Householders have power to slash their energy bills and create jobs at same time
SINCE 2008, all new homes built in Ireland have to be energy efficient and built to the highest international standards. They must be 40pc more energy efficient and show a 40pc reduction in carbon emissions.
These homes are warm, even when the heating is off and they are much cheaper to run.
However, most of the houses in Ireland were built during or before the 1980s. Though they may be sturdy, they were not built to the specifications of today. There are over 1.2 million such houses throughout the country.
In over a million homes, people have simply become accustomed to high energy bills just to keep their homes habitable. When winter sets in, older people and those on low incomes are particularly vulnerable to the cold and to the cost.
On a national level, we live in an uncertain energy world. Ireland is heavily dependent on imported fossil fuels, which means we are at the mercy of the international price for these commodities. This year we will send €6bn abroad to pay for these fuels. As oil becomes more difficult to find, the only long-term prognosis for oil prices is that they will increase.
I have two main goals as Energy Minister. The first is to increase the amount of Irish renewable energy we have on our system as the best possible hedge against future price increases. Since I entered government, renewable energy has doubled and we have already reached our target for 2010. I will continue this work as the best use of our natural resources and as a stimulus for the economy.
The second, and equally as important, goal is to reduce the overall amount of energy we use in the first place. Roughly a quarter of all energy we use is wasted energy. It is energy that goes up the chimney, out the roof, through the walls and windows. This cost is borne by the householder for energy they do not use, while also contributing to climate change.
As a minister in this Government, I believe all the best policies can contribute to our economic recovery. We need to do everything we can to create and maintain jobs across all areas of activity. With all this in mind, I launched a National Insulation Programme for Economic Recovery last year.
It has been a marvellous success story.
To date, over 80,000 homes all over Ireland have been upgraded with the help of grants of up to €4,000. And 60,000 homes will be insulated this year alone, which will deliver lifetime energy savings of €250m.
Some of this work, particularly for those on social welfare or for older people at risk of fuel poverty has been carried out for free.
The Home Energy Savings Scheme and the Warmer Homes Scheme are administered by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, which has reported great feedback from the thousands who have had this work done.
The average householder will save €700 a year on their energy bills if they insulate their home. In these times, every penny counts and if you multiply this figure over years, anyone can see that it is an excellent investment for any house.
Insulation also brings jobs. We have an opportunity to get our skilled tradesmen and women, who have been unduly affected by the downturn in construction, to get back to work and put their skills to good use.
More than 5,000 people are now in employment because of this scheme. These are builders and electricians who have moved from constructing new houses to retro-fitting the old. These are building energy rating assessors and advisers who come to your home to advise you on the best measures to take -- 5,000 people now in jobs because of this government scheme is something I am proud of and want to expand further.
I know there are construction workers who are ready, willing and able to carry out this work.
The success of the scheme is such that I believe there is nothing to stop us from going into every one of those million homes that need upgrading. The revised Programme for Government last year promised a national retrofit programme that will allow people to 'save as they pay'.
In my department, we are working on the design of a new scheme that will see us improve one million houses in the next 10 years.
If we can upgrade one million buildings in the next decade, we will deliver net savings to the economy of €17bn. We will support thousands more jobs. It will be the biggest energy project in the history of the State.
Tomorrow, a major conference on home energy improvements is being organised by the International Institute of European Affairs in Croke Park. The institute has done some excellent work and will help with the design of the new scheme.
I look forward to listening to those who are carrying out the work on the ground.
To anyone wondering if this would be a good idea for their own home, contact SEAI at www.seai.ie or 1850 927 000. You can decide today how your next winter will be.
You can get the builder in and say next winter: "I won't have to get those extra bags of coal; next winter I can save myself some money."
Now is the time to plan. Improve your home and you will improve your quality of life as well as contributing to the recovery.