Tuesday 23 April 2019

The cost of cutting your carbon footprint - and the payback

With higher carbon taxes likely, people need to become 'greener' - but there's a cost

You could avoid, or limit the impact of, any increase in carbon taxes by reducing your carbon footprint
You could avoid, or limit the impact of, any increase in carbon taxes by reducing your carbon footprint
Louise McBride

Louise McBride

It could cost tens of thousands of euro for an individual to cut their carbon footprint. However, with higher carbon taxes looking increasingly likely in the future, many Irish people will soon have little choice but to spend money on becoming more environmentally friendly.

Otherwise, they will likely find it much more expensive to heat their homes, and the cost of driving would also go up for many motorists. You could avoid, or limit the impact of, any increase in carbon taxes by reducing your carbon footprint. It won't necessarily cost a fortune to do so - in some cases the bill might be in the thousands, in others it could be hundreds or less. The money spent on doing so will often be recouped through savings on day-to-day bills over the years. You would also be helping to keep the environment in good shape.

So how could you slash your carbon footprint?

Get solar panels

Cost: €3,800 with payback in five to 15 years

There are two main types of solar panels. One, known as solar thermal collectors or solar hot water collectors, heats your water. The other, known as solar photovoltaic (PV) modules, generates electricity.

It costs about €5,000 to get either type of solar panels for a typical semi-detached home - but that cost falls to between €3,600 and €3,800 if you're eligible for a solar grant, according to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI). The typical grant available for a semi-detached home getting solar PV or solar thermal collectors is between €1,200 and €1,400.

It could take between five and 15 years to get payback for the money spent on solar panels, depending on the type of panels you get installed and the amount of energy your home uses.

You could save up to 60pc on your water heating bills with solar thermal collectors. "A properly designed, sized and installed solar water heating system could meet up to 60pc of a home's hot water needs," said a spokeswoman for the SEAI. Savings could be the equivalent of between €600 and €800 a year for a home with four or five people, according to some solar installers - though this will depend on the amount of hot water used by the household, and the cost of it. Hot water could represent about a fifth of your energy usage - if your home is not energy efficient, says the SEAI. "For more efficient homes, where less energy is needed for space heating, this proportion is higher," said the SEAI spokeswoman.

An average home could get payback for installing solar water heating within five years - if the system cost about €4,000, according to Norman Crowley, chief executive of the energy-efficient company Crowley Carbon.

The other type of solar panels, solar PV, would save a typical household in a three- to four-bed semi-detached home about €260 a year in energy bills, according to the SEAI. "This is for a 2kW system, which is about six solar panels installed on a south-facing roof," said a spokeswoman for the SEAI. It would therefore take about 15 years for such a home to get payback for the money spent on solar PV if the panels cost €3,800.

The cost of PV systems has fallen in recent years and if these price drops continue payback could become much quicker in the future.

"Between January 2018 and January 2019, the price of putting in a solar PV system dropped by 30pc," said Crowley. "It had already dropped by 60pc in the five years before."

Insulate your home

Cost: Up to €11,400 with payback in six to 28 years

A homeowner could halve their energy bills by insulating their attic and walls and upgrading their heating controls, according to the SEAI. (Heating controls allow you to control your hot water and heating so you have enough of either when needed but when they're not required, they're turned off.)

The average household (with natural gas heating) uses 11,000 units of gas a year, which could cost more than €800 a year in gas bills (or less if getting a good discount from the gas supplier). At that rate, you could save more than €400 a year by insulating your home and installing heating controls, assuming you halve your energy bills by doing so.

Savings are likely to be even greater if you have a poorly-insulated detached or old home. "A house built in the 1960s could cost €3,000 to €4,000 a year to heat," said Fergus Merriman, a chartered building surveyor and director of Merriman Solutions. At that rate, you'd save between €1,500 and €2,000 a year if insulation and heating controls allow you to halve your bills.

Insulation can be expensive though. It could cost as much as €17,000 on average to insulate and get heating controls for a semi-detached home, if getting external wall insulation. This cost would however be reduced to €11,400 if you qualify for the various grants, according to the SEAI. That €11,400 includes a €9,500 bill for external wall insulation (the most expensive type of insulation), €600 for attic insulation and €1,300 for heating controls. (You may however be able to get heating controls for a semi-detached home for €500.)

It would take about 28 years to get payback for a €11,400 bill if you save €400 a year. Payback, however, is likely to be much quicker on a home which was very expensive to heat prior to the insulation. For example, payback could be achieved in as little as six years if insulation saved you €2,000 a year in heating bills.

"External wall insulation for a detached home could cost between €10,000 and €20,000," said Merriman. "You could see the payback for that in 10 years time, assuming you get the grant."

It is possible to completely eliminate the heating bill for a home by energy-proofing it well, according to Merriman. "If you got external insulation and loft insulation and did all the other energy efficiency measures for heating and ventilation - such as getting new windows and making a building airtight - you could get your heating bill down to 10pc of what it was," said Merriman. "You could end up with a zero heating bill if you're fastidious about blocking all areas where heat is escaping."

Internal wall insulation (also known as dry lining) and cavity wall insulation are not as expensive as external wall insulation and so payback should be much quicker. It would cost on average between €6,000 and €8,000 to get internal wall insulation for a semi-detached home, with the grant reducing that cost to between €3,800 and €5,800 according to the SEAI. Cavity wall insulation would cost the same home between €1,000 and €2,000 on average, with the grant reducing that cost to between €600 and €1,600.

Buy an electric car

Cost: €30,000 with payback in 10 to 15 years

You could buy an electric car for around €30,000. The price of the new Nissan Leaf, for example, starts from €28,690, which includes the maximum €5,000 grant for electric cars.

There are two types of electric car, the pure electric car and the plug-in hybrid. A plug-in hybrid could save you thousands a year in fuel - so you could get payback on a €30,000 bill for such a car in 15 years or less, depending on the amount you drive. Payback for a similarly priced pure electric car will be even quicker as you'll no longer have fuel bills. There are also savings to be made on tax, servicing and road tolls, which will speed up the payback. It will cost you to charge your car at home, but this bill is likely to be only a few hundred euro a year.

Cycle everywhere

Cost €500 (or less); payback in six months

Investing in a good bike - and using it to cycle to work and elsewhere - is one of the simplest and most effective ways to cut your carbon footprint. It could also save thousands in commuting costs a year, depending on the length of your commute.

Cycling everywhere may not be practical though, and is usually not an option for those who commute long distances or who live in remote rural areas. Still, as you could buy a bike for €500 or less, payback for that expense could easily be made within six months. Tax relief is available on the cost of bikes bought through the Cycle to Work scheme.

Could I get a wind turbine?

Getting a wind turbine to power your home would certainly reduce your carbon footprint — but turbines are expensive and are not suitable for all homes.

A typical domestic wind turbine costs between €15,000 and €25,000, says the SEAI. At that rate, you could be waiting more than 25 years for payback — assuming you use the same amount of electricity as an average household.

You would usually need to have battery back-up if the wind turbine is not connected to the electric grid (the network which delivers electricity to consumers).

“Most micro-wind turbines are, however, grid connected and the back-up power can therefore come from the grid,” said an SEAI spokeswoman. “The output of a wind turbine is highly site-dependent and most homes in Ireland do not have a good wind energy resource, as this is compromised by obstacles such as trees and buildings. For isolated homes in exposed places, small wind turbines may be viable.” You often don’t need planning permission for micro-wind turbines, as long as certain conditions are met.

Do I need planning permission for solar?

You usually don’t need to get planning permission for solar if the panels take up less than 12 sq m (the size of a six-panel system) and represent less than 50pc of the total roof area. It is usually recommended that you get solar panels serviced every three years. This will typically cost a few hundred euro.

How can i be sure not to waste money?

“It’s very important to check the references of an installer [before getting solar panels in],” said Norman Crowley of Crowley Carbon.

“At the height of the boom, there were a lot of people installing things that never worked. So before you hire someone, get three names of people that the company has installed a solar system for — and ring these people to check [if the system works].”

Follow the same rule of thumb if getting your home insulated — and be sure to use a contractor who is SEAI-registered.

Check your walls are suited to any insulation you are considering getting — for example, you must have a cavity wall to get cavity insulation.

Will I get a grant?

You must meet the conditions of a grant to get it. You can get details of the various grants available for electric cars — or for making your home more energy-efficient — from the SEAI (seai.ie). With electric cars, you’ll only get a grant if the price of your car is at least €14,000. The maximum grant of €5,000 is only for cars priced over €20,000.

Any small steps to becoming greener?

Replace halogen light bulbs with LED bulbs. Holiday at home rather than flying abroad. Use less heating.

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