Subscriber OnlyResidential

‘Our biggest bill was €11.50 on Christmas Eve. My entire bill is just a bit more than that this month’: Meet the home energy savers

More and more homeowners are availing of grants to boost home energy efficiency and in some cases generate extra cash for the household

an investment in the future: being energy conscious and installing solar panels can pay off. Photograph: iStock

Summer is here, and with it hopefully some respite for those worried about energy costs. For others, the longer days mean monitoring solar panel apps, timing laundry and guessing their payout from selling electricity back to the grid.

Wexford homeowner Barry Glynn is a big fan of solar panels. Sixteen panels on his southeast-facing roof have grown to 20. “It’s an addiction. You just want more power. I didn’t actually need it, but you just want more.”

Retrofitting his home in Castletown, Co Wexford, wasn’t planned. When, post-honeymoon, he returned to a house flooded by a failed attic water tank, he decided to put the insurance money to good use. It paid to internally insulate the entire house bringing it up to a building energy rating (Ber) of C3. The solar panels from Clover Energy Systems added four years ago brought the house up to a B2.

“It was an investment in the future and in this current environment. By God, for once my decision was correct,” says Glynn.


His numbers are impressive. Along with the panels, Glynn invested in a battery that stores 10kW of solar power. “When the sun sets, the battery kicks in and runs everything in the house,” he says. “We’re in the good months now so from March to October I will buy no electricity.” He and his wife now plan their energy usage around the system. “We do certain things at certain times, it sounds onerous but it’s not. If you do that, you reap the rewards.”

How does it feel knowing his dishwasher, washing machine, dryer, fridge, showers and lighting are all running for free? “It gives you a feeling of being cutting edge. I look at every roof I see now and go, you need to have panels on that.”

VAT on solar panel installation was abolished on May 1st, cutting about €1,000 from their cost. When combined with the existing Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) grant of up to €2,400 for home solar installations, it means the cost of solar panels could drop to about €5,600 on an average home.

Glynn has also invested in a water diverter. “When the battery is full, the hot water diverter kicks in and it grabs the power, puts it into the hot water tank and heats up the water. It will then turn off and the power goes out the door to the grid.”

He doesn’t have a smart meter which many use to sell electricity back to the grid. Instead, he gets what’s called a “deemed export”, which is an estimation, based on a formula, of exported electricity in kWh. Even on bad weather days, his panels are exporting a set amount. “Don’t ask me the amount, I know other people have spreadsheets on this. I’m not that bad.”

In any case, he is quids in. He is expecting a payment in his next billing cycle of between €70 and €100. “The money coming back in nullifies the standing charges.” Indeed between a welcome bonus from switching electricity suppliers and Government energy credits, he is €500 in credit with his provider. “That last bill I paid was back in September and that was €45,” says Glynn.

Yesterday I sold 18.25kWh back to the grid, so basically I made €4.38

So convinced is Glynn by the savings in energy and money, he has set up a Facebook group for like-minded solar panel acolytes. “The whole idea is to help others on their solar journey,” he says.

Don’t be afraid to ask a silly question, that’s the mantra of the Solar PV Works in Ireland Facebook group, which now has 2,600 members. There are several such online groups in Ireland and feelings among solar devotees can run high. “One of the groups is like the Piranha Club, God forbid you would dare ask a silly question. That’s not the kind of vibe we are trying to create here. If someone is nasty, they are gone,” says Glynn.

“On good days, people in our group will screenshot what their systems are doing. They could be in Donegal, Cork or Galway. It’s great to see other people around the country sharing their numbers.”

Glynn’s B2 energy rating enabled him to qualify for an AIB green mortgage too, lowering his interest rate from 3.15 per cent to an impressive 2.1 per cent, fixed for five years.

“It’s because of solar we got our house from a C3 to a B2 and it’s because of the green mortgage we have now paid back the loan for the solar,” says Glynn.

The retrofit has insulated him for geopolitics too. “Whatever the world is throwing at you, you’ve got the security of knowing you ain’t touching me.”

Christmas Eve last year and it was €11.50 just for the day. My entire monthly bill is just a bit more than that so far this month

Aoife Shennick from Grange in Douglas, Co Cork, does her laundry and dishes in the middle of the night. Using her energy supplier’s special night boost tariff of 10.5 cent per kWh between 2am and 5am, her appliances are on timers for precisely that window.

Not only is the housework getting done while she sleeps, she is earning money too. Having invested in a 5kWh battery with her solar panels, that battery is set to charge during the night boost period too. A full charge costs just 52 cents. She then sells this cheap energy back to the grid at a higher rate.

“For that 5kWh in the battery, I’m selling each kW for 24 cent, so basically I’m making €1.20. When you are counting your pennies you are looking after your pounds,” says Shennick.

Her three-bed semi, bought from her grandparents, was built in 1994. She availed of the full SEAI grants to install roof, attic and wall insulation, triple glazing, underfloor heating, an air-to-water heat pump and solar panels, bringing the house from a D2 rating to an A2. The household includes a granny flat for her father.

Using heat pump and solar panel apps on her phone, Shennick can tell you how much the household spent and earned on electricity yesterday, and every day this year. Electricity for the family on May 23rd for example cost 56 cent. “I had the washing machine on, the dishwasher on, and I also charged my battery and we pulled 5.3kWh from the grid at 10.5 cents a kWh,” she says.

“Yesterday I sold 18.25kWh back to the grid, so basically I made €4.38,” says Shennick.

Being energy conscious and choosing the right tariff pays dividends, says Shennick. For May last year, she estimates her household was using 22kWh of electricity a day. That was on a flat rate of 39 cent a kWh, so that was €8.58 a day. “For the month of May alone that would have been about €266,” she says.

Checking her app, her bill for the month as of May 24th is just €13.65. Her energy company owes her €74.16 for the electricity she has sold back to the grid so far this month. “I’m currently with SSE Airtricity and they pay out every six months,” she says.

“I think our biggest bill was Christmas Eve last year and it was €11.50 just for the day. My entire monthly bill is just a bit more than that so far this month,” says Shennick.

The savings are a motivator for the mother of two toddlers, but so is the environment. “We are that type of family, we don’t like single-use items, we do reusable nappies; we are due our third child in a couple of weeks and they will also be in reusable nappies. We are an old-fashioned, hand-me-downs house.”

She recommends turning the heating down to 19 degrees and using a slow cooker too. “You are always learning and sharing simple things. Every morning we boil the kettle and then we fill a flask so we have hot water there all day. The amount of energy we were using every day just to boil the kettle several times was ridiculous.”

John Perry: 'We can monitor the heat, how much energy we are using, what hot water there is, it’s fairly amazing.' Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

By looking at a solar panel app on his phone, Leixlip-based John Perry can see exactly when they are producing free energy. “That’s when you start using your washing machine, your dishwasher and your dryer,” says Perry.

He retrofitted his C2-rated dormer bungalow as part of a five-year plan beginning in 2017. Over time, this included triple-glazed windows, new doors, external insulation, new Velux windows and insulation in the roof and attic.

The Government’s Climate Action Plan 2023 includes targets to retrofit 120,000 dwellings to Ber B2 by 2025, and 500,000 existing dwellings by 2030. It aims to put heat pumps into 45,000 existing dwellings by 2025 and into 400,000 of them by 2030. Pounded by electricity prices, homeowners are more motivated than ever to be energy efficient. The SEAI has supported nearly 10,000 retrofits in the first quarter of this year alone, that’s up 172 per cent on the same period last year. Applications for retrofit grants are up 76 per cent.

A low-cost loan scheme for retrofits, to be rolled out later this year, will offer unsecured loans of up to €50,000. Whether homeowners bite or not will depend on the interest rate.

SEAI-registered provider Electric Ireland Superhomes installed Perry’s new heat pump and radiators before Christmas, adding solar panels, the final element of the plan, three months ago. The house now has an impressive A1 rating.

“The house really came into its own when we got the heat pump and solar panels. Now we can monitor the heat, how much energy we are using, what hot water there is, it’s fairly amazing,” says Perry.

His solid fuel, oil burner, water cylinder and electric showers are now all gone. He describes his house in January, February and March this year as “toasty”.

“It’s a big investment. There is an SEAI grant for the heat pump and if there is something that is more efficient and it reduces your carbon footprint, I thought that’s where you should be going,” says Perry.

With a smart meter installed, Perry has chosen a tariff that gives him good value between noon and 4pm when his solar panels are producing the most. “I’m definitely moving away from cooking between 5pm and 7pm because my solar isn’t helping me,” he says.

“To have the efficiency that’s there and the controllability of it you can monitor it from anywhere in the world, you can turn down the temperature and see the savings. I would check it a few times a day. I think it’s class.”

Top five energy-saving tips

Close the fridge

Dither at the fridge much? You’ll pay for it. For every 20 seconds the door is open, it takes 45 minutes for the fridge to cool down again. Try not to dawdle. Don’t put piping hot food in the fridge or freezer either as you’ll pay extra to cool it down. Defrost appliances at least every six months to maintain efficiency.

The heat is on

The biggest energy guzzlers in your house are appliances that heat – that’s the shower, cooker, tumble dryer and washing machine, says the SEAI. Use them sensibly.

Tumble dryers are a biggie. If you’ve got the space, rig up a washing line and let the wind do the job for free, or put a clothes horse at a south-facing window. If you must use the dryer, dry heavy towels and lighter things separately.

Save money by running dishwashers and washing machines at a lower temperature and with a full load to avoid wasting water and energy.

Night of the vampire

Phone chargers, computers, TVs – these vampires continue to use energy and drain power, even when they are turned off. Left plugged in 24/7, these phantom energy suckers can account for up to 20 per cent of your monthly electricity bill. Slay this cost by unplugging them at bed time. Use a power strip so that you can unplug a few at once, says the SEAI.

Gain control

Installing controls on your heating system will typically reduce your energy usage by up to 20 per cent, says the SEAI. They enable you to match your space and water heating schedules to your lifestyle.

At a minimum, controls can decouple space heating from water heating. That means you can get hot water without having to turn on the heating. In summer, you can use your boiler to heat hot water, without using the immersion. You also split upstairs and downstairs heating. Get controls from your energy supplier with a grant of €700 from the SEAI.

In the meantime, don’t waste energy overheating water by setting water heating on your immersion to 65 degrees. Put a lagging jacket on the immersion to keep water warm for longer.

Guiding light

Replace failed light bulbs with energy efficient options such as LEDs. Select the lowest wattage bulb needed to light an area. Got an outdoor light? Fit them with a sensor and timer to reduce energy usage. When leaving a room, turn off the lights.