Interest-free loans for workers could help fund home retrofits
Interest-free loans from employers could help fund energy upgrades of up to €30,000 in thousands of homes across the State.
Workers could fund the cost of replacing boilers and complete other works to reduce energy consumption and cut household bills under a Bike-to-Work-style scheme being developed by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI).
One Cork-based company, the EPS Group, has already funded works totalling €180,000 for 32 employees, where the cost is repaid over 12 months through their salary.
The SEAI is also exploring allowing credit unions and power companies to finance the works.
The move comes as Ireland faces mounting pressure to reduce energy consumption to help prevent dangerous climate change.
Some 25pc of all energy consumed in Ireland is used to heat and power homes. The State wants to reduce overall energy consumption by 20pc by 2020.
More than 340,000 homes, from a national total of some two million, have availed of grants towards heating and insulation upgrades.
But SEAI chief executive Jim Gannon told the Irish Independent that he wanted to encourage homeowners to undertake "deeper" and more expensive retrofits to help reduce consumption.
Deep retrofits can include replacing glazing, installing roof and external wall insulation, as well as using heat pumps that transfer the heat stored in the earth to warm buildings.
"We need to move from minority activity and expand to a broader majority of people," he said.
"We need to increase awareness and convince people about what deeper retrofit means. We have to increase capacity in the market and address finance.
"We are looking at better schemes at how retrofit can be developed. We are asking people to move from a mindset [of] measures costing less than €5,000 to measures costing up to €30,000. We need people to be confident that the technology will work and that they will get the savings."
Among the options being considered include allowing companies to provide finance to workers, using credit unions to fund the works or encouraging utility companies including the ESB and Bord Gáis to pay for the works, with the costs repaid over time through energy savings.
A number of options are being "tested", he added. The increased warmth and comfort, coupled with cheaper bills, were frequently cited as benefits.
Three pilot projects have been undertaken. One was led by an energy agency, and improved the efficiency of 10 homes. A second involved a Credit Union, and 28 homes were upgraded. The third involved the EPS Group, which funded works on 32 properties costing a total of €180,000.
EPS Group energy manager Declan O'Riordan said all 380 employees were invited to take part, with audits carried out on 100 properties to identify the types of measures needed.
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Some 32 workers decided to go ahead with the retrofits, based on advice provided by the firm and contractors. The company funded the works, which were repaid over 12 months, and no interest was charged.
The most expensive retrofit totalled €15,000, and the cheapest came to €2,000. Workers could also avail of SEAI grants.
"The measures were typically boilers, but seven installed solar panels," Mr O'Riordan said. "One person told me they stopped using their dishwasher because they had all this hot water."
The works were completed earlier this year, and are projected to result in 30pc less energy being used, which will reduce customer bills.