SEAI’s National Heat Study stresses urgency of immediate action to deliver climate targets

  • Study shows excessive dependence on fossil fuels for heating as emissions continue to rise
  • Urgency to deliver climate targets for heating necessitates fast deployment of technologies available today
  • A combination of district heating and heat pumps in homes, businesses and industry will play a vital role in fast decarbonisation

Heat related carbon dioxide emissions in Ireland are rising, representing 38% of energy related emissions in 2020. Ireland’s heating demand has been rising steadily since 2014, primarily due to economic growth.  Reducing and removing the fossil fuels we use to provide heat in our homes, businesses and industry is a serious challenge that is central to achieving Ireland’s climate targets.

SEAI today published the National Heat Study, a comprehensive analysis of the options for reaching net zero emissions from the heating sector by 2050. Comprising a series of technical reports analysing heat supply and use across all sectors, the study provides key insights and proposed actions to decarbonise the sector. Crucially it stresses the need for early and urgent action.

Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Eamon Ryan TD, said:

“Reducing and ultimately removing fossil fuels in the heating of our homes, businesses and industries is central to achieving Ireland’s climate targets. 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.”
Eamon Ryan , Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications

Minister Ryan added:

“This National Heat Study is a rigorous analysis of the options, pathways and timelines of eliminating CO2 emissions associated with heating in Ireland, to remain within our carbon budgets and to achieve net-zero by 2050. 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; this study is a key input to that work.”
Eamon Ryan , Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications

The study identifies an essential role for several key technologies, many of which are available and demonstrated elsewhere at a commercial scale today. 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. This is an available technology and is particularly suited to oil fuelled, detached homes that meet an optimal level of building fabric efficiency. The installation of heat pump systems are considered a key measure to achieve the required emissions reductions in the residential sector under the National Retrofit Plan.

District heating is another technology that offers significant potential in Ireland. The study suggests as much as half of building heating in Ireland could be provided this way. District heating systems create a local-level heating grid which delivers low-carbon heat to residential, commercial, and public buildings.  The heat can be supplied using waste heat from industry or electricity generation, geothermal sources or heat pumps.  Such systems are widely deployed in many European countries and provide opportunities to greatly reduce the use of fossil fuel for heating in buildings.

Commenting on the study William Walsh, CEO at SEAI said:

“Almost one quarter of our 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. This National Heat Study will support the continued evolution of Ireland’s policy incentives for homes and business to focus on replacing fossil fuels in heating homes and industry. This will drive more immediate and significant reductions in CO2 emissions. It means focussing building upgrades on meeting the optimal level of building fabric performance to support an early switch away from fossil fuel heating sources and move to low carbon, sustainable technologies.”
William Walsh , CEO, SEAI

The study is clear on the importance of having a timetable to phase-out fossil fuels across all sectors as soon as possible.  Given the long lifetime of heating systems (15+ years), less than 8% of existing systems are replaced each year, so most homes and businesses will purchase new heating systems only twice before 2050.  The study underpins that no new fossil fuel appliances can be installed in buildings post 2035 if net zero heating emissions are to be reached by 2050.  For industry this would be sooner again.

Ireland aims to reduce emissions by 51% by 2030. This 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.  The study provides direction as to the priority and extension of measures to decarbonise heat as quickly as possible. It highlights the absolute necessity of acting early and making the best use of technologies that are available now.