Engagement with Chairperson Designate of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland

Apologies have been received from Deputies Christopher O'Sullivan and Alan Farrell who cannot join us today. The purpose of this part of our meeting is to have an engagement with Mr. Dermot Byrne, chairperson designate of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI. There will be one hour for this part of the meeting. On behalf of the committee, I welcome Mr. Byrne to the meeting and congratulate him on his appointment to the board of the SEAI.

I will read a note on privilege. I remind witnesses of the of the long-standing parliamentary practice that they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable, or otherwise engage in speech that might be regarded as damaging to the good name of that person or entity. Therefore, if their statements are potentially defamatory in relation to an identifiable person or entity, they will be directed to discontinue their remarks. It is imperative that they comply with any such direction.

For witnesses attending remotely outside the Leinster House campus there are some limitations to parliamentary privilege. As such, they may not benefit from the same level of immunity from legal proceedings as a witness physically present does.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise, or make charges against a person outside the Houses of the Oireachtas or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I also remind members that they are allowed to participate in this meeting only if they are physically located in the Leinster House complex. In this regard, I also ask all members, prior to making their contributions to the meeting, to confirm that they are on the grounds of the Leinster House campus. For the information of anyone watching this meeting online, Oireachtas Members and witnesses are accessing the meeting remotely. Only I, as Chair, and the staff essential to the running of the meeting are physically present in the committee room. Due to the unprecedented circumstances of Covid and the large number of people attending the meeting remotely, I ask everyone to bear with us should any technical issues arise.

I call Mr. Byrne to make his opening statement.

Mr. Dermot Byrne

I thank the committee for the invitation to attend this meeting. The Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, has nominated me to serve as chairperson of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI. If I may, I will begin by briefly summarising my career before setting out my vision and priorities for the authority.

I joined the ESB as a graduate engineer in 1973. As members will know, this was at the tail end of the rural electrification scheme that underpinned one of the greatest societal transformations that this country has seen in terms of its impact on people's lives. One of my last assignments in the ESB was to head up the newly formed ESB Networks directorate and, in that capacity, to revisit and upgrade the rural electricity networks to make them fit for service in the 21st century.

In 2005, I was appointed as the CEO of the newly formed EirGrid. Over the following years, we assumed responsibility for the all-island electricity market. We also built the east-west interconnector, which was a €600 million project that we brought in on time and within budget. I am particularly proud of the work we did in setting EirGrid on a path to be a world leader in integrating wind energy in the power system.

Since retiring in 2012, I have been active in a number of energy-related activities. On behalf of the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, I chaired an expert group to develop an energy research strategy to support the transition to a low-carbon energy future.

For the past six years, I have chaired Vita, an Irish development agency that works in east Africa with a mission to reduce poverty, hunger, and inequality among rural households through knowledge backed, community-led initiatives leading to sustainable livelihoods. Climate action, both mitigation and adaptation, is a core element of our work with these African communities who are on the front line of the climate crisis.

As president of Engineers Ireland in 2016 and 2017, I witnessed and worked with a community of professionals who are determined to play their part and lead on climate action, and, critically, to inspire the next generation to take on the technological and societal challenges that we face.

The reality of the existential threat posed by climate change is, I believe, beyond question. The science is very clear. The Paris Agreement sets out a global action plan to put the world on track to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C and closer to 1.5°C. The Government is committed to an average 7% per annum reduction in overall greenhouse gas emissions from 2021 to 2030, a halving over the decade, and to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. We saw last week in the joint report by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland and the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, that emissions last year reduced by 6% on the previous year, and that was largely due to the impact of the pandemic. We know the size of the challenge we face in the next ten, 20 and 30 years.

However, having a clear goal to aim for, one we all subscribe to, is extremely powerful as a means of unlocking the energy and creativity of all sectors of society to deliver that goal. A good example was the target of 40% renewables in the electricity sector by 2020, which many believed to be unattainable back in 2008 when it was set by the then Government. That target had the effect of changing the mindset and delivering a major energy transition on the supply side, a transition that is still under way with the development of solar, offshore wind and further interconnection.

The focus now changes to the demand side in transport, industry, the public sector and residential homes, where our decarbonisation efforts have been less successful to date. This is perhaps not surprising. Here we are looking for behavioural change and investments at the household and community level at a time when many households are struggling with the impact first of the financial crisis and now the Covid-19 pandemic. This societal transformation will take leadership, time and collective effort. Nevertheless, we know from past experience that societal transformations, underpinned by major energy transitions, can and do occur and bring us to a better and more sustainable place. I mentioned the rural electrification scheme earlier as one example of that.

The good news is that momentum is building. The moral and ethical imperative, as expounded by Pope Francis and Greta Thunberg among others, reinforces our sense that sustainable living is the right thing to do. Government policy, incentives, regulations and emerging technologies are helping to turn this ecological awareness into behavioural change and sustainable investments at the household, community and business levels. It is also the right thing to do economically, in terms of the new jobs and business models created and the new and innovative products and services developed and taken to a global market.

That brings me to the role of the SEAI. We are an agency of government working directly with homeowners, communities and businesses in delivering a cleaner energy future for Ireland. Over the last decade SEAI has delivered major impacts for Ireland. We have helped to inform and shape policy, we have provided access to genuine solutions and been the portal for many people and communities to engage with new technology and sustainability. Thanks to SEAI, more than 250,000 homes are warmer and cheaper to run, more than 500 communities have started their sustainable energy transition, thousands of businesses are more competitive and Ireland’s public services are exemplars in energy efficiency.

To build on this platform and to deliver on the targets set out in the programme for Government and the climate action plan, we in SEAI are now in the process of stepping up a gear. We are putting in place the leadership team to drive the organisation forward and we are recruiting the people with the necessary skills - technical, communications and community engagement. We are preparing our next statement of strategy for the period 2021-2025, a key theme of which will be collaboration. This will include: collaboration with businesses, industry and the public sector and with other State agencies, such as Enterprise Ireland, collaboration with the SME sector, for example, in the establishment of a national climate cluster, collaboration with our energy research and innovation sector, to help develop the technologies and innovative approaches needed and, most importantly, collaboration with all actors in the retrofit sector, with local authorities and primarily with citizens and communities to drive the national retrofit programme forward. Collaboration is at the heart of our work. We deliver through others. We in SEAI will be providing the leadership, the expertise, the ambition and the innovation that will drive and inform the change.

In regard to governance, SEAI is entrusted with significant Exchequer funds and we are very conscious of the need to be transparent and accountable in all our spending decisions. Since 2011, SEAI has maintained SWiFT 3000 corporate governance certification from the National Standards Authority of Ireland, NSAI. I assure the committee that the maintenance of this standard certification remains a key objective for me as board chair and for the SEAI board, to ensure that SEAI operates to the highest international standards of corporate governance.

I am deeply honoured to be nominated by the Minister to lead the SEAI board at this critical juncture. I can assure members that I will be giving it my full attention, working closely with the board, the executive team and the fantastic and dedicated staff we have in SEAI. Through my work in Africa with VITA and other organisations, I have seen the consequences of climate change and ecological degradation on households and communities. Climate action is for each and every one of us and I am committed to playing my part as chair of SEAI.

Again, I thank the Chair for the invitation and I will be pleased to answer any questions the committee may have.

I thank Mr. Byrne for his opening statement. I echo Mr. Byrne's final point. We are honoured that a man of Mr. Byrne's vast experience is at the helm of the board of the SEAI. I will now open the floor to questions.

I thank the chairman designate for being willing to take on this task. Few could be better qualified than he is, and in his opening remarks Mr. Byrne displays a real passion for the job. I am delighted to learn that Mr. Byrne is assembling a new team and a new strategy. The scale of the challenge is vastly greater than those in which the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland has been involved to date. I believe that the SEAI has done outstanding work in evaluating approaches and there is very good experience there. The real challenge now is in scaling that up. I am interested to know what role Mr. Byrne envisages the SEAI taking in scaling up the activity. Will the SEAI be leading what Europe now calls a "retrofit wave", or has that yet been worked out as to how the elements of a strategy that involves finance, motivation, getting boots on the ground in local communities and adopting area-based approaches instead of individual approaches? How far has the strategy developed on that?

My second question is on the extent to which Mr. Byrne believes the public sector is leading by example in the area of sustainable energy. The sector reports regularly on its energy efficiency but the extent to which public bodies are taking it seriously or are in a position to deliver change seems to me to be very variable.

On the SEAI remit, the Act includes the promotion of renewables; research, development and demonstration; tackling pollution; and the co-ordination of the production, supply and use of energy. It appears to me that the actual remit has been much narrower than the scope outlined in the founding Act. Is it a part of Mr. Byrne's strategy to take on some of those wider roles such as co-ordination of research and development in the context of the need to see the emergence of hydrogen and other potential replacement fuels? How far does Mr. Byrne see his role reaching in co-ordinating that sort of work, which I believe will be crucial to achieving our goals in the coming years, if not in the immediate year or two ahead?

Mr. Dermot Byrne

The scaling up and the retrofit wave is one of our biggest challenges.

We are conscious of that and we are gearing up for it. We have already started the work. We work closely with the Department on mapping out the targets etc. We have a target of achieving 500,000 B2 ratings by the end of the decade. When one looks at the graph showing that target mapped out over ten years, there is a mountain to climb. We are conscious of that.

We are putting in place the elements for SEAI being the national retrofit delivery body. We have that up and running now as a project. We have already started the work for 2021. We have an increased budget. We have two calls out at the moment, one of which is a one-stop-shop call. The Deputy will know that one of the key issues is the development of a supply chain to deliver this. That will take some time. The one-stop-shop call is helping the contractor base and the supply chain to coagulate and come together to create the necessary one-stop-shops that will help us to deliver this. We also have a community call-out, which is focusing on communities. They are the first two elements that are off the block. We are hindered a little by the pandemic, as we were last year, but all going well, once the restrictions are lifted, we hope to be up and running and doing the work for 2021, which is a target of 8,000 but, more important, preparing for the rapid scale-up for 2022 and thereafter. We have a task force and a project up and running to deliver that.

On the public sector, under the climate action plan the target for the public sector was 33% efficiency by 2020. It got close to achieving that target. There are exemplars such as, for example, Dublin City University, An Post and Dublin County Council. There are good examples of strong leadership in the public sector. We are working across the public sector to deliver the know-how and technologies that will help. The targets in the upcoming review of the climate action plan will be more stringent and will require leadership and best practice across all elements of the public sector.

On the remit of SEAI, having chaired the expert group on energy research and development in 2017, what was evident at the time was the lack of co-ordination. That was one of the main findings of that group. When I stepped into the chairmanship of SEAI late last year, I was glad to note that it had taken over the role of co-ordinating the research and development activity across the country. It does that in a number of ways through funding research and development. We have over 100 projects up and running by various research performing organisations, RPOs. The national conference we held last October pulled together all of those research organisations to allow researchers to hear what other people are doing. That type of information exchange is a great way of growing the collaborative effort across all RPOs. We have additional funding of up to €16 million for 2021. That will make a difference and is necessary to carry out that work in an effective and efficient way. I see that being very much of SEAI's remit.

I thank Mr. Byrne.

I congratulate Mr. Byrne on his appointment. I am conscious of time so I will get straight into my questions. Mr. Byrne mentioned he worked with African communities through Vita. I would be interested in hearing an outline of the plans of the Sustainable Energy Authority Ireland around resourcing and training the community energy sector. For example, the Scottish model provides an enablement grant of £25,000 to help communities carry out feasibility studies and to get them up and running. Mr. Byrne can correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that the SEAI has yet to fill the role of community-led energy adviser.

The current situation, where communities who are keen to be part of the energy transition and to get involved, whether they are small businesses, farms or schools, is that they are having to do deal with the CRU and the ESB directly, and they are organisations that are not used to dealing with communities and that do not have the communal capacity to do that. If we really want communities to be a bigger part of the process, we have to support them in that process. I would love to hear about the SEAI's role in terms of the RES process and bringing communities along on the energy transition.

Mr. Dermot Byrne

We have two principles when we work in east Africa. The first is that it is community-led, for example, the community-led total sanitation projects that we introduced into east Africa and which are now in widespread use. This means that when our people go into a village, they pull the community together and it becomes a community project rather than an NGO-imposed project. Out of that, leaders emerge, which is fantastic to watch and to see. The second principle is that we leave nobody behind. Once we are in a community, everybody is brought into it and everybody benefits from it, whatever the project is and whether it is latrines, potatoes or otherwise.

In terms of the SEAI and communities, we work very closely with communities. We now have up to 500 sustainable energy communities throughout the country and we support those communities very actively through grants, through helping them to develop skills, and through networking across communities so best practice is shared. I think what the Senator is referring to is the renewable energy supports scheme and getting communities involved in that. That is a critical part of engaging citizens and communities in our transition. We are in the process of appointing the trusted energy co-ordinator, so we are very conscious of that role and we will be working with communities to develop those skills and to make communities better able to engage with the process. It is very much on our radar and we are following that.

I offer congratulations to Mr. Byrne and wish him well in what is an important role. We are all hoping to see significant progress in the time ahead.

In regard to his plans, I ask him to comment in regard to the design of the various schemes with a view to targeting those areas and those homes most in need. It seems to be the case that many of the schemes are demand-led, so they are open for people to avail of them but they are not necessarily correlated with those areas of greatest need. Mr. Byrne mentioned SEAI is working closely with the Department around mapping out the work programme for the time ahead. Will that be informed by socioeconomic status, household income or the R rating, and what will inform that work? Does Mr. Byrne see a need to prioritise those areas in greatest need? Are there plans, for example, to revisit households that have already been visited? We still deal with this issue around the single household visit. I know many constituents who need more work completed but the bureaucratic criteria mean that does not happen.

In regard to the engagement with communities, I ask Mr. Byrne for comment in regard to sustainable energy communities, SECs. What plans has the SEAI to increase the level of sustainable energy communities? Are there any plans to engage with An Post, the GAA or local sporting and cultural organisations to see greater roll-out of those works?

Mr. Dermot Byrne

I thank the Deputy. Regarding the targeting of the schemes to the most at need, our warmer homes scheme is the biggest programme that we have to address fuel poverty. That is the most substantial chunk of our budget. It is €109 million in 2021. Unfortunately, last year, because of the pandemic we were not able to use our budget and there is a backlog. A key priority for us is to address that backlog. We can only work within the budgets that we have. We have the same budget this year. We are hopeful that we will make significant inroads into that backlog this year with the budget of €109 million, if contractors can get out to do the work. We have a new panel of contractors appointed and they are ready to go. As soon as the restrictions are lifted, we hope to see rapid progress in tackling that backlog.

On targeting, we work within the eligibility criteria. They were significantly opened up a couple of years ago with additional categories of people who can apply. We are heading towards deeper retrofits than previously. All that has to be factored in. The Deputy mentioned not revisiting a house that has previously been worked on. I hope that we will be able to do that in the coming years because we recognise that people are on a journey but we need to first go to the queue already there and the people who have not had anything done, and over time we will get round to delivering the full insulation allowable under the scheme.

We have more than 500 SECs now. It is an active part of our work. As I said in reply to Senator Boylan, I believe that communities are critical to this. We are talking about people coming together in a community, including the local GAA club and local shops, with leadership at a local level. It can bring about a remarkable transformation. We are hoping to grow that network of communities to 1,500 by the end of the decade, when we will have most of the country covered. We have a long way to go but communities are critical in getting that momentum.

An Post is one of the front runners in forming the one-stop-shop, linking up with other service providers to deliver a full package for consumers. We are looking to put in place that one-stop-shop model, which will help us to turbocharge the retrofitting scheme. It is great to see but more needs to happen. Credit unions need to be involved in their local areas. We see that as critical.

I congratulate Mr. Byrne and thank him for the work he has done for the State and what he is endeavouring to do with SEAI. His latter contribution comes to the point that I want to look at. He has given some guidance about the one-stop-shop, which would certainly be useful to have. Notwithstanding the commercial reality that one has to go through in identifying options, we would all like to see our post office being used more appropriately to deliver State services. I see no better option than SEAI using the services of the post offices in communities to reach out to individuals who want more information. In the work that we did in the Oireachtas, much of the commentary was about people not knowing where to access the services. That is fine for those who are proficient online but there are others who want to make a contribution and to access these services or funds, and the post office provides that.

Following on from that, there are people who will not qualify for the schemes or will not have the appropriate amount of personal resources to do the work that is required, particularly on the deep retrofit side of things. Can Mr. Byrne tell us about any plans that might be in place to assist with that green financing, which was talked about in the past? What are his views in that regard? There are certainly people out there who want to do that deep retrofit but do not have the hard cash. Traditional banks will have their own views about where somebody is with his or her mortgage or other financial commitments. Has Mr. Byrne any views or ideas with regard to that area?

Mr. Dermot Byrne

The one-stop-shop model has a number of dimensions, one of which is finance while another is the supply chain. Finance is a critical element of it. We are doing work in this area. We are trying to work with the different finance houses to come up with offerings that are at the right level for people and are affordable. An Post has moved into this space, which is great. I know credit unions are also active in it. The credit union movement is such a fantastic community-based movement throughout the country. A lot of these organisations have a lot of cash because of savings that have built up over the years so it should be possible. Of course, interest rates are so low at the moment that we should be able to pass some of that competitiveness in interest rates directly to consumers to help them on the journey towards deep retrofits. It is an expensive item. SEAI is there to support them in terms of grants so significant grant funding is available but leveraging that with affordable finance is the key thing.

I congratulate Mr. Byrne on his appointment. He made a powerful point when he spoke in his opening statement about the 40% renewable target that was set in 2020, the scale of that task at the time, how the catastrophe we now face is so enormous and how this can be overwhelming for people. It was interesting to hear about his work in Vita in east Africa. That shows how interconnected we are at the moment and the global problem we are facing. He mentioned the pandemic. It is difficult for our politicians to talk about ethics and morals when people are still reeling from the financial crash of ten years ago and dealing with the crisis in housing.

When people look at Covid and see how badly we are managing that in the First World, they wonder how we are going to manage the climate emergency. It is a valid and frightening point. I would like to hear Mr. Byrne's thoughts on that and how we can proceed on an ethics, morality and trust basis and whether he thinks that rather than always going to businesses, markets and profit, we could engage leaders and public intellectuals on this issue.

Mr. Dermot Byrne

The climate challenge is so big that it can be overwhelming and to be fair, we are dealing with it. We need to break it down. What can we do here in Ireland?

We can manage our contribution to the problem and the opportunity there. We are part of Europe so we can do it as part of a European community. We can play our part in that. Within Ireland, we must break the problem down into its component parts. We must look at electricity, transport and the built environment. The 2019 climate action plan brought us a long way towards breaking it down with 183 different actions across all sectors of society. That has to be reviewed now in the context of the programme for Government targets and the net zero by 2050 target.

More importantly, it is getting the buy-in, the community and leadership at all levels in society that will drive this forward. If that determination and leadership are there across all sectors and if we apply the right resources, brain power and people to figure out the details of how we are going to get this done, as I said earlier in respect of the 40% target, we can do it. The 40% target was deemed to be unattainable at the time but once that was set, the likes of ESB, EirGrid, the regulator and all the developers out there rolled up their sleeves and we got there. These organisations are doing tremendous work in facilitating renewable electricity on the system, which people would have thought was impossible. It is a big challenge but with the right leadership at every level and the right people and brainpower assigned to it, I am confident we will get there.

I congratulate Mr. Byrne on his appointment and thank him for joining us. When it comes to energy, we know many of the solutions. Going back to one of the first comments, it is about implementing them and the roll-out. When we look at other areas when it comes to climate, it is more difficult to know what the solutions are. As a public representative, I have been contacted by people who, number one, do not know where to go. I hope that the one-stop-shop will be able to deal with that issue. The other issue is that they do not believe that the financial incentive is big enough to make the change. The warmer homes scheme is free for some people because they fall into certain categories but on the ground, when I am contacted by people living in rural parts of my community, the issue is that it needs to be enough of an incentive to make some kind of investment. There is help to put a financial package around it but there is also that piece involving that change of mind that must happen when someone says that if he or she invests in something, it will save him or her money over time. A key part of that element of the public is renters. They do not have the capacity to make that switch themselves. How does Mr. Byrne see his role in SEAI in moving those two categories along to where we believe they need to be in terms of climate, their own well-being and air quality?

My last point concerns schools. There is a real desire on the part of schools and children to make a switch. Having tried to help schools in the past, I know they simply do not have the capacity to invest themselves.

Does Mr. Byrne believe that more legislation is required or a change in policy direction from the Department of Education that may aid him and through which a partnership could be developed? That way, it would not include only a community element, but would apply specifically to schools.

Mr. Dermot Byrne

We are looking for behavioural change and a willingness to invest. I believe that people like investing in their homes, be it through a new kitchen or whatever else. People go out of their way to invest money in their homes and seem to benefit from it. More people are working from home as a result of the pandemic and children are at home. The benefit of having a warmer home is all the more evident for people who have it and its absence is also more evident to those who do not, in terms of increased bills and a lack of comfort. Perhaps as a result of having to work and school from home during the pandemic, there will be a desire among people to improve the performance of their homes. We are there to support that through grants but, more than that, it is about getting a decision made to go to a credit union and borrow money.

There is a sense that when such changes start to happen in a neighbourhood, a person can see other people doing it and can visit those homes. We hope that people who have the work done will allow others into their homes, tell them what they have achieved and that it is fantastic. If one speaks to people who have had the work done, one will hear how remarkable are the changes in comfort, warmth and well-being that one can get. All sorts of other benefits, including health benefits, flow from that. This momentum is going to build and we have a role in helping that to happen through our communications, mass media campaigns and working with communities on the ground. If somebody is, for example, getting work done on a road, we should have a sign on the road stating, "This is being supported by SEAI; come in and have a look". If we can get to a stage where people are willing to share their experiences, it will be a powerful motivator for others to make the switch. Perhaps that is an answer to the Senator's first question.

I will cut across Mr. Byrne because we have less than 15 minutes remaining and a few more members are indicating a desire to come in. We will try to get through everybody. I would appreciate it if they could make their questions and answers as succinct as they can.

Mr. Dermot Byrne

I will quickly reply on renters. Renters are a real problem because there is a split incentive there. It is well-recognised as being a problem. We support landlords who are eligible to apply for grants but it is recognised that there is a problem there that has to be addressed.

We take a fabric first approach to public sector schools. I am conscious that people want to put solar panels on schools but that has been more difficult. We work with the Department of Education and have a protocol there that needs to be revisited. Perhaps we need to revisit that under the new microgeneration scheme.

I congratulate Mr. Byrne on his appointment. I am sure we will engage with him again on the new statement of strategy for 2021 to 2025. He spoke about increased ambition. We are in a circumstance where we were looking at the recovery and resilience facilities that are coming from Europe, the State being able to take loans and a suspension of the fiscal rules that exist. In terms of capacity, and if money was no object, how could we increase our ambition above 500,000 B2-rated homes in the next decade? What could we do in that regard by increasing ambition on the number of B2s, the number of deep retrofits, as opposed to other retrofits, and scaling up on public buildings, including schools, as has been mentioned? We have 90 public buildings but what would happen if we were to look at the large-scale retrofitting of other public buildings? I know there are other capacity issues besides funding. I am hoping to drill down to discover what are the other capacity issues, besides funding.

Will SEAI be looking at the issues of retrofitting and embodied energy? Embodied energy is often not addressed in buildings. That is something that needs to be added alongside retrofitting because sometimes buildings are demolished and replaced with more sustainable buildings when the benefits will not accrue for 100 years. Will SEAI look at that? Is it engaging with the national development plan and local development plans to look at retrofitting and embodied energy? Where is the idea of new sustainable capital infrastructure being looked at? That applies especially under sustainable development goal, SDG, 11 which applies to sustainable communities. I would not mind hearing about how SDGs in general are being incorporated into the new strategic vision of SEAI.

Is research on energy storage a part of the innovation at which SEAI is looking? We have heard a lot about carbon capture but I am interested in research on renewable energy storage issues.

I would query the language that Mr. Byrne about a "split incentive". I am concerned about that because it is being used a lot by landlords who are asking what is in it for them when what is not in it for them is more relevant. If we increase the acceptable energy standards for rental accommodation, does that create an incentive for landlords? At the moment, there is a narrative that landlords are asking why they should do it when only their renters benefit.

Could there be a better, more positive use of environmental and social impact assessments in the sustainable energy sector? Energy charter renegotiations are taking place this spring. We know that RWE has launched a case against the Dutch Government for its plan to shift to renewable energy. France is asking for the legal, institutional and budgetary modalities of withdrawal from the energy charter to be looked at. Is that an issue that Mr. Byrne is following or tracking? Does he have thoughts on the matter? As well as supply and demand, we also need some of the old models to get out of the way. Does Mr. Byrne have any thoughts on that?

I thank the Senator. There were many excellent questions there and I am not sure if Mr. Byrne will have the time to get through them all. He can reply as quickly as he can in the time remaining.

Perhaps Mr. Byrne could reply in writing if he cannot address some of those questions now.

Mr. Dermot Byrne

We can certainly come back to the Senator. She asked about ambition and if money was no object, we would still have a supply chain issue at a time when we are building more houses. We are working with partners to try to develop and build that supply chain and we will see that happening over the next number of years. That will get us to where we need and want to get to in the later years of the decade.

We have to scale up public buildings. We have a national heat study under way at the moment which will help to inform new policies, actions and how we do all of this.

The Senator touched on retrofitting and the embodied energy piece. It is not something that I have looked at in detail but perhaps I could come back to the Senator on that matter.

Storage is one of a number of technologies that are increasingly being used to manage the variability of wind. Our biggest issues relate more to the long-term storage, the Turlough Hills of this world, to manage the intermittency of it over a period of time. Storage is certainly a part of the solution, as is interconnection. We have already got two interconnectors to the island of Ireland and hope to have two more by the middle of the decade - the Celtic interconnector and the GridLink interconnector. All of that will help.

I will come back to the Senator on the rest of the issues she raised because of the time limits. I am aware of the issue she raised about the energy charter. It is not something I am following in detail because I do not think it applies in Ireland, or I hope it does not. We will see what happens in that regard.

I will ask a couple of questions. Deputy O'Rourke rightly pointed out the issue of targeting particular socioeconomic areas and the people in greatest need.

Allied to that, there is an issue relating to targeting areas of poor air quality. In a significant number of areas in Ireland, air quality is adversely impacting the health of the people. I believe 470,000 people in Ireland are affected by asthma, which costs the State almost €500 million per year. A significant report found that one in five premature deaths globally is due to fossil fuel pollution. The public health aspect cannot be overstated. In his chairmanship, Mr. Byrne might bring that to the board and perhaps work with the EPA and the HSE. There is an issue with monitoring in which I believe SEAI could have a significant role. Many of our most polluted areas do not have extensive monitoring systems set up. Mr. Byrne should feel free to comment.

Where does he feel the SEAI might be able to improve in the coming years in the delivery of its programme generally.

Mr. Dermot Byrne

The ambition for transport will make a big difference to the air quality. Having 1 million EVs by 2030 is an enormous step up. We are already seeing momentum building in the EV market. With the combination of the desirability of EVs, costs coming down and regulation, that is achievable and will make a dramatic improvement in air quality.

On ambition for delivery, as I said earlier, we are gearing up for that. It is a step change that we need to embark on. We are doing the work on that now and are recruiting people. We will deliver our targets this year, assuming we get through the pandemic. More important, this year is about building for the rapid acceleration and turbocharging of the retrofit market beyond 2021.

My point on air quality related more to retrofitting and less to transport. We have a housing stock that is quite energy inefficient through the burning of solid fuels, which is leading to poor air quality in our towns and cities. I would appreciate Mr. Byrne making that a priority in his tenure with the SEAI.

I thank him for attending and engaging with the committee. I also thank the members for putting their good questions.

Sitting suspended at 1.59 p.m. and resumed at 2.02 p.m.