How are we doing? Changes and Trends in County Incomes in the Western Region

The CSO released data on County Incomes and Regional GDP for 2017 last month (along with preliminary figures for 2018).  In this post changes in disposable incomes per person in Western Region counties incomes in the Western Region are examined with a particular focus on the differences among counties and the changes over time.  Regional GDP will be considered in a forthcoming post.

It should be remembered that the ‘Household Disposable Income per person’ discussed in this post is calculated at a macro level and the county data is most useful for comparison among counties and over time.  Indeed the CSO notes that “While the county figures involve uncertainty, they do provide a useful indication of the degree of variability at county level.”

The map from the CSO below gives a quick overview of Household Disposable Income per person in 2017.  It shows, unsurprisingly, that the highest disposable incomes are in the east and south, while counties in the west and north have the lowest disposable incomes. The highest disposable income per person is in Dublin which, along with Kildare, Limerick, Wicklow and Meath, had per capita disposable income greater than the state average in 2017 while Cork, Tipperary, and Westmeath were just below (see Figure 1 below for more detail).

Source:  CSO, 2019, County Incomes and Regional GDP 2017

 

A summary of key data for Western Region counties is provided in Table 1 below.  The data for 2017 can be regarded as more robust than the 2018 estimates and so it is used for most of the comparisons in this post.  In 2017, disposable income per person in the Western Region was €17,856 in 2017 and in 2018 it is estimated to have increased to €18,007 (the Western Region figures were calculated using inferred populations).

Table 1: Disposable income data for Western Region counties

*CSO Preliminary Estimate for 2018.  ^Own calculations

Source:  CSO, 2020, County Incomes and Regional GDP 2017  and CSO Statbank Table CIA02

 

Disposable income per person in Donegal has been consistently the lowest in the region (and nationally) and estimates for 2018 show a small decline in incomes in Donegal (-0.7%)  and Leitrim (0.3%) between the two years.  Disposable Incomes in Donegal in 2017 were only 76% of the state average.  Only two Western Region counties (Galway and Clare) had disposable incomes of more than 90% of the state average, while Sligo had a disposable income of 89% of the state average. Incomes were 84% of the state average in Mayo and Roscommon. The Western Region as a whole had a disposable income per person of 86% of the state average in 2017.

The most significant growth between 2017 and the 2018 estimate was in Clare (1.9%) with income in Galway growing by 1.8%.  For the Western Region as a whole, per capita disposable incomes showed a growth of 0.8%.  Disposable income per person in the state was €20,714 in 2017 and is estimated to have grown by 3.8% to €21,495 in 2018.  As noted, however, the 2018 data is estimated[1]. Household Disposable Income per Person in Dublin is estimated to have grown by 6.8% and by 8% in Laois, 7% in Westmeath, 6% in Offaly and 5.3% in Kildare.  It is estimated to have fallen in Wexford, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal.  The differing growth rates among counties are giving rise to increasing regional imbalance.

Disposable income per person for all Irish counties is shown in Figure 1 below.  As mentioned, disposable income per person in Donegal lowest in the state while Roscommon and Mayo have the next lowest.  In contrast, Galway had the twelfth highest disposable income per person, with Clare in fourteenth place.  The highest disposable incomes nationally are in Dublin, Kildare and Limerick.  These, along with Wicklow, Meath and Cork, all had Disposable Income per person of more than €20,000 per annum.  No Western Region county had a disposable income of more than more €19,000 per annum.

Figure 1: Disposable Income per Person for all Counties, Western Region and State, 2017.

Source:  CSO, 2020, County Incomes and Regional GDP 2017

 

Trends over Time

It is also interesting to look at changes in disposable incomes over time.  Figure 2 shows trends in disposable incomes in the Western Region between 2008 and 2018.  All of the counties show the rapid decline from the 2008 peak followed by varying rates of recovery.  There was a small peak in 2012 followed by a fall in 2013 which related to a decline in social transfers as discussed here.  Galway consistently had the highest income in the region (with the exception of 2011 when Leitrim was highest).  In contrast, disposable incomes in Clare had fallen to the 3rd lowest in the region in 2011 but have shown steady recovery since then and currently disposable incomes are second highest in the region.

Nationally, by 2017 seven counties[2] had returned to the income levels of 2008, but none of these was in the Western Region where no county had a higher Disposable Income per Person in 2017 than it did in 2008.  The estimates for 2018 suggest that 11 counties will have disposable incomes above the 2008 peak, but again, none of these is in the Western Region.

 

Figure 2: Disposable Income per Person for Western Region Counties 2008-2018 (€)

Source:  CSO, 2020, County Incomes and Regional GDP 2017

 

Disposable Incomes in the Western Region compared to the State

When considering how counties are doing it is interesting to look back over a longer period, with data comparing counties to the state average available back to 2000 (Fig 3).  While Figure 2 shows the Disposable Incomes per person, when considering the trends among counties it is helpful to use indices, so that county figures can be examined relative to the state (State=100).  Thus Figure 3 provides a contrast to the more positive trends indicated above in Figure 2 which showed growth in disposable incomes in Western Region counties, particularly between 2014 and 2016.  Growth rates in the Western Region were lower than for the state as a whole and so Figure 3 shows that Disposable Incomes in Western Region counties are declining relative to the state average.

The gap between counties in the Western Region and the rest for the most part narrowed (i.e. they got closer to the state average) during the boom period and into the slowdown.  In fact, regional divergence was least in 2010 when all parts of the country were significantly affected by recession.  Galway and Leitrim were the only Western Region counties to have a disposable incomes of higher than the state average during the period 2000-2017 (Galway in 2009 and 2010 and Leitrim in 2010) .  Since then, it is of concern that all Western Region counties, except Sligo, have declined relative to the state index of disposable income per person.

 

Figure 3: Index of Disposable Incomes per person in Western Region counties 2000-2017, State=100

Source:  CSO, 2020, Statbank Table CIA02

 

Although disposable incomes in most Western Region counties was lower relative to the state in 2017 than in 2000, the pattern of change has varied among counties.  Perhaps most significantly, the index for Clare was 96.5 relative to the state (100) in 2000 but by 2017 it had fallen to 90.5, though this was showing significant recovery on a low point of 88.9 of the state average in in 2015.

Roscommon (92.0) and Mayo (92.2) were in a similar position relative to the state in 2000, and both have declined significantly since then (Roscommon, 84.0, Mayo 84.2) though the pattern for both over time was different.

Sligo is the only Western Region county to have improved relative to the state between 2000 (88.9) and 2017 (89.1) though the difference is small, down from a peak of 95.5 in 2012.  Similarly, Leitrim had only a very small change between 2000 and 2017 (87.9 to 87.5) but it had peaked at 100.6 in 2010.

Galway, which is often considered to be the engine of the region, also declined relative to the state, despite good performance to 2010, and having started in 2000 with an index of 94.2 relative the state, by 2017 it had fallen to 91.7, though this was the highest in the Western Region. Finally, the index of disposable income per person in Donegal, having started from a low base (81.4) continued to decline over the period to 75.6 in 2017 and has remained the lowest in the state during that period.

 

Ranking of counties

Another way to look at how the Western Region counties are doing is to compare them to other counties and rank the relative positions.  In Figure 4, the rank of the Western Region counties is shown for four years (2000, 2006, 2011 and 2017).

Figure 4: Rank of Disposable Income per Person in Western Region among all counties

Source:  CSO, 2020, Statbank Table CIA02

 

Between 2000 and 2017, in the Western Region only Sligo (from 19 to 18) and Leitrim (from 21 to 20) improved their position relative to other counties, though Leitrim had experienced greater improvement in 2006 (ranked 11) and 2011 (ranked 8).  There was significant variation in Sligo, falling as low as 22nd in 2006 and rising to 13th in 2011.

Galway did not vary significantly across the period (from position 11 in 2000 to 12 in 2017) while incomes in Clare, according to this measure, fell from 8th place in 2000 to 14 in 2017, having been as low as 17th in 2011.

The most significant changes were in Roscommon and Mayo which started in 13th (Mayo) and 14th (Roscommon) positions, but have fallen to the bottom three with disposable income per person in Mayo ranked 24th, Roscommon ranked 25th in 2017.  Donegal has had the lowest disposable income of all counties for the whole period.

 

Conclusion

The relative declines in disposable incomes in Western Region counties is of concern.  While incomes in the Western Region have grown, they are not increasing at the same rate as other counties.

Last year the CSO released Geographical Profiles of Income in Ireland 2016, a new, very comprehensive report on incomes in Ireland which provides data at both county and Electoral Division (ED) level (discussed in a WDC Insights blog here).  In addition, new data Earnings Analysis Using Administrative Data Sources (EAADS) provides statistics on earnings at county level (findings for the Western Region are discussed here).  This data, along with the Geographical Profiles of Income and the County Incomes data) gives us an opportunity to triangulate different data sources and gain a better understanding of patterns in earnings and some of the factors contributing to income differences in the region.

Having this data at county level will allow for a more nuanced understanding of the income situation and trends in the Western Region.  I hope to have the opportunity to explore these further in the near future.

 

This post has provided a brief overview of the key County Income figures for the Western Region based on the recent CSO release.  The growth and change in the regional economies as shown by the Regional GVA data will be examined in the next post.

 

 

Helen McHenry

 

[1] There can be quite significant variation between the preliminary and final figures.

[2] Limerick, Wicklow, Dublin, Kildare, Kerry, Westmeath and Tipperary

Posted in Disparity, Economy, Regional Development, Regional Statistics | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Submission to the Review of Sustainable Mobility Policy

The WDC recently made a submission to the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (DTTAS) consultation on the Review of Sustainable Mobility Policy and associated background papers.

One of the functions of the WDC is regional policy analysis.  The WDC seeks to ensure that government policy reflects the needs of, and maximises the potential of, the Western Region[1] in such areas as infrastructure, natural resources, enterprise and regional and rural development.  It also tracks the implementation of policies and recommends adjustments as appropriate.

As the Western Region is very rural[2] the WDC submission has a particular focus on the needs of, and opportunities for, more rural and peripheral areas.

The Sustainable Mobility Policy consultation was organised around a number of specific topic issues with background papers prepared by DTTAS for each of these.  In this post some of the key points made in the submission for each topic are highlighted but the full submission can be read here.

Active travel

Active travel tends to be less popular in rural areas and in smaller urban settlements.  There are a number of reasons for this, including:

  • The need to travel longer distances to employment or services
  • A lack of walking and cycling facilities
  • Motorised transport travelling at higher average speeds giving rise to concerns about personal safety
  • Greater exposure to wind and rain
  • Lack of artificial lighting meaning that many journeys are difficult in the hours of darkness
  • Finally, less congestion and more predicable travel times in rural and small urban areas also reduce the incentive to walk or cycle.

Despite these issues Active Travel options should be more available and promoted in rural and small towns so that the proportion of active journeys is increased to the benefit of both the individual travellers and the wider community.

Normalising walking and cycling as viable travel options in rural areas is important.  They shouldn’t be considered unusual, risky or the preserve of a small minority.  This normalisation will of course occur as participation increases, but also as the infrastructure for active travel is increased and the options are more visible and safer.

 

Climate Change Challenge 

Addressing the decarbonisation of transport and travel in rural regions is complex. Rural people are more reliant on car based transport, they have less available public transport and tend to travel greater distances.  Rural dwellers’ transport and travel patterns need to be central to our Sustainable Mobility Policy.

The rural nature of the Western Region has implications for how we reduce transport emissions, but the reasons we travel are also very important, both in terms of options for reducing journey numbers and types, and the distances and nature of the journeys.

The three pronged ‘Avoid, Shift, Improve’ (ASI) framework is a hierarchy that emphasises reducing journeys in the first place, achieving modal shift, and improving mode efficiencies[3] and should be used for rural transport planning.  By thinking of each of these (ASI) in relation to rural journeys we can begin to focus on workable solutions

The WDC is currently engaged in a project on the transition to a low carbon economy in the rural Western Region (under Action 160 in the Climate Action Plan) and transport is one of the key elements under consideration.

 

Congestion

The costs of congestion are significant and varied, impacting on efficiency, economics and societal and individual wellbeing. Within the Western Region the larger towns and Galway city are particularly affected. It is important that congestion is eased, both to reduce the economic and social costs being incurred, and also to ensure the Region and its growth centres can deliver on the ambitious regional growth targets set out in Project Ireland 2040.

Within the Western Region, congestion in Galway city is of most concern.  The Galway Transport Strategy has identified various sustainable mobility measures which need to be expedited. Funding from national Government must be made available to ensure speedy delivery.  There needs to be an expansion of commuter rail services on the existing Athenry-Oranmore-Galway city route. This will relieve congestion and help promote other sustainable transport (walking and cycling) within Galway city. Investment is needed to double track this line, provide passing bays in the short term and procure additional carriages.

Regional towns will need support and investment in devising and activating sustainable mobility town plans. Support from the expertise available within the NTA and local authorities should be made available.

The WDC has been active in the area of remote working (previously termed e-work and telework) for many years, researching the practice, as well as operating an e-work policy for over two decades. We have published various papers including a recent blogpost which identifies the most recent evidence which suggests that that 18% of workers declared they worked from home.  See the blogpost for more detail.  The success of initiatives variously called e-working spaces/ co-working spaces/ hubs also suggests e-working is on the increase. These can provide similar benefits to home working in reducing commuting distance and congestion.

 

Land Use Planning and Transport Planning

The integration of land use and planning is important in generating more sustainable mobility.  Many people working in congested centres, especially Dublin, have to endure long commute times. If more employment was located in regional centres then it is likely many would have shorter commute times, with much less investment and funding required to ease congested networks in the Greater Dublin Area for example.

One of the important contributory factors to the recent and current pattern of development is the focus on transport investment to and from the capital with relatively minimal investment in other inter-city routes. Some of the current congestion or ‘over development’ of Dublin is in part a legacy issue relating to the priority given to improving the radial road links (and rail links) between the provincial cities and Dublin which ensured that Dublin was the most accessible city while at the same time there were relatively very poor intraregional links between each of the other cities, stifling development within and between the other regions.

 

Regulation of Public Transport

The remit of the National Transport Authority (NTA) which confers additional responsibilities within the GDA should not be confined to the GDA but should be extended to the entire country. The particular additional responsibilities allow the NTA to more effectively deliver on the transport needs of the GDA and this overall, comprehensive role is needed throughout the country.

Given the role of the NTA in delivering the Rural Transport programme, the investment programme in regional cities, the accessibility programme, and other transport programmes, it already has a significant role and understanding of transport issues outside the GDA. What is needed is the capacity to deliver overall strategic direction so as to enhance and integrate services across the country and beyond the GDA.

The background document notes that the majority of bus and rail services are PSO routes. These are ‘financially unviable services which are provided as a public good’. In this discussion it would be useful to note that this is not unusual, that most public transport services arose Europe are in receipt of public funding. The services provide wider economic benefits which are often not quantified but are no doubt significant.

 

Public Transport in Rural Ireland

Rural areas (depending on the definition used) can include some significant towns which have different transport patterns and needs to the more sparsely populated rural areas.  It is important that these differences are recognised in planning for rural transport and that one approach is not assumed to cover all rural issues.

Most journeys are made to reach services of varying kinds.  People living in rural areas tend to be at a greater distance from services than their urban counterparts and so the journeys made tend to be longer and more car based and of course those without access to a car are particularly disadvantaged.   Greater distance to services tends to reduce options for travel and in particular, given the lack of public transport and the distance to public transport services, increases reliance on car travel in rural areas[4].  There are opportunities and challenges in providing public transport in rural areas, some of which are noted here:

  • Existing public transport like school bus services and other transport services (health) should be open to all rural dwellers, making the most of the existing services.
  • Where a service exists bus stops, signage and information  should be available including covered bus shelters (discussed more in the Active travel section of this submission)
  • Bike parking stops which is secure and dry should be provided at rail stations and key bus (discussed more in the Active travel section of this submission)
  • An Information app on availability/ timing would be useful. Sometimes it can be difficult to find information about an existing service or predict when it might arrive.
  • If a phone service is used to provide information about the transport service or to allow for demand response this needs to be staffed daily ideally from 7am to 7pm. If you cannot rely on being able to contact the service to book  or check timing the service will not be used to its potential.

 

Statistics and Trends

There seems to be a shortage of data on public transport provided by private operators.  These account for a significant proportion of scheduled services between cities and towns in the Western Region but there is little data on passenger numbers, frequency etc.  This can sometimes lead to underestimation of the use of public transport not provided by Bus Éireann or Irish Rail.

Many journeys are multi modal, and yet there is very little information on such journeys with the main mode often being the only information gathered.  Better data on multi modal journeys would allow for infrastructure and services to be planned taking it into account.  Similarly, with better understanding of the roles of different modes in different journey types, the more sustainable modes can be encouraged as elements of a journey.

 

Priorities

There has long been a focus on sustainable travel in Dublin, but less focus on other cities (e.g. Galway) and other urban centres (such as Sligo and Ennis).  Likewise in small towns it is not prioritised or is included as an add-on.  Solutions may not be well designed or not attractive to users or may not be integrated so that they are not practical for users.  Finding out what works in smaller urban centres and making good investments is important.

There is a dearth of sustainable travel options and solutions available for rural areas, and if we are to reduce the carbon intensity of rural travel there needs to be a clear focus on finding solutions in rural areas, piloting infrastructural investments in rural areas and small towns and trying novel approaches to encouraging sustainable travel.  We need to find out what works in rural areas in relation to lift sharing, public transport use and active travel so potential solutions can be developed, then tested, learned from, and put in place elsewhere.

 

The full submission from the WDC is available here.

 

Helen McHenry

 

[1] There are seven counties under the WDC remit Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon, Galway and Clare

[2] Using the CSO definition 64.7% in of the population live outside of towns of 1,500 or more. Using the definition in Ireland 2040 the National Planning Framework, 80% of people in Western Region live outside of towns of 10,000.

[3] See more discussion in the NESC paper Advancing the Low-Carbon Transition in Irish Transport

[4] Discussed more here https://wdcinsights.wordpress.com/2019/12/20/why-do-we-travel-distance-to-rural-services-and-the-need-for-rural-journeys/

Posted in Climate Action, Rural Transport, Transport | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Challenges and interventions for transitioning to renewable heat in rural homes

To reduce the carbon footprint of our rural homes, the decarbonisation of the energy used for heat is essential. We have to switch to renewable energy, either electrical (generated from wind, solar or in future ocean energy) or bioenergy (e.g. solid biomass, biogas or liquid biofuels). Some of the options for renewable heat were outlined in the last blog post. The barriers associated with this switch to renewable heating are discussed here along with potential areas for government intervention to accelerate change.

The focus, as previously, is on the existing housing stock in rural areas, especially those which will be very expensive to make suitable for effective use of heat pump technologies. As most of the rural Western Region is not on the natural gas network, issues associated with this network are not discussed here.

 

Barriers

The barriers to installation of low carbon heat systems[1] broadly fall under the following headings:

  • economic
  • technological
  • locational
  • informational

Economic

The high capital cost of many renewable heat systems is an important barrier to their installation. In general it is cheaper to replace a traditional oil[2] boiler with another oil boiler, even though this is also an expensive purchase. The capital cost of purchasing and installing a heat pump is greater than installing a replacement oil boiler and increases as heating demand increases (as larger units are required). Indeed, as energy efficiency upgrades are likely to be required to ensure the heat pump can be run efficiently, capital costs will probably be even greater. Similarly the capital cost of a biomass boiler (using logs, chips or pellets) is greater than that for an oil boiler. Finding the money to invest in any boiler is difficult for most people, so the barriers to purchasing more expensive renewable energy options are significant.

Of course, capital costs are only one element of the decision, running costs are the other factor. Running costs include both fuel costs and maintenance costs.   Heat pumps in well insulated homes are cheaper to run than oil boilers, and the savings over time are a key incentive to installation and shortening the payback period[3]. Similarly, biomass is usually a cheaper fuel than oil depending on the type being used and the current oil price.

Given the higher cost of installation, incentives are needed to promote the use of renewable energy heat systems but even with current grants there are very substantial upfront costs. Often the potential reduction in running costs is not sufficient to encourage most consumers to make the initial move to low carbon heat. Furthermore, some rural homes which require substantial energy efficiency improvements may never find it economically feasible to install heat pumps as the larger capital expenditure is unlikely to be compensated by lower running costs. This particularly likely to be the case in older homes with ‘hard to treat’ features such as solid wall construction, stone built, solid floors, no loft space, or sash and case windows.

Nonetheless, there needs to be a clear policy for decarbonising such homes as the carbon tax increases. If there is a ban on installation of fossil fuel boilers in existing homes people could be left with no realistic alternative. Even where homes are suitable for retrofit, a subsidy will be required to achieve a positive ‘whole life’ economic benefit.

 

Technological

Not all renewable heating technologies will be suitable for every home. It is important that information on the advantages and limitations of each technology is available for different home types and that people can easily access that information in a format relevant to them. Installation of the wrong types of heating system in the wrong places can give unfamiliar technologies a bad reputation. There are a variety of technologies which may be used in the transition to renewable heat and it is important that information is available about them all, highlighting the types of homes where they may be suitable or not suitable.

The Climate Action Plan focuses on heat pumps as the key domestic renewable heat technology, but the move from high temperature fossil fuel heating systems to lower temperature systems requires deep energy efficiency retrofit or the heat pumps will not be able to keep the home at a comfortable temperature and will be expensive to operate. Biomass boilers (using logs or pellets) are an alternative high temperature heating system which may be suitable in some rural housing but sourcing quality fuel, keeping it dry and maintaining the boiler appropriately (including emptying ash) can be barriers to this technology. Smart storage heaters or other electrical heating are also alternatives, but may be expensive to run and might not be suitable where all day heat is required.

Location

Location can act as a barrier to certain technologies in rural areas. Low housing density and a dispersed population mean options such as heat networks are not viable in most rural areas. Nonetheless some towns and villages in the rural Western Region may be suitable for small heat networks. Work in Scotland[4] has noted the potential for heat networks at small scale where alternative solutions are technically or financially prohibitive, or where there are co-benefits from implementation, such as providing high-temperature heat for industry. It may be, however, that when compared with the cost of deep retrofit of individual dwellings the installation of heat networks becomes more financially favourable.

Aside from the issue of density, rural locations can increase costs of installation and make it more difficult to achieve economies of scale in the provision of low carbon heating systems It can also be more difficult to find appropriately skilled installers in an area while lack of competition as well as increased transport and servicing costs also act as barriers. Being part of an Sustainable Energy Community (SEC) would help with this.

 

Information

Most people do not think very much about their home heating system as long as it is working. While there may be increased consciousness among some about their carbon footprint, understanding how home heating impacts on carbon emissions is not a priority for many. People are unlikely to change a system that is working for them. Nonetheless it is important that there is easily accessible information about low carbon home heating options so that people may gain a background knowledge, even if they do not immediately make any change. This helps to normalise the concept of low carbon heat and means that when consumers are at key trigger points such as house moves, refurbishment or failure of an existing boiler or system they will consider low carbon heat options, or at least will be aware that they should consider them. The disruption caused by changing heating systems is sometimes considerable and this is an important barrier to change and so changes are most likely at these trigger points.

At these times consumers need access to high quality, detailed, impartial information and advice. They will have more focused questions and a more urgent need to understand their choices. Provision of robust, impartial information at these points can make a significant difference. Heating installers can have a particularly important role here as a large proportion of replacements made through ‘distress decisions’ following failure of the existing system. People who trust their boiler repair agent will rely on them for information and advice. Thus, training for installers on low carbon heating options is key, but as many will have a strong preference for one technology type or a connection to a particular manufacturer it is important that the consumer knows where to get other advice on renewable heat options.

Some of the possible barriers to the transition to low carbon heating systems have been discussed briefly here. It is important to keep them in mind when considering how to drive the transition. The SEAI Behavioural Economics Unit has been studying barriers and ways to encourage change in some depth, read more about it here.

Government intervention

Given the barriers outlined above, government action is required to drive the transition to low carbon heating and significant government targets and actions are included in the Climate Action Plan. The types of actions which can be used may be categorised under the following headings:

  • Regulation
  • Finance: Taxes and Incentives
  • Advice and information

Regulation

Regulation can drive change, in areas such as fuel type and specification, boiler installation and building regulations. It can also address fuel quality standards (e.g. for biomass fuels) or liquid biofuel blends as well as setting standards for building quality, energy efficiency and energy use. For example, building regulations introduced in November 2019, require all buildings to be Near Zero Energy Building (NZEB) and existing buildings which are being renovated across more than 25% of their ‘building envelope’ must improve energy efficiency performance to an equivalent of BER B2 (or cost optimal equivalent). Likewise, regulation of the allowable moisture content in firewood for sale and in the standard of wood boilers and stoves which can be installed, would reduce emissions improve air quality.

Under the Climate Action Plan the installation of oil boilers in new dwellings will be effectively be banned from 2022 and gas boilers from 2026 through the introduction of new regulatory standards for home heating systems. A review is also being undertaken to consider how and when the replacement of oil and gas boilers with renewable energy in existing dwellings can be commenced so that new oil and gas boilers will not continue to be installed.

Alongside this type of regulation, it will be important to ensure that there are effective alternatives available to rural homeowners and landlords at reasonable cost, and that there is a planned programme of change to avoid either requiring early replacement of boilers or encouraging a spike in sales of fossil fuel boilers in advance of any ban being introduced.

In addition, as with all regulation, effective enforcement will be essential to ensure they work and are fairly applied.

Taxes and Incentives

There is a commitment to increase the carbon tax to at least €80 per tonne by 2030; this is likely to involve increases at a rate of €6 per tonne per year to 2030. This should incentivise the take up of low carbon heating alternatives and energy efficiency improvements and will improve the payback periods for such investments. However, it is important that there are appropriate, affordable alternatives to carbon intensive systems, otherwise people will be facing the higher cost of fossil fuel without an option to change. Furthermore, it should be recognised that while a high carbon tax will drive a move to lower carbon systems. It most affects those on low incomes who can least afford to change and at the same time it also increases the incentives to operate outside the formal economy.

Grants, low interest loans and repayment of loans through energy bills are all possible support methods to increase investment in retrofit and low carbon heating solutions. The Climate Action Plan outlines the steps to be taken to develop a new delivery model for energy efficiency upgrades. (Actions 47-49). This is welcome but much of the focus seems to be on energy efficiency rather than on low carbon heating systems. While energy efficiency is, of course, important there is little in the Plan on potential supports or incentives for older buildings or ‘hard to treat’ buildings, many of which are in rural areas. This may mean that changes in these buildings will be slow or will not take place despite regulation and increased taxation.

Delivery structures and funding options for an area based residential retrofit programme will be identified this year (2020). When these are known it may then be clearer how rural dwellers will be supported in the move to low carbon systems.

 

Advice and information

The final key element of government intervention involves objective and reliable advice and information for people about lowering their carbon emissions and moving to low carbon systems. This is largely the responsibility of SEAI and there is significant information available from them (https://www.seai.ie/ ). The information available has been developed over the past few years, and is of course very welcome but it could be further expanded.

There is a need to provide clearer guidance on the options for older buildings, listed buildings and conservation areas, and remoter rural dwellings based on research on best practice and real-world experience.

There is also a need for clearer information about the full costs associated with deep retrofit and information about cost savings which takes account of actual heat use in a poorly rated home before retrofit and the costs following retrofit when the home should be warmer. It is important that the economic benefits are not over stated.

The development of a Sustainable Energy Community approach with local energy Master Plans has been very successful and can make good use of local knowledge in tailoring the use of different heat technologies to local circumstances as well as informing communities about their options and giving them the chance to particulate in the transition. There is potential to have further cooperation between local government and industry and consumers in this approach.

In terms of government intervention to drive a move to renewable heat in rural dwellings the following is required:

  • A consistent long term policy for renewable heat in the home would provide the stability and certainty required to encourage investment.
  • A clear statement on the role of a different heat technologies for different dwelling types in Ireland in future.
  • Targets for deployment should be made in a number of different areas, for example at local and regional level, as well as national.
  • Targets should also be segmented by different housing types (age, build etc.) and location (rural, small town, urban) and current fuel use.
  • There should be consideration of the use of local or regional resources alongside improvement in supply chains and skills, and local knowledge and capacity to support uptake of low carbon heat.

 

While it is important to pick ‘low hanging fruit’, in terms of focusing on those dwellings which are easiest to change, it is also essential that the issues for ‘hard to treat’ homes are addressed early rather than being left till the 2030 deadline approaches. A planned programme will provide more certainty and allow for more effective responses.

 

Conclusions- Enabling Uptake

In its recent report for Ireland the International Energy Agency (IEA) recommended that Ireland should develop a time bound roadmap for decarbonising the heat sector through energy efficiency and fuel switching. The roadmap should establish clear scenarios and milestones for phasing out fossil fuels.

It is important that the focus from the start is not just on the easiest wins (though of course these are important) but it is also necessary, early in the process of moving to a low carbon system, to also tackle some of the more ‘hard to treat’ or difficult to incentivise places, or at least develop guidance and a plan for the best options. It would be useful to have a phased approach across housing types, and locations with interim targets alongside the longer term strategic aims

Such a phased approach[5] would provide clear strategic direction and confidence for industry and consumers allowing planned investment and avoiding a concentration of activity near the target date. It would also avoid a requirement for consumers to prematurely replace current heating systems.

 

Helen McHenry

[1] A very useful, more detailed discussion of heating off gas grid homes is available in this Scottish consultation document.

[2] While the term ‘oil boiler’ is commonly used, the fuel is usually kerosene.

[3] The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) work in this area shows various payback periods depending on house size and type for heat pumps over oil fired central heating. See more here: https://www.seai.ie/publications/Replacing-oil-boilers-with-heat-pump-household-economics-and-system-wide-impacts-Summary-document-.pdf

[4] https://www.gov.scot/publications/energy-efficient-scotland-future-low-carbon-heat-gas-buildings-call-evidence/pages/6/

[5] This was also advocated in the responses to the Scottish consultation on low carbon heat https://www.gov.scot/publications/future-low-carbon-heat-gas-buildings-analysis-responses-call-evidence/

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Renewable heat in rural areas: what are the options?

How we heat our rural homes needs to change significantly as we move to a low carbon society.  There is an important focus on energy efficiency in our homes (read more here) and the government Climate Action Plan has set very ambitious targets for improving energy efficiency including retrofitting 500,000 buildings to a higher level of efficiency (BER B2 equivalent).  The other element necessary for reducing the carbon footprint of our homes is decarbonisation of the fuels used by switching to renewable energy which may be electrical (generated from wind, solar or in future ocean energy) or bioenergy (e.g. solid biomass, biogas or liquid biofuels).

 

Some of options for switching to renewable heating are discussed in this post. The focus is, as previously, on the existing housing stock, particularly ‘hard to treat’ homes in rural areas[1], which will be very expensive to make suitable for effective use of heat pump technologies.  There were 303,081 homes in the Western Region in 2016 and there is a significant amount of work ahead with 98% of homes likely to require energy efficiency upgrades and fuel switching to make the move to low carbon systems.

 

Options

Energy efficiency is a necessary condition for successful heat decarbonisation, but investment in a combination of energy efficiency and low-carbon heat will usually be the most cost-effective and practical solution.  As energy efficiency has been discussed in more detail here this section focuses on different heat options.

The Climate Action Plan places significant emphasis on heat pumps as replacements for high carbon heating systems (with a target of installation of 400,000 heat pumps in existing buildings by 2030).  As discussed previously 23% (65,187) of existing homes (built before 2010) in the Western Region may be suitable for heat pump installation (using the lower energy efficiency standard of HLI ≤2.3 (read more here)). This leaves 237,894 homes requiring very significant energy efficiency upgrades and major heating system change (switching from oil boilers or solid fuel) if heat pumps are to be installed.  Therefore while heat pumps will be a key technology in the decarbonisation of heat, particularly in new or more recently built homes or those which are already quite efficient, other options also need to be explored.

For the 78% of homes in the region which are not heat pump ready, switching from oil boilers and solid fuel will be both expensive and disruptive and there are particular categories of ‘hard to treat’ homes where achieving the high energy efficiency requirements needed for effective heat pump use will be difficult or prohibitively expensive.

There are a range of different heat technologies which could be deployed to move these to low carbon home heating systems. The technology used should depend on the home’s characteristics, its location, and the features of the available technologies alongside consideration of capital and lifetime costs in the specific situation.  Broadly, renewable heating technologies can be categorised as electrical or bioenergy.  In this post some of the technologies which may be suitable for rural homes in each of these categories are briefly outlined.  In considering these it not so much about what the exact technology mix should be, but how uptake can be achieved at scale and in a sensible way that makes full use of the economic potential of energy efficiency while promoting the lowest carbon heating options available.

 

Electrical Heating Systems

There are a number of electric heating solutions such as electric Heat Pumps, Hybrid Heat Pumps and Storage Heaters as well as other electric heating sources and storage.  A brief overview of these options with a particular focus on their potential use in rural homes is given here.

Heat pumps

Heat pumps are the key technology for decarbonising rural heat.  The general term ‘Heat Pump’ includes Air Source Heat Pumps (ASHP), Ground Source Heat Pumps (GSHP) and Water Source Heat Pumps (which are unusual).  The SEAI has a useful guide for homeowners here.  In general for existing homes Air Source Heat Pumps are most likely to be installed.  While more efficient, the retrofitted installation of GSHP is more expensive and more disruptive than the ASHP option.

While very efficient because they operate at low temperatures, for heat pumps to work effectively and not be too expensive a high level of energy efficiency is required (see more discussion here).  They are usually used in conjunction with underfloor heating or may require larger radiators than in fossil fuel systems.  They are operated in a different way to conventional fossil fuel heating systems, needing to be on for longer periods.  An additional electric water heating source may be necessary.  Air Source Heat Pumps are however relatively small and are usually attached to an external wall.  Maintenance costs are likely to be lower than for oil central heating and they should be cheaper to operate when installed in suitable homes.

High temperature heat pumps are also being developed and they may be more suitable in less energy efficient homes but they are likely to be more expensive to operate than other heat pumps.

Hybrid heat pumps may also be a short term option.  These hybrid systems combine a heat pump with an existing fossil fuel boiler with the heat pump acting as the background heat source and the boiler used for peak demand.  While not a long term answer to decarbonisation they may have a role to play in less energy efficient homes.

Heat pump technology is well established and it is used widely in other countries so there is significant experience of their effective operation.  Nonetheless, in addition to stringent energy efficiency requirements, heat pumps are sensitive to quality of design and installation.  It is important that supply chains and skills in this technology are developed so that the experience of widespread transition to this technology is good.

 

Storage Heaters

Storage heating has long been an important electric heating technology, allowing users to make the most of cheaper ‘night rate’ electricity.  Electricity is used to heat ceramic bricks which store the heat (at night or when electricity is cheap) and release it during the day.  They can be effective but, with traditional storage heating once the stored heat was used there was no other heating option.  They could also be expensive to run.  More efficient and controllable storage heaters are becoming available; these have more options for ensuring the heat is released when required.  Some models use a fan to circulate heat better or can include an electric heater to provide additional heat when needed (though this may not be very efficient).

Storage heaters, using renewable electricity, will be an important low carbon heat option in ‘hard to treat’ homes unsuitable for heat pumps.  Although less efficient than heat pumps they are not as expensive to buy and install.  As with other renewable heating options, there are likely to be further technological developments in the next decade as global demand for low carbon heat increases.

Other electricity heating and storage

Heat can be stored in a variety of forms, most commonly as hot water, either in the traditional hot water tank, in the heat pump buffer tank or in solid heat batteries which are becoming more available (see here for an overview).   Where solar PV panels are installed, hot water, thermal or battery storage may be options for making the most of the household’s solar generation.  The electricity may also be used directly in electricity resistance heaters or in certain situations infrared heaters but unfortunately the electricity generation pattern of solar PV does not fit with heat demand (which will be higher after sunset and on days with less solar radiation) so storage will be important.

With the shift to low carbon heating options and more use of electricity for heat alongside smart opportunities to purchase electricity more cheaply at different times (such as when there is significant wind generation), there will be an increase in battery and thermal storage options (read a more detailed study of domestic heat storage and energy flexibility here).  These opportunities again highlight the importance of new developments in domestic heat and ensuring that any strategy for transitioning to low carbon heating systems is responsive to new, effective technological opportunities.

Bioenergy

Different forms of bioenergy (solid biomass, liquid biofuels and biogas) can provide renewable alternatives to electrification.  Each is likely to be suitable in different situations and over different time periods.

Solid Biomass

Biomass (usually wood) can be used as a direct replacement to existing systems, a new boiler is required but as these are high temperature heat systems (like oil and gas) there is less likely to be a requirement to change the internal pipe and radiator systems and so there is less disruption.  Biomass is available in the form of pellets, wood chip or logs.  Pellet systems can be more automated and so require less user involvement, while log boilers require filling and more frequent ash disposal but are cheaper to run.  For all biomass it is important that dry wood or pellets are used to allow the boiler to operate efficiently and to reduce particulate emissions.  Given that biomass can be a direct replacement for heating systems already in use in rural areas (biomass boilers for oil boilers and solid biomass for coal or peat), it is important that biomass options are explored as part of any domestic renewable heat strategy and supported in the transition to low carbon heat in rural homes.

None of the options for moving to renewable heat are easy, biomass boilers are more expensive to install than oil boilers, and they require more on-going maintenance by user (e.g. ash disposal) and servicer.  Concerns about the availability of consistent feedstock can affect consumer confidence and there may be worries about the potential for fluctuation in fuel costs.  As part of any strategy to decarbonise heat with biomass  the  issue of emissions and clean air must be considered, with enforcement of stove and boiler standards and quality standards (such as the Wood Fuel Quality Assurance (WFQA) scheme) to ensure the traceability and quality of the fuel used.

However, a clear strategy to develop local bioenergy supply chains in rural areas, education of those supplying fuel, installing and servicing boilers and using them should mean that biomass is an important option for renewable heat in rural areas and one which will bring significant employment while keeping the money households spend on heat in the local economy.

In addition to the replacement of oil central heating with biomass heating, biomass can substitute for solid fuel in systems already in use (18 % of heating in the Western Region is from peat and coal).  In general wood is the most likely replacement fuel in stoves and ranges but novel low carbon bioenergy solid fuel substitutes are being developed in Ireland.  Read more about the fuels and how they are produced here and here.

In the last decade there has been an increase in the use of wood burning stoves instead of open fires.  These are generally secondary heating sources but where wood or other solid biofuel is used instead of fossil fuel they lower the carbon intensity of heating.  This is particularly the case if they are used to heat a single room rather than putting on the central heating throughout the house.  This is a common practice in larger or less energy efficient homes where the cost of heating can be substantial.

Liquid Biofuels

There may be liquid biofuel options too.  There has been a reduction in carbon emissions from transport with the Biofuels Obligation Scheme, where a portion of the fossil fuel in petrol and diesel is replaced with a biofuels (read more here).  There may be an option to do similar in home heating oil (kerosene) as a short term measure to reduce the carbon intensity of home heating.  A recent government consultation on biofuels discussed this possibility and sought feedback on how it might work, based on the level of use and availability of suitable biofuels.  The consultation document and the responses are available here.

BioLPG is a potential option, providing an easy switch for those already using LPG as a home heating fuel (0.8%[2] of homes with central heating in the Western Region).  It has been developed substitute for fossil fuel LPG (read more here).  There is however, limited domestic production and there may be difficulties in sourcing materials to significantly expand production of BioLPG.  Additionally, there may be greater demand for use in transport where alternatives to liquid fossil fuels are more limited.

 

Biogas

As most of the rural Western Region is not on the natural gas network, there are probably fewer opportunities for using biogas as a direct home heating fuel substitute than in areas on the natural gas network (biogas can be mixed with natural gas and in the longer term could potentially replace fossil fuel natural gas).  Biogas is produced in a number of ways but Anaerobic Digestion (AD) of feedstocks such as food waste, slurry, sewage, or grass is the most important option.  The production of biogas will take place in rural areas, and depending on the site of the AD plants, there are possibilities for small scale heat networks to use it.  However, this is only likely to be possible in the longer term and will be dependent on a complex range of factors.

There are clearly bioenergy options which may form part of the transition to low carbon rural home heating alongside electrification.  All biofuels need a sustainable long-term, domestic supply, and well developed supply chains and to be compatible with air quality standards and be sourced sustainably.  Nonetheless bioenergy needs to form part of the suite of options for the low carbon transition and we need a clear policy statement on role of bioenergy in decarbonising domestic heat.

 

Conclusion

To drive a successful low carbon transition we need to be open to different heating options.  Solid biomass, liquid fuel and modern electricity storage heating are important options for decarbonising heat in rural buildings. In certain situations they may have lower installation costs or running costs than heat pumps.

We should measure their real world performance, collect information on the economics of different technologies and keep up to date with newer or developing options.  In addition to research about the best real life solutions for heating rural homes with renewable energy, we need good, robust data on actual installation and running costs, and then guidance on how best to move the ‘hard to treat’ rural home to low carbon heating so that people can make the choices most appropriate to them and to their home.

We must consider the full range of low carbon technologies, their associated performance, cost and environmental benefits.  To successfully transition to low carbon rural home heating we need to support a range of low carbon heating technologies beyond heat pumps.

 

 

Helen McHenry

[1] This term is used in the very useful Scottish consultation document on low carbon heat in homes off the natural gas grid https://www.gov.scot/publications/energy-efficient-scotland-future-low-carbon-heat-gas-buildings-call-evidence/pages/6/

[2] CSO Census of Population 2016, StatBank / Profile 1 – Housing in Ireland / E1053

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Changes in electricity generation and supply—some impacts for rural dwellers

As we move towards a lower carbon society one of the key trends will be increased electrification and using renewable electricity to fuel our heat and transport.  This will involve very significant changes in how we consume and are supplied with electricity in our homes.  Following the recent post on electricity use, some issues of supply, including generation, distribution and transmission, as they relate to rural dwellers, are considered in this post.

 

This is part of a continuing series focussing on issues for rural dwellers in relation to climate action and the move to low carbon region.  Previous posts in this series have provided an overview (for example here and here) of some of the issues for rural people in the Western Region in their transition to a low carbon society.  Posts have also covered heat in our homes and energy efficiency and retrofit , and transport,  why we travel and what we know about travel in the Western Region and our use of electricity in the home.  In these we are looking at rural dwellers, rather than the broader rural economy which would include agriculture and enterprise, and the focus of this WDC work is on the way we use energy, in its different modes, as part of our daily lives.

 

Changes expected in the electricity system

There are significant changes expected in the ways we will generate, store, transmit, distribute and use electricity in the coming decades.  Many of these will impact on rural life, providing opportunities for rural dwellers or changing the way we use energy.  The illustration below (from EirGrid’s Tomorrow’s Energy Scenarios) shows many of the areas of change and how they link with each other.  Decarbonisation will change the generation portfolio with increased renewable generation and a phase out of fossil fuel generation alongside more efficiency in how we use and transmit electricity.

 

Figure 1: The influence of decarbonisation, decentralisation and digitalisation on the future electricity system

Source: EirGrid, 2019, Tomorrow’s Energy Scenarios pg. 31

 

Decentralisation is another aspect of the change in generation with a move from fewer, large scale generators to a more dispersed system with smaller generation sites and microgeneration by homes and businesses.  Generation will often be closer to the site of consumption, sometimes at small scale, including domestic level, and storage options will become more important.  Finally the digitalisation of systems using smart technology will provide for differ control methods and consumption decisions based on price, carbon intensity and other issues important to the user.

 

Opportunities for rural dwellers- electricity generation

These changes provide opportunities for those rural dwellers who can afford it to become involved at the individual home scale, at community level and as shareholders in the commercial generation projects.

Rural areas are, and will be, the site of most electricity generation and with the move to more renewables, the location of generation will often follow the resources to areas with most wind or potential for solar generation.  This means that some rural dwellers are, and more will be, living in proximity to wind and solar farms and the infrastructure needed to transmit and distribute electricity from them.  This has, on occasion, given rise to concerns from rural dwellers and difficulties in ensuring our electricity infrastructure is built in a timely manner.  It is to be hoped that improved ways of consulting, planning and building such as EirGrid’s new strategy to 2025, new wind energy guidelines (the draft is published, consultation open to 19.02.20) and the new Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS) will allow people living in rural areas to contribute to the planning and  development of renewable electricity generation in their areas and to benefit from the investments in their locality (opportunities in the proposed RESS is discussed in more detail below).

At a small scale there are significant opportunities for rural dwellers to become involved in microgeneration.  Installing solar panels for electricity generation or solar thermal systems for water heating are likely to be the best options but small scale hydro and wind may be installed where the conditions are good.  More information about grants from SEAI for solar electricity (PV) is available here and information about solar water heating grant is here.

The microgeneration of electricity can be for ‘self-consumption’ purposes, with the electricity generated first going to power home appliances, electric heating systems (such as heat pumps) and to charge EVs.  Electricity generated can also be stored for use later —perhaps after sunset in the case of solar— in batteries, including those in EVs or in other energy forms such as hot water and in heating systems.  Finally, excess electricity generated can be exported into the national electricity grid.  In many other places, Germany and the UK for example, the householder is paid for this electricity (there are a variety of possible mechanisms including a feed in tariff) but in Ireland this is not common policy (the exception being Electric Ireland which has a microgeneration pilot scheme for existing customers).  The Climate Action Plan, however, commits to the launch of a finalised policy and pricing support regime for micro-generation (under Action 30) which will mean householders will be paid for the electricity they produce and do not use themselves.  In future domestically generated electricity may be provided to other electricity users.  Thus many rural dwellers who live in detached, unshaded houses, and who have capital to invest, are in a good position to become involved in electricity generation.

At a community level, there are also options for rural areas (and other places) to become involved in the Sustainable Energy Community (SEC) network.  There are currently over 350 communities in the network with a target of increasing this to 1,500 in the Climate Action Plan.  As well as householders the SEC can include a range of different energy users such as homeowners, sports clubs, community centres, local businesses and churches.  Each community develops an energy use masterplan covering all aspects of energy use and resources.  The focus is not just on electricity but on increasing the efficiency and sustainability of all energy use.

In order to increase local participation in  electricity generation it is proposed that the new Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS) will have a specific strand for projects with a majority community ownership and whose primary purpose is community benefit (environmental, economic or social) rather than  financial profit.  In addition to this option[1], every project developer will be obliged to contribute to a Community Benefit Fund at a rate of €2 per MWh every year (which could be more than €200,000 annually for a community from a 40 MW wind farm) and a community investment scheme (with a Renewable Electricity Participation offering of 5%[2]) allowing people to invest in their local project (and more broadly where it is not fully subscribed locally).  A key objective of the support scheme is to ensure more local involvement in generation projects (either community projects or as shareholders in projects developed by others) through these mechanisms.  This scheme is currently in development and awaiting EU approval so some elements may change (see here for more information) but it should provide opportunities for rural people to share the benefits of the move to greater electrification and renewable generation in rural Ireland.

 

The future: electricity distribution and transmission

The dispersed rural population means that Ireland has four times the European average of length of network per capita[3].  The electricity distribution network is the low voltage used to supply electricity to 2.3m customers, including rural households, and to connect small scale generation and microgeneration.  It is being developed to make it ready for a lower carbon energy future with the move to a ‘smart network’ (read more here).  This includes smart metering which will allow customers to become more actively involved in managing their electricity, delivering benefits for themselves and the wider system.  The phased rollout across Ireland is targeted to deliver 250,000 new meters by the end of 2020, beginning in counties Cork and Laois and Kildare from September 2019.  It is expected that from 2021 electricity supply companies will begin to offer new smart products and services which will enable households to shift some consumption to times of the day when electricity is cheaper.  Households will also be able to gain a better understanding of how and when they are consuming electricity and to manage their use, reducing consumption and in the longer term to take advantage of cheaper pricing times.

Of course, in reality, people have different capacities to engage with detailed management of their electricity consumption.  While some of this will in future be integrated into the appliances being used, it is important that pricing and electricity management structures do not significantly disadvantage those consumers using older equipment, with less money to invest in more expensive electricity appliances, or who are less able to engage with and respond to the information provided by smart meters.

The Climate Action Plan target for 70% of electricity to be generated from renewable sources by 2030 means that up to 10,000 megawatts of additional renewable generation, mainly from rural areas, will need to be connected to the electricity system[4].  EirGrid’s stated goal is to achieve the required increase in renewables while minimising the addition of new infrastructure, but there will have to be an increase in the large-scale infrastructure of pylons, substations and overhead wires. The way that these are rolled out across Ireland and the engagement with those living in areas affected by it will be important.  While the need to resolve the climate crisis provides an urgent rationale for investment, and the shift to renewable energy has important benefits for our society, locally, nationally and globally, it is important that the benefits of the investment and infrastructure are shared with rural areas and that there is a true participative approach to consulting, planning and building the required network.

 

Conclusion

The potential for rural householders to become involved in electricity supply was considered in this post, alongside some of the changes in how electricity will be generated and supplied across the country.  The need to act in the climate crisis and move to a low carbon Region is clear.  Greater use of renewable electricity will be an important part of that.  Rural dwellers have a role to play in this, in terms of making contribution to electricity supply, through microgeneration and involvement in community renewable electricity generation projects, or as shareholders in other renewable projects.  Rural areas are the site of most renewable generation and the infrastructure associated with it, so the rural areas where the infrastructure is located need to benefit from it, not only in terms of sharing the commitment to addressing the climate crisis, but also in terms of economic benefits and community gain and perhaps most importantly as a means of increasing employment in rural communities.

This series of posts examining the issues for rural dwellers and our region in relation to improving our energy efficiency and use of energy, forms an important part of the work of the Western Development Commission under Action 160 of the Climate Action Plan.  The next stage of this work is to bring the analysis of the different energy modes together and to give further consideration to the changes needed and the policy required so that people living in rural areas, in our region in particular, are a part of the move to the low carbon society.

 

 

Helen McHenry

 

[1] https://www.dccae.gov.ie/en-ie/energy/consultations/Pages/Public-Consultation-on-the-Draft-RESS-Terms-and-Conditions.aspx

[2] https://www.dccae.gov.ie/en-ie/energy/consultations/Documents/47/consultations/RESS%201%20Draft%20Terms%20and%20Conditions.pdf

[3] ESB Networks 2027 Lighting the way to a better energy future

[4] EirGrid Strategy 2020-2025, Transforming the Power System for Future Generations

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What do we know about electricity consumption in rural households?

The way we use electricity in our rural homes, and the opportunities for change, are important considerations for how we to transition to low carbon living.   Unlike heat and transport, there are few significant differences between urban and rural dwellers in the type and way we use our electricity, but it is useful to consider rural household demand for, and use of, electricity and how this will change with greater electrification in the move to a low carbon society.  This post, therefore, focuses on electricity, the final of the three modes of energy use (and so emissions) associated with rural living.

As noted, energy use can be split into three modes: heat (in the built environment); transport; and electricity.  Previous posts in this series have provided an overview (for example here and here) of some of the issues for rural people in the Western Region in their transition to a low carbon society.  I have also covered heat in our homes and energy efficiency and retrofit , and transport,  why we travel and what we know about travel in the Western Region.  As we are looking at rural dwellers, rather than the broader rural economy which would include agriculture and enterprise, the focus of this WDC work is on the way we use energy, in its different modes, as part of our daily lives.

While patterns of electricity use may not differ significantly between urban and rural areas, there are differences in relation to the supply of electricity in terms of generation, distribution and transmission which all have significant rural impacts and opportunities.  These will be discussed in a future post on this topic.

Electricity use in the home

In 2018 the residential sector accounted for 30.1% of final electricity consumption, similar to that in 2005 (30.8%), with the significant difference that, in 2005, 7.2% of the electricity consumed came from renewable sources, while in 2018 it was 33.2%[1].  It is targeted to be 70% by 2030.

There is little specific information about rural electricity demand and patterns of consumption, so before considering some of the potential difference between urban and rural households, it is useful to look at what we do know about household electricity consumption.  In 2018, SEAI published Energy in the Residential Sector which gives details data for energy use in the home in 2016.

This shows that electricity accounted for 25% of Irish household final energy usage 2016 (compared to 37% from oil and 21% from gas.  Most of this energy was used in heating (as shown in Figure 1) and oil and gas are the dominant fuels for this (as was considered in a previous post).  The focus of this post is on electricity use in relation to appliances and cooking (20%). Water heating is generally considered along with space heating as much of it can be done by the central heating system.

 

Figure 1: Energy use in an average Irish home, 2016

 

SEAI, 2018, Energy in the Residential Sector

 

Between 2007 and 2014 final energy use of electricity per dwelling reduced by 16% having increased by 31% between 1990 and 2007 but more recent data[2] show an increase in residential electricity consumption between 2016 and 2018[3].

The CRU provides a figure of 4,200 kWh electricity usage per year as an average for all households.  Moneyguide Ireland estimates typical annual usage in kWh could be from 2,100 in a 1-2 bed apartment to 8,000 4-6 bedroom large house.  As rural homes tend to be larger and detached consumption is more likely to be at the higher levels.

What are we using electricity for?

The lighting and appliances which account for 17% of energy use in the home are almost all powered by electricity.  To understand what will change with a move to a low carbon household it is useful to remind ourselves about the appliances we have.

Data from the CSO Household Budget Survey (Figure 2) shows how common the different appliances were in our homes in 2015-2016.

Figure 2: Percentage of households with select household appliances 2015-2016

Source: CSO Household Budget Survey 2015-2016

 

Almost all households have a washing machine, a TV and a vacuum cleaner.  The box below gives a sense of how we use energy with these appliances with an estimate of how long it takes each appliance to use 1 unit of electricity (1kWh).  Each unit currently costs about 20c on average including VAT.

Source: Moneyguide Ireland

 

Over time the energy efficiency of our household appliances is improving (see here for discussion) which in turn should contribute to reducing energy consumption in our homes.  Lighting, in particular, has seen very significant increases in efficiency with the move away from incandescent bulbs, and new tumble dryers with heat pumps are much more efficient (though also more expensive to purchase).  However at the same time, if the number of appliances continues to increase, for example more televisions, more tumble dryers or more dishwashers, overall household consumption from appliances could increase.

 

Differences in rural and urban electricity consumption.

There is little data on differences in rural and urban electricity consumption but in 2013 (the most recent data[4]) 31 % of customers (634,306) were classified as ‘rural domestic’ (and so pay the higher rural standing charge[5]) but rural domestic customers accounted for 34% of domestic use (2,908 GWh).

The definition of ‘rural domestic’ is assigned by ESB Networks and so there will be people living in rural areas classified as ‘urban’ customers (especially in small towns and villages), but the classification is important as those rural customers may have different issues in relation to supply, which is discussed more in the next post.

There is little information on the reasons for higher rural electricity demand (though it is something that should be explored further in future) but there are a number of likely reasons.  As seen before rural homes in the Western Region and elsewhere tend to be larger and are more likely to be detached.  Larger homes use more energy of all forms will have more lighting and more space for, and demand from, other appliances.  In contrast, however, they are less likely than urban homes (apartments in particular) to use electricity as their primary heating source.  With most rural homes not connected to the natural gas grid, electricity is more likely to be used for cooking, although bottled gas is also an important cooking fuel in rural areas.

In terms of appliances, again there is little information on the differences between urban and rural households, and such differences are likely to be more related to house size, household size and income, than to urban and rural factors.  Rural homes may also have other specific uses of electricity such as for water pumps from private wells, and for certain domestic wastewater treatment systems.

 

The future

The consideration of electricity demand and appliances here relate to current electricity consumption issues and patterns but of course significant changes in these are expected in the future with the move to greater electrification of heat and transport.  As the SEAI notes “Increasing the electrification of thermal and transport loads, much of which can be shiftable and controllable, facilitates much greater quantities of variable supply (e.g. wind / ocean energy)”.   Increases in electricity consumption from heating and vehicle charging are, however, likely to be tempered somewhat by increased energy efficiency in electricity use, in appliances and other electrically powered items alongside a reduction in distribution and transmission energy losses.

A significant move to EVs will increase domestic demand. Most EV charging will take place at home, probably overnight (or when electricity is cheap (see below)). Rural homes with off street parking are particularly well suited to this and the lack of other transport options is likely to mean, in the longer term, a higher number of EVs per rural household than urban (as is the case with cars at present).  Similarly the longer distances to be travelled will mean higher electricity consumption by rural vehicles.

The electrification of heating (including the targeted increase in the use of heat pumps) with a switch to the use of heat pumps will also increase electricity consumption, though of course it will mean lower overall household energy consumption.

Alongside these changes are likely to be developments in smart appliances and smarter charging allowing for the use of many electricity appliances to be determined by the cost of electricity at a particular time, either because of lower demand on the system (such as at night) or cheaper generation (e.g. windy days).  Increasing the electrification of domestic space and hot water heating, and personal transport will increase the use of electricity, but automating use decisions will increase the proportion of renewable electricity consumed in the home. For more discussion of this potential see SEAI’s Smart Grid Roadmap.  A more detailed discussion of potential changes in electricity demand and consumption patterns is also available in EirGrid’s Tomorrow’s Energy Scenarios.

To plan for this shift to electrification, changes which may be needed in domestic electricity connections and their capacity are being addressed under Action 174 of the Climate Action Plan.  This will involve the introduction, as required, of new urban and rural domestic connection design standards and infrastructure sizing and design standards to reflect the demand of domestic scale low-carbon technologies

Conclusion

As discussed in this post, there is little understanding of differences between urban and rural dwellers in the type and way they use their electricity.  It would be important to have more information about rural household demand for, and use of, electricity and how this will change with greater electrification in the move to a low carbon society.

There is significant future potential for electrification of heat and transport in rural areas, but it should also be remembered than many rural dwellers lack the financial resources to switch to low carbon or carbon free alternatives.  It is important that we recognise this, alongside understanding rural differences in electricity and other energy use when we are planning for a low carbon rural economy and society.

 

Helen McHenry

 

[1] SEAI Energy Statistics 2019 report

[2] SEAI, Energy in Ireland 2019

[3] Data for 2007-2016 has been weather corrected but not for 2016-2018 so these are not completely comparable.

[4] ESB Networks Key Statistics 2014

[5] There is a useful comparison of current rural electricity charges here http://www.moneyguideireland.com/rural-electricity-charges-compared-to-urban.html

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Why do we travel? Distance to rural services and the need for rural journeys

Understanding the reasons rural dwellers travel is essential to ensuring we can take focused, effective, and fair climate action and aid a transition to low carbon rural regions. In this the second blog post examining data on travel and journeys in Western Region counties and rural areas, the need to travel to services, the distance many rural dwellers live from everyday services, and the reasons why some journeys are not made are all considered.  This post forms part of a series examining data and issues on rural travel and journeys as part of WDC work (some of which falls under Action 160[1] in the Climate Action Plan) on how we transform the Western Region to a low carbon region.  A post on the rural emissions is available here and the first in this series covering issues of rurality and transport and the reasons for travel is here.

 

Distance to services

In the previous post on transport, the importance of travel for work and education were outlined along with the other reasons we make journeys.  Travelling for work and business are clearly important, but most journeys are made to reach services of varying kinds.  People living in rural areas tend to be at a greater distance from services than their urban counterparts and so the journeys made tend to be longer and more car based (both of which will be discussed in future blogs).  Greater distance to services tends to reduce options for travel and in particular, given the lack of public transport and the distance to public transport services, increases reliance on car travel in rural areas.

This is highlighted in Figure 1 below, which compares the proportion living within 15 minutes’ walk of key services in rural areas compared with the national picture.  Indeed the National Household Travel Survey also found that 40% of all rural respondents did not live within 15 minutes of any of these services.

Figure 1: Percentage living within 15 minute walk of services, National Household Travel Survey, 2017

Source: https://www.nationaltransport.ie/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/National_Household_Travel_Survey_2017_Report_-_December_2018.pdf

 

This can be seen more specifically at a county level (Figure 2) which shows the average distance (km) of residential dwellings to everyday services.  This higher average distance to services for rural people  means that rural dwellers are travelling further and for longer periods (discussed more in a future post) are more likely to need a car, which is the only way to access most of these services.

Figure 2: Average km distance to key everyday services for Western Region counties

Source: CSO, 2019 https://www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/ep/p-mdsi/measuringdistancetoeverydayservicesinireland/  Statbank Table MDS02

 

The services shown in Figure 2 above are ones that may need every day access, other services such as banking, libraries and leisure services like swimming pools may be sued less often but have much higher average distances, again increasing the need for motorised transport (most likely a car).  These are shown in Figure 3.  The distance to hospital is greatest, and while some outreach services are provided, many people will need to attend appointments and on going treatment services in these hospitals.  Some transport services are available but many will, where possible or necessary, use private transport of their own or with a friend, relative or volunteer.

Figure 3: Average distance (km) to other services which may be used regularly for Western Region counties

Source: Source: CSO, 2019 https://www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/ep/p-mdsi/measuringdistancetoeverydayservicesinireland/  Statbank Table MDS02

 

The need for car travel is partly a function of the distances to be travelled but it also relates to difficulty accessing public transport.  The average distance to a train station and a public bus stop (which in all Western Region counties is less than the average distance to a train) is shown in Figure 4 below.  For most of these counties, these distances are greater than most people are likely to be able or wish to walk, especially given the hazards of walking on many rural roads, and the probability that many of the journeys in winter would not be in daylight.

Figure 4: Average distance to a bus stop and train station in Western Region counties (km)

Source: CSO, 2019 https://www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/ep/p-mdsi/measuringdistancetoeverydayservicesinireland/  Statbank Table MDS02 Note: Average distance to a train station is not shown for Donegal as there is no station in that county and the distance is too large for the chart (113km).

 

Even if people are to walk this distance (active travel modes in rural areas will be considered in a future post) many of these bus stops have very few services.  All counties have even greater average distances to train stations and in certain situations (e.g. for work or business and hospital appointments) travelling by train may be a preferred option.

Of course levels of service are very important. Figure 5 below shows the percentage of the population whose nearest Public Transport stop has a low service frequency.  This gives a clear indication of why so few rural journeys are by public transport (again to be discussed in a later post).

 

Figure 5: Percentage of the Population in Western Region counties whose nearest Public Transport stop has a frequency of fewer than 10 services per day.

CSO Ireland, 2019, Measuring distance to everyday services 2019 Table 2.3 (XLS 14KB)

 

People not travelling

Finally, having discussed the reason people are making journeys and some of the issues for them in rural areas, it is also interesting to examine, in as far as the data allows, the journeys not made.  The CSO’s National Travel Survey briefly examines the distribution of persons travelling and not travelling by degree of urbanisation  and found that over 77% of persons residing in rural (thinly populated) areas took a journey on the travel reference day.  This was an increase of over eight percentage points on 2014. By comparison, nearly two thirds (65.9%) of persons living in intermediate density areas and 71.1% of residents of urban (densely populated) areas made journeys on the travel reference day.  At a regional level the survey shows that in the Border region 58.4% travelled on the reference day (which was the lowest regionally) and in the West 74.1% travelled. Nationally 71.3% travelled on the reference day.

The most common reason why people did not travel on the reference day was that they had no wish or need to travel or were fully occupied with home duties – nearly two thirds of persons (62.8%) gave this as their main reason for not taking a journey. Understanding more about why people don’t travel could be important in helping us consider how we reduce people’s need to travel on some occasions as a part of the ‘Avoid, Shift, Improve’ approach to developing more sustainable transport.

 

Conclusion

This post, the second in a series on transport data and issues for rural areas and the Western Region, examines some of distance to services, access to public transport and highlights some information on journeys not made.  The next posts in this series will look at the length of journeys, travel time and the mode of transport.  The collation and analysis of the available data will allow us better understand the reasons for, and nature of, rural journeys, This is essential to design policies to reduce emissions and help us to meet our transport targets as well as developing develop more sustainable rural transport options.

 

 

Helen McHenry

 

[1] There are eleven pieces of research and studies which are counted as ‘Steps Necessary for Delivery’ of Action 160, including the one to be carried out by the WDC “Study of transition to a low carbon economy: impacts for the rural western region”.

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