Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Questions (23)

Thomas Pringle


23. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment if he will report on the recently announced grant-aided scheme for rooftop solar panels; when the scheme will be rolled out to domestic users; when the scheme will be subsequently rolled out to businesses and farmers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7530/18]

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Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Communications)

While I welcome the announcement the Minister has made to roll out the grant-aided scheme to domestic users, I would like to find out when it is likely to happen, the potential costs involved, what will happen to the individuals who may have been in the process of installing solar panels when he made this announcement in the first place and whether any excess energy will be fed into the national grid.

I will go through the reply and I will then come back to the Deputy on some of the issues. On foot of the October 2017 stakeholder workshop, hosted on my instruction by my Department and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, along with further engagement with the microgeneration industry, I have asked the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland to conduct a short study to assess the likely demand for and impact of microgeneration among the public. It is important that before we deploy further public money, we validate the demand and projected cost in an Irish context.

The proposed pilot scheme, which I announced at the recent renewable energy summit, will commence this summer and will target solar PV and self-consumption among domestic customers.  The data gathered during this scheme and throughout the behaviour and attitudes study will inform future phases of support for microgeneration in Ireland as we align with the ambition of the recast renewable energy directive, which recognises the rights, entitlements and obligations of renewable self-consumers.

My Department is developing a new renewable electricity support scheme, RESS, which is being designed to assist Ireland in meeting its renewable energy contribution to EU-wide targets out to 2030. Microgeneration, which typically involves an element of self-consumption, was appraised as part of the RESS economic assessment and the analysis identified a number of challenges that may need to be addressed before a support scheme for microgeneration can be developed.

The reality is that bringing microgeneration into a system designed for large generators is complicated. It impacts how we pay for the network, manage regulation and technically manage the system. My Department continues to work closely with the microgeneration sector and the SEAI to better understand how to validate and further develop these policies in a fair and cost-effective manner. This pilot scheme will be the first phase in a multi-phase implementation of the new directive and it delivers on the ambitions and commitments made in the energy White Paper and the programme for Government.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

As set out in the national mitigation plan, a very significant increase in effort is required to realise the potential of the residential sector to contribute to the low-carbon transition. Improving the energy efficiency of a home in order that it needs less energy to maintain levels of comfort is a prerequisite for moving off fossil fuels for heating to less energy-intensive renewable energy options. This is why I have been providing additional funding to include deeper energy efficiency measures, combined with renewable technologies, in the range of supports for residential energy efficiency operated by SEAI. Solar photovoltaics, PV, is already supported under the better energy communities scheme and the deep retrofit pilot. Crucial to these schemes are the advice and technical support available to groups of householders and businesses to undertake these measures and embrace renewable technologies.

I thank the Minister for his response. He has cleared up some of the questions in stating it is an introductory scheme and that it is intended to evaluate its success before it would be rolled out further. However, this raises other questions. It is clear the people are far ahead of the Government in respect of renewable energy. Many people are going ahead with solar PV installations despite the fact that the Government has not introduced an incentive scheme for homeowners. Again, will the Minister address the position of homeowners who may have engaged in this process prior to, or since, his announcement, not knowing that the Government was intending to come forward with a scheme? When is it likely the scheme will be rolled out to community groups, community centres and so on? Having these assessments in place could offset quite a lot of other costs. What is also vitally important is a very public, very in-your-face advertising process in order that people know the scheme is actually available to them. I think that would do wonders for the success of the scheme.

The Deputy has raised a number of matters. People who have installed solar PV on domestic buildings and engaged in self-consumption after my announcement of 31 January would fall within the final parameters of the pilot scheme when the details of it are announced. This is termed "grandfathering". I am sympathetic to their position, but grandfathering would be subject to discussions with the Directorate General for Competition, DG Competition, in the European Commission on any state aid implications that would apply. I intend to have these discussions with the DG Competition and I would be sympathetic to these people's position if they were to comply with whatever criteria will be set out by the scheme.

A grant for community centres is already available through the better energy communities scheme. Last year €26 million was paid out under the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland better energy communities scheme to 44 projects across the country, some of which included solar PV. This leveraged a total investment in energy efficiency of approximately €67 million. We also have a deep retrofit pilot which also allows for the use of solar PV, but this is for the general consumer.

Finally, will the Minister address the issue of public awareness to ensure that people are aware of the scheme? I think there will be quite a lot of demand and that the Department will probably be pleasantly surprised by it because I believe the people are way ahead of the Government in respect of renewable energy and want to see it happen. I ask the Minister to address this. In addition, if the scheme is rolled out in the future, what about the issue of the feeding of energy generated into the national grid? That is vitally important as well.

I am very conscious of public awareness. We have a new behavioural economics unit established within the SEAI to look at how we communicate. For any colleagues here writing newsletters, there is a box outlining the different grants, which can put into their newsletters. We can make that available to them. We have done so in the past and will do so again. There is a substantial amount of funding here. I want to see the scheme oversubscribed rather than undersubscribed because it is in the interest of all of us that it happens. I would be very open, as would the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, to any suggestions or ideas as to how we should package or promote the scheme. Perhaps it might help clarify matters for the Deputy if, in summary, I say my objective is to ensure that renewables self-consumers, those who generate renewable electricity and consume and-or store it in their own premises, will be entitled to receive financial remuneration for any excess electricity they feed into the grid. That is my ultimate goal. It will take a little time to get there, but that is my objective as Minister.

I remind everyone in the House of the way in which this business is laid out. Deputies have 30 seconds to introduce their questions, the Minister has two minutes to reply, Members have a minute for a supplementary question, the Minister has a further reply, and the Member then has another opportunity for a supplementary question. I ask everyone to stick rigidly to this. If we do not, some Deputies will lose out. I see Deputies who come here and sit for ages in the Chamber every day and then, after all their waiting, do not get their questions answered, so I ask Members to be conscious of this. The next question is in the name of Deputy Pat The Cope Gallagher.