More power to you: Household solar energy grants on way

Scheme rolled out this summer is due to be extended to businesses, community organisations and farmers

Denis Naughten: Announced a scheme to financially support small-scale solar energy generation. Photograph: Collins

Denis Naughten: Announced a scheme to financially support small-scale solar energy generation. Photograph: Collins

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A scheme to financially support small-scale solar energy generation in Irish homes will be rolled out this summer, Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment Denis Naughten has announced.

The grants will be for roof-mounted solar photovoltaic (PV) panels. Initially, they will support “self consumption” of electricity in domestic properties – ie the energy generated will not be fed into the national grid.

However, it is envisaged the scheme will in time be rolled out to small businesses; community organisations, sports clubs and farmers – though a timetable for this has to be finalised.

“It is my intention to open a grant-aided pilot scheme this summer for solar PV microgeneration, targeted initially at self-consumption and for domestic properties,” he said. “This will be the first phase in a multi-phased implementation of supports for microgeneration in Ireland. ”

“The reality is that bringing microgen onto a /[electricity supply]/ system designed for large generators is complicated. It impacts how we pay for the network, how we manage regulation and how we technically manage the system,” Mr Naughten told the 2018 Renewable Energy Summit this week.

Pat Smith, joint chairman of the Micro-Renewable Energy Federation (MREF), welcomed the announcement but called for the pilot scheme to be quickly extended to businesses and farmers.

MREF represents organisations and individuals seeking to generate their own micro-energy, and businesses seeking to develop, install and/or supply rooftop solar generation and battery storage in Ireland.

While Mr Naughten had re-stated the Government’s view that micro-generation was”complicated” to manage and would not be included in upcoming mainstream renewable energy support schemes, Mr Smith said a new EU directive would require member states to pay for electricity generated by small-scale producers.

Current options for “the renewable self-consumer” are being enhanced by the increased availability of smart technology that allows Solar PV not only to generate electricity but also to avail of battery storage (keeping electricity for use at a later time); to generate heat in a house and to recharge electric vehicles.

IFA Renewables spokesman Tom Short said, however, the pilot scheme was “mere words” that will only become reality when a robust budget backs it.

“Farm scale and roof-top renewable energy production is commonplace across all other EU states. The proposal for a pilot scheme simply avoids the need for urgent roll-out of farm-scale renewables, given Ireland’s EU climate and renewable obligations.”

Previous micro-energy pilot schemes had proved the appetite and demand from farmers to step up and meet environmental obligations, he added.

“However, previous mistakes must not be repeated. The Department of Climate Action and Environment must put in place clear specifications for the quality and type of technology that will be supported.”

There should not be a repeat of the situation where cheap equipment imported from non-EU countries is sold to farmers and homeowners without warranties, guarantees or acceptable standards,” Mr Short said.

“The financing of farm-scale and community renewable projects should be underpinned by a ring-fenced budget of €100 million from the additional charge paid by all homeowners by way of the public service obligation (PSO) levy. Renewable energy can no longer be the exclusive right of large-scale big developers,” he added.

Production of biomethane from anaerobic digestion and its injection into the national gas grid “has potential in Ireland’s renewable energy future”, Mr Naughten said. “Green gas is not only a source of renewable energy, but it also provides an outlet for food and farm waste.”

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