• Jim Gannon

SEAI announces the inaugural deep retrofit conference for June 21st, 2017.

We are delighted to announce the start of a new journey for Ireland's building retrofit industry. This journey begins with SEAI's inaugural National Deep Retrofit Conference on June 21st in the Aviva Stadium, Dublin.

Building Energy Ratings (BER)

A new home built today, under the current Building Regulations, should typically achieve a Building Energy Rating (BER) of A3 or higher. A similar home built in the early noughties might have achieved a C or D rating, consuming about up to four times as much energy. And a home built in the sixties, when there were no energy performance regulations, would consume about six times more than today's home. So houses built today and into the future, as we move towards near zero energy buildings, should pose little excessive energy burden.

Not so for our existing housing stock which continues to pose one of our greatest energy efficiency challenges. We have up to a million homes built in the last century that inhabit the lower reaches of the energy performance scale, imposing significant costs and lower levels of health and wellbeing on their occupants.

Steps made towards addressing this challenge

More than 330,000 homes have benefited from SEAI's Better Energy grant schemes. These have largely been homeowners completing one or more discrete upgrades, often referred to as shallow retrofit. Homeowners are attracted to these because typically they are fast, simpler to do, and less disruptive. More often than not, they are also at the lower end of the cost scale. There's no doubt that these homes are more comfortable and less costly to run, and so that homeowners are benefiting as a result. But as we look to the future, we need to move towards much deeper levels of retrofit. But what is deep retrofit?

Rather than upgrading isolated parts of the house, the whole home should be assessed as a system, looking at how energy is used and retained. Modelling software enables all aspects of building fabric, air tightness, ventilation and renewables to be assessed. We can also consider how the different recommendations might interact with each other and how solutions can be precisely tuned. The result is an integrated, comprehensive strategy for dramatically improving home energy performance and the comfort and wellbeing of those who occupy it.

Why aren't we doing it already?

Firstly it represents a significant learning curve for homeowners who might justifiably lack confidence when considering complex and costly solutions. What might be the best fit for their home and what might the return on investment be? Homeowners can also be sceptical when dealing with 'experts' whom they fear might be over-promising. And in truth, the contractor supply chain does not always have the expertise in the first place and so there will be a steep learning curve here also. If the homeowner can overcome those initial hurdles, they still need to think about the level of disruption in the home, the substantially higher costs involved and possible options for financing.

These are all matters which SEAI is now exploring, to identify the best ways to help homeowners overcome these barriers and unlock the hidden potential in their homes. To date, we have engaged in pilot studies testing a range of personal financing approaches and also some technical solutions. Budget 2017 has now provided us with additional funds to expand these pilots, in order to explore a far broader range of innovations which will better reflect the scale of challenge we face.

As we move forward

We will examine the main residential building types in Ireland so that the supply chain and the homeowner can identify with the types of home we are testing. As a consequence we will be examining a much wider variety of technical solutions that could be combined in different scenarios, establishing what the best solutions are for homes from a disruption and value for money perspective. We will also be testing and seeking to develop the supply chains for both advice to homeowners, and for the delivery of equipment and works on the ground. It is also essential that we investigate, in different regions, the capacity of the market to deliver these solutions at scale and to high standards. This will build awareness and confidence for homeowners across the country, which is a critical final strand of what we will be testing.

In completing this pilot, we will intentionally be bringing a lot of transparency to the marketplace, opening the book not only on the cost of delivered technologies and solutions across different building types - but also to the post-works performance of the homes we engage with. To do this, we will be drawing together a very broad group of stakeholders from homeowners and occupants through to technology suppliers, contractors, local advocates, project managers and the research and finance communities.

To provide a platform for sharing experiences, best practice and analysis, we will be hosting an inaugural National Deep Retrofit Conference on 21st of June this year in the Aviva Stadium. This will serve as a marker post each year as we test and embed the methods that will bring our building stock up to scratch over the coming years.

Energy efficiency for all buildings

Deep retrofit is destined to be a major component of our efforts to make all our buildings, not just our homes, more energy efficient. At the same time it is likely to be a very significant economic and employment opportunity for Ireland. So if you haven't heard of it before, be prepared to hear a lot more about it.

Note: The full programme for SEAI's inaugural National Deep Retrofit Conference will be announced in late April and will feature national and international perspectives, establishing a framework for action across all stakeholders.

Author biography

SEAI CEO Jim Gannon is an Engineering Graduate of NUI Galway, with a Masters in Environmental Assessment from the University of Wales Aberystwyth and MBA from the UCD Smurfit School of Business. He has worked within the energy sector throughout his career, delivering projects at a European, national and regional level for public and private sector organisations. This has included projects across conventional and renewable energy, transmission and distribution infrastructure, energy demand management and technology development.

Email jim.gannon@seai.ie