Rising heat-related emissions a ‘serious challenge’ to climate targets, study finds

SEAI publishes study outlining options to reach net zero emissions in heat sector

Heat-related carbon dioxide emissions in Ireland are rising and represented 38 per cent of energy-related emissions in 2020, a new study by the energy watchdog has found.

The research, from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), added that reducing and removing fossil fuels to heat homes, businesses and industry is a “serious challenge” that is central to achieving Ireland’s climate targets.

On Tuesday, the SEAI published the National Heat Study, a comprehensive analysis of the options for reaching net zero emissions from the heating sector by 2050, which stressed the need for “ early and urgent action”.

No new fossil fuel appliances can be installed in buildings post 2035 if net zero heating emissions are to be reached by 2050, according to the study. For industry, this would be sooner again.

Given the lifetime of more than 15 years of heating systems, less than 8 per cent of existing systems are replaced each year, so most homes and businesses will purchase new heating systems only twice before 2050.

Having a timetable to phase-out fossil fuels across all sectors as soon as possible was important, the study noted.

The study also identified an “essential role” for several key technologies, including heat pumps and district heating.

“Heat pump uptake plays a significant role in all scenarios modelled within the study, and importantly the scenario with the lowest cumulative CO2 emissions sees significant and rapid uptake of this technology,” it said.

District heating systems create a local-level heating grid which delivers low-carbon heat to residential, commercial, and public buildings.

“ Such systems are widely deployed in many European countries and provide opportunities to greatly reduce the use of fossil fuel for heating in buildings,” it added.

Ireland aims to reduce carbon emissions by 51 per cent by 2030, however the study shows that an “unprecedented ramp up of effort and potentially additional measures” are needed if the heat sector is to deliver its share of the emissions cuts.

Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan said Ireland's heat has the lowest percentage of renewable energy of any European country.

“From this low base we can learn from other countries that are well on the way to achieving zero carbon heating,” he said.

“It’s clear that fast deployment of existing solutions plays a key role. However, new-to-Ireland technologies like district heating will play a large role in the decarbonisation of our heat sector. Actions required to deliver our 2050 objective will be addressed in the 2022 Climate Action Plan.”

William Walsh, chief executive of the SEAI, said almost one quarter of Ireland's greenhouse gas emissions are heat-related.

“So, it’s one quarter of the problem we need to solve and it’s the one where we’ve achieved least to date. The recent national retrofit announcement is a massive turning point for Government ambition and priorities in the sector,” he added.