs and professors who are desperately worried about the path the world is on. Last week’s UN report said we need to reach peak carbon emissions in 2025 and emissions need to start falling rapidly after that if we are to have any hope of “keeping 1.5 alive”. Meanwhile governments and financial institutions continue to support and fund the expansion of fossil fuel extraction, which is why a NASA scientist was arrested for chaining himself to a Chase Bank in Los Angeles protesting that the company has invested more money in fossil fuels than any other bank globally.

Lots of people want to take positive steps to help the environment, while retrofitting homes or switching to an electric car are beyond the budgets of many, saving energy is something everyone can do. 

Writing in the Irish Examiner recently Dr Paul Deane of the MaREI Research Centre for Energy, Climate and Marine said that in the short term, saving and conserving energy is key to reducing Ireland’s exposure to energy supply risks. He wrote “a 10% reduction in national energy consumption delivers the same supply benefit as doubling the amount of wind generation in Ireland”.

Many of us could use 10% less energy without too much hardship - turning down the thermostat, wearing an extra jumper, replacing a chunk of car journeys with walking or cycling. If fuel rationing becomes a reality in the coming weeks or months this energy saving mindset will become de rigueur. And until I can replace my old front door I’ll be keeping my trusty hot water bottle nearby!

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