Irish houses use an average of 7% more energy than their European counterparts, but they emit 58% more greenhouse gas emissions in a measure of just how inefficient the housing stock currently is.
There are also wide variations based on the levels of household insulation – itself largely dependent on the age of the property. As the graph to the right shows, houses with an A Building Energy Rating (BER) are between 10 and 25 times more efficient than houses with a G rating. As the accompanying table also reveals, however, only 14% of the Irish housing stock is currently of an A or B rated standard.
Retrofitting housing stock
The low level of energy efficiency of the Irish housing stock is by far the most significant reason for the high levels of emissions. In recognition of this fact, the SEAI offer a number of grants and incentives to help people to upgrade their houses.
The two most significant to date have been the Better Energy Home Scheme and the Free Energy Upgrades Scheme, with 390,000 houses availing of support. However, less than 1,000 of these have been given the deep retrofit that will be necessary to reduce emissions in line with the EU Near Zero Build Policy – directive (2010/31/10).
Instead of an emphasis on the private sector, People Before Profit would establish a state building company tasked with training workers, rolling out the service and scaling the number of houses being completed annually.
An estimate of 50,000 units is a reasonable starting point, but as the decade advances, there is no reason why the state would not be in a position to retrofit 100,000 houses plus every year.
On the consumer side, we would establish interest-free loans of, on average €30,000, for householders who would pay back 80% to the state from their ongoing energy savings. Once the state is re-paid, the householder will have cheaper bills and a better insulated property for life.
A state building company
People Before Profit would establish a state building company to achieve economies of scale and offer households interest-free loans paid for from the savings achieved via the retrofitting process. Writing in the Irish Times, the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, stated that ‘the cost of retrofitting and insulating all our homes in Ireland is about €50 billion. No government of any colour or any party would be able to find that kind of money, even over 10 years’. Yet, in the last 10 years, various Irish governments have handed €60 billion to wealthy bondholders in interest payments, with no social dividend.
Retrofitting the housing stock would reduce emissions, reduce daily energy costs, improve air quality and provide much needed employment. For all of these reasons, we are committed to finding the money to deliver a major retrofit programme of 50,000 units in the first two years, with a gradual increase to 100,000 units by 2030. This would cost between €1.5 billion and €2.5 billion annually, but the direct and indirect savings are more than sufficient to make the investment, as the figures below reveal.
If we assume the cost to the state in year one is €2.5 billion, owing to the higher levels of work to be completed, the total return to society is 8.25% on investment, even when we focus only on purely monetary considerations. In addition, the saving of 577,000 tonnes of Co2 represents a 10% reduction on total (non-electricity) residential emissions in year one alone. This reduction will taper as better insulated houses are retrofitted, but the cumulative total would be far in excess of the 45% reduction required over 10 years.
Here are our key policy proposals for the residential sector:
- Set up a state building company to achieve economies of scale.
- Upgrade 1.5 million houses over the next 20 years, initially prioritising a combination of the 220,000 houses that currently have an F or G rating and the 400,000 homes that are currently facing fuel poverty.
- The scheme would be fully funded for the 140,000 local authority houses and would provide 100% up-front costs for everyone else. For those in private houses, the government would look to recoup 80% of the up-front costs paid for through lower energy costs over time until the grant was repaid.