Government measures to tackle the energy crisis expected in the coming weeks will also signal measures to restrict the use of fossil fuels, including gas boilers in homes, leading to a likely ban on their installation at some date. later, confirmed Climate Minister Eamon Ryan.
Along with this will be confirmation of the accelerated roll-out of district heating – where excess heat from industry is used to heat nearby homes – and the scaling up of renovations, he told a conference. organized by the Irish District Energy Association in Dublin on Thursday.
Acknowledging that Gas Networks Ireland connected 8,000 homes last year with gas boilers, Mr Ryan said it was not acceptable in times of climate and energy crisis “to replace fossils with fossils”.
The package of measures should send clear signals, he said, that the installation of gas boilers would not be allowed, possibly with a grace period of two to three years and the assurance of a support for the adoption of renewable alternatives. He believed this could be achieved through building regulations and would not require primary legislation.
He expected the first major district heating system in Dublin to be in place in two to three years using excess heat from the Covanta incinerator in Poolbeg. At the moment, Mr Ryan said, there was ‘unbelievable waste’ heating Dublin Bay, while there was a network of pipes under the Liffey which could heat nearby offices to the north and south of the river. It could also heat social housing and Georgian Dublin, where renovation was not possible, he said.
The chair of the Climate Change Advisory Council, Maire Donnelly, said there was a need for much greater ambition in the uptake of renewable heating technology, particularly district heating. The regulations worked because the use of gas and oil boilers was declining, but not enough, she noted. Additionally, there was an opportunity to deploy district heating on an industrial scale as many oil-fired boilers were reaching the end of their life.
Appropriate policy, regulation and zoning of areas, however, had to be in place by the end of this year to allow take-off, while grants for renovations could not be allowed in areas where a district heating option was available, she pointed out.
The Irish mentality had to change to embrace the idea that ‘energy is a service, it is not a fuel’, Ms Donnelly said. The electricity system was based on a fuel-based market and, as some had predicted, the wholesale market had collapsed, while recent events meant this had happened sooner than expected.
Moving to a weather-dependent energy system where “we can predict the weather but cannot control it” required a careful balancing of needs as nature could be abundant and sometimes not – with a basic need for backup storage.
David Connolly, chief technology officer of heating company Astatine, said making district heating the “attractive economic alternative” among consumers was key to reviving the sector in Ireland. “It’s the most cost-effective thing for people in areas with district heating options to do,” he added.
He cited a survey conducted in Denmark this year which confirmed that 90% of systems saw no increase in their energy costs. “They look around and say ‘what’s going on with gas prices in Europe’?”
He said it was telling that European countries with the highest levels of renewable heat – notably in Scandinavia – had extensive district heating networks.
Looking back, Mr Connolly felt that Ireland should not have built a gas network and should have installed district heating networks instead.
Donna Gartland, chief executive of Dublin’s energy agency Codema, pointed out that 44% of Ireland’s energy needs come from heating. The district heating option, where possible, was “a much easier request for households” as it offered “a plug and place option” with a one-day changeover where a network was in place, a she added.
She confirmed the Poolbeg scheme had been delayed but received €20m from the climate action fund and support from Dublin City Council. It expected a partner to come on board in the coming months to enable the transition to the development phase.
The only other planned development is the pilot district heating system in Tallaght, with most of the excess heat coming from the nearby Amazon data centre.