29 March 2018
First of all I would like to thank Energy Action for organising today's conference. This annual event gives us all a chance to focus on the challenge at hand, to hear success stories and to share ideas.
The Department that I lead - the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment is the Department of Efficiency.
It's about using the natural resources that we have in a sustainable manner to drive change, to transform rural Ireland, to support employment and to protect our people and planet for future generations.
My job is to provide the leadership through policies and programmes that translate aspiration into action. Action is the most important word in the title of my Department.
Energy efficiency and climate action are inextricably linked. Using less energy and using it more efficiently is the most cost-effective way to combat climate change.
Efficiency is about us using limited resources more responsibly, and more economically. It is not just a different way of doing, it is a different way of thinking and of living.
The cheapest unit of energy is the one not used. Our homes are a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. To achieve Ireland's long term climate and energy goals we need to enable more households to engage in deeper renovations of their home.
Everyone deserves a home they can afford to heat and to light. But, regrettably some cannot.
Many struggle to make ends meet. And among those who struggle hardest, too many live in homes that are sink holes for fuel poverty.
Ending this inequality is a priority for me. It is also an economic opportunity. Ending fuel poverty, one home at a time creates jobs and contributes to combatting climate change.
Insulation isn't a single-issue panacea for fuel-poverty. But insulation ensures a home that is warmer with healthier residents, more comfortable and costs less to heat.
Today's agenda is about understanding energy poverty in a wider European context.
And it is about recognising that a united approach is the best way to tackle energy poverty, and protect those who are most vulnerable.
We know that 9% of the EU population struggle to keep their homes warm.
These people are vulnerable to cold and extreme weather, and disruptions in energy prices.
Their health and wellbeing is seriously impacted by energy poverty.
This is why I see energy efficiency as the primary tool for tackling energy poverty and ensuring no-one is left behind.
Energy poverty is a blight that affects one in four people in Ireland. These people cannot afford to heat and light their homes. This is plainly unacceptable.
They struggle to meet their energy costs. This inequality must be, and is being, addressed. We have a moral imperative to ensure that everyone can afford to light and heat their homes.
Global and EU perspective
But energy poverty is not just an Irish issue. The Irish Government welcomes the opportunity for greater exchange and collaboration with Europe to tackle it.
The European Commission has proposed a requirement on all Member States to report on levels of energy poverty and the actions being taken to alleviate it under the new Clean Energy Package of legislation.
This is an acknowledgement of the severity of this issue across the EU. Ireland is supporting this proposal. Making a difference is easier when we work together.
The creation of the EU Energy Poverty Observatory will bring Europe together on this issue. It is a unique opportunity for collaboration.
The Observatory will inform and offer solutions in a user-friendly accessible resource and crucially, promote public engagement. I believe it is hugely important that the people of Ireland have their voices heard in this forum.
All of this forms an excellent fit with the work of the International Energy Agency on the multiple benefits of energy efficiency. My officials, along with the SEAI, are closely involved in this work, particularly on the benefits to health and wellbeing.
Budget 2017 was the first Budget for my Department, as the Department with the combined responsibility for energy and climate action. It was a critical juncture for energy and climate policy.
That is why I felt it was so important to secure one of the highest percentage increases in capital expenditure of any department.
In Budget 2018 I again secured record funding for energy efficiency, totalling €117m, which is directly translating into more homes supplied with energy efficiency upgrades, and more importantly with deeper energy efficiency upgrades.
However, not everyone can afford to invest in deeper, more expensive measures. I am committed to ensuring that those who are unable to invest further in their homes are not left behind.
The Warmer Homes Scheme is Ireland's primary grant support scheme for households in energy poverty. Free energy efficiency upgrades are provided to vulnerable households, making those homes warmer and cheaper to heat. For 2018 I have allocated €24m to the scheme.
Up to now we have primarily focussed on supporting shallower measures with this scheme. These deliver high energy savings for low cost, and have an impact in making a home warmer and more efficient. It has been the sensible starting point.
Last year the scheme was expanded to provide deeper retrofit measures to homes in particularly poor condition.
However, we must now take the extra step and reach for even greater energy and carbon savings, especially for homes that are harder to treat. These will only be achieved with deeper measures.
Therefore I am very pleased to announce that the Warmer Homes Scheme will now support all types of wall insulation, including external and crucially replacement windows will be supported under this expansion.
Not only will this see the Scheme reach homes that could not previously receive works, but they can now be provided with a deeper upgrade.
This is what we have to do to place our residential housing stock on the right, low carbon, trajectory for 2050. Every home counts.
Critically, by providing these deeper insulation measures under the Warmer Homes Scheme, where heating systems need to be installed or old fossil fuel systems replaced, we will now create the opportunity to install clean renewable heating technologies.
This is further progress on implementing the decision I made at the end of last year to transition away from grant supports for fossil fuels to renewables.
We will do this where it's the best technical solution for the house, and where the householder is comfortable with that solution.
And it builds our capacity to deliver ahead of the implementation of the National Development Plan, which foresees investment of €4 billion in energy efficiency.
Warmth and Wellbeing
We instinctively know that energy poverty has an adverse effect on health, and that cold, damp housing exacerbates respiratory conditions.
Many who suffer from these conditions cannot afford to make their homes warmer and drier. The Warmth and Wellbeing scheme is directly addressing this. In its third year, it has already provided upgrades to over 500 homes, with a further 400 currently in various stages of the process.
Critical to the success of this innovative scheme is the excellent cooperation between my Department and the Department of Health, and I'm delighted to see they are participating today.
A whole of Government response will be the key to effective action on energy poverty and climate change.
Last year I announced that the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine is undertaking an evaluation of the health and wellbeing impacts scheme. This will help us steer a wider rollout of the scheme across the country.
Work is underway in gathering the data for this research, with the HSE and SEAI working together to monitor improvements in health and air quality in participating households.
But there are even bigger challenges to come. I am committed to improving the energy efficiency of the rental sector. Housing is a complicated issue and introducing additional regulation can decrease the number of properties available in the market, or increase the price of those properties.
That is why any changes will only be made after extensive consultation with all of you here today as well as other stakeholders.
My Department commissioned an evaluation on the impact of introducing energy efficiency standards in the rental sector. Now this has been updated with 2016 Census data and work on drafting a consultation paper is underway.
Today, I have given you some sense of the work-in-progress on energy poverty that I am driving with my officials. I hope that today's conference will provide an opportunity to explore new ways of tackling energy poverty, ultimately helping the most vulnerable in our society.