The Government’s national retrofit scheme is a bright light in a bleak winter as soaring energy prices cause havoc across the economy and inflict a merciless blow to household incomes. Deep retrofits are one of the most effective ways of reducing household vulnerability to shocks arising from fluctuating fossil fuel prices. They make for more comfortable homesand result in lower air pollution.
With a State spend of €8 billion, the ambition cannot be disputed, and it responds to the urgent need for transformative climate action. The scheme is attempting to rachet up retrofitting from a low base by addressing previous complexities and high up-front costs for householders.
Just 10 “deep” retrofits (to at least an A3 energy rating) were achieved under Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland schemes in 2021. While the Government’s 2030 target of 500,000 homes to B2 standard would make a big impact, deep retrofits to an A rating must be prioritised to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest.
Significant new elements have been added to the mix, including one-stop shops to process grant applications and to project-manage works, and revamped SEAI grants as limits are increased to up to 50 per cent of cost – with a €25,000 maximum. A careful balancing of construction sector priorities over the next decade will be needed, however, as the housing supply crisis is likely to persist. Already, some other potentially troublesome issues are on the horizon, notably glaring skill shortages and rising inflation which risks undermining efforts to provide low-interest finance to prompt uptake.
With output needing to exceed 75,000 houses a year from 2026, an essential catalyst will be having enough one-stop shops. In most cases they will be in the form of alliances between construction companies and energy providers, though there will also be a place for smaller agencies in particular parts of the country. The Coalition’s efforts to address residential emissions are creditable, but ultimately it is delivery that will determine success or failure.