Clonakilty-based start-up upgrading homes throughout Ireland

RetroKit supports evidence-based decision-making for housing energy renovation projects

According to the Government’s Climate Action Plan, about 500,000 Irish homes need to be upgraded to a B2 energy rating by 2030 while an estimated 70 per cent of homes need an energy upgrade. On paper that sounds simple enough. In reality, analysing the national housing stock is a huge task. But every cloud has a silver lining and for the Clonakilty-based start-up RetroKit, which has automated the analysis process, this is a big opportunity.

RetroKit's potential customers include local authorities, sustainable energy communities, housing associations and energy retrofit professionals both in Ireland and across Europe. Work on the RetroKit platform began in 2017 when company co-founder Xavier Dubuisson began an energy innovation project part-funded by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI).

“RetroKit uses data analytics and visualisation techniques to help housing providers to both assess the current energy performance of their housing stock and to make the best investment decisions about how to renovate it in order to reach climate action targets,” he says.

RetroKit will earn its keep by charging customers an annual subscription to use its cloud-based platform. This will give them access to a comprehensive database of their housing stock with analysis of its baseline energy performance. The platform will also offer an energy retrofit planning toolkit as an additional module, which will be charged for on a per dwelling basis.

Dubuisson is an expert in sustainable energy and has worked in the sector for more than 20 years. He has been involved in local energy planning in Ireland over that period and, having completed studies across Cork, Kerry, Clare and Limerick, he was aware that there was no digital tool available to plan energy efficiency in large scale housing stock. Three years ago Dubuisson teamed up with engineer Shay Kavanagh, whose background is in building energy analysis, energy policy and its associated regulatory landscape, and they put a team together to build the prototype for what has since developed into RetroKit.

Development costs have been in the order of €350,000 with about half of this self-funded

“There have been software platforms developed in Europe in the past that share some of the features of RetroKit but most of them came about as part of bigger research projects. They have never been commercialised and have all but disappeared from view,” Dubuisson says.

“Our focus was very much on making RetroKit a sustainable business from the outset with a user-centred design approach at the heart of what we were doing. We have also taken a different approach by creating a cloud-based software platform that provides support throughout the value chain for managing housing stock upgrades from planning through procurement to implementation and monitoring.”

Development costs have been in the order of €350,000 with about half of this self-funded. The remainder has come from various agency supports including the SEAI's R&D fund, Enterprise Ireland through the Exxcel Programme at the Rubicon Centre in Cork and LEO West Cork.

“The onus is on large housing stock providers to take the necessary action and this is a big challenge for them,” explains the company’s third co-founder, Susan O’Flaherty, who is responsible for operations and business development. “Few local authorities or housing groups have the necessary time or resources demanded by this currently labour intensive manual task and with pressure on them to meet climate action targets our platform will empower our customers to accelerate the process and make the evidence-based decisions they need to make to move from planning to action.”

RetroKit was to have had its big official launch at the upcoming Energy Show in April, but it looks as if coronavirus will put paid to that. “We’ve had to review our plans in the light of what’s happening and are now looking at an online launch instead,” O’Flaherty says. “At this point, we will continue to bootstrap our development but once we get commercial traction, we’ll happily talk to investors about funding expansion in other markets.”