Paul Kenny examines how community-energy projects in other countries are delivering value back to the community rather than external developers, and outlines the innovative engineering projects that the Tipperary Energy Agency has set in motion
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Author: Paul Kenny BEC Eng MIEI, CEO of the Tipperary Energy Agency

Our energy supplies are entering a period of significant transition. They are moving from a situation where using cheap fossil fuels was acceptable and climate change and energy security was not a concern, to a future that will include a large portion of renewable energy sources. Governments are taking significant steps to shift from wasteful, carbon-based energy systems to ones that are renewable and efficient. This movement will require significant public and private sector investment. Taxpayers, consumers and investors will need to engage at scale never seen before.

National energy policy is making significant progress in Ireland. Renewable energy has seen growth from 2% from 1990-2004 to 7% in 2012 and it is growing is at 11% per annum over the last three years (Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, 2014). While energy efficiency has also increased in Ireland, it will be a challenge to maintain this as the economic growth takes hold and transport energy use increases.

The Irish Government has recognised that one of the biggest challenges is to ‘empower energy citizens’. This will ensure that protests about energy infrastructure and the rising energy costs are met with an educated debate and an accepted strategic plan.

Community energy and other countries


The terms ‘community energy’, ‘active energy citizens’ or ‘prosumers’ are now being used frequently to describe people who actively reduce energy use and collectively or individually switch to or produce renewable energy. Co Tipperary has seen a number of bottom-up approaches emerging that may be a template for other regions. While citizens need to lead the change, it is mainly engineers that will make it happen, as energy is one of the core competencies of modern engineering.

Historically, Ireland’s energy systems and suppliers were predominantly State or semi-State led. The ‘profits’ were often recouped by the State in dividends or, prior to this, relayed to consumers through lower prices. This is no longer the case, with increasing multi-national and private capital-led ownership of our strategic energy assets.

For many, community-owned renewable energy generation is a clear win on all fronts. The impact on the climate is lessened and the money associated with energy use stays local. Ireland imports €6 billion annually of fossil fuels, often from geopolitically unstable nations. Engagement of citizens in energy use and supply where they are active producers and consumers, or ‘prosumers’, increases the positive impact of this transition. Ireland has one of the best climates for renewable energy. Trees grow quickly and we have wind and wave resources of which many countries are jealous.

A very large portion of Germany’s fossil/nuclear power is owned by large companies (Vattenfall, EON, RWE). However, their increasing percentage of renewable energy is almost all citizen- or pension fund-owned. As a result, when they buy and sell power, it is their own citizens that benefit, rather than the often foreign owned multi-nationals. This is not by accident.

In Denmark, a new wind farm is currently being constructed near Copenhagen. It has opened up applications to local shareholders from the locality. A person can purchase a share for €600 and this will return €70 per annum to them (the sale of 1,000 units of electricity). The share can be sold after a number of years. The dividend is near 11% return on investment (ROI). With bank deposit interest rates in Ireland of 1%, this is a significantly better investment.

In general, Irish wind-energy projects have similar returns on investment. Would it not be better to adopt the Danish model and deliver the value back to the community surrounding the wind farm (or any renewable energy project), rather than just to external developers?

What is happening in Tipperary?


Templederry Community Wind Farm: Templederry Community Wind Farm is a small-scale wind project. However, socio-economically, it is ground breaking for Ireland. The income from this Class 1A wind project will be in the order of €25 million over the projects life. After costs of €9 million (about €6 million has/will be spent outside the State), the local benefit of the project will be in the region of €19 million. The income will be distributed to local government, local contractors, a local community fund and the 27 local families who are behind the project. This income has huge value to this small Tipperary upland village. It is the equivalent of a business employing 20-30 people for the lifetime of the project.

Cloughjordan Ecovillage: This project has transformed the once-declining village of Cloughjordan, Co Tipperary. The picture in 2005 was one of primary schools under threat, shops closing and an uncertain future for many small businesses. The addition of almost 60 families and 30-40 full-time jobs has had a large socioeconomic impact. The Ecovillage itself has predominantly A-rated houses and is supplied by a renewable district heating system. A high percentage of its food is supplied by the community farm, which contributes to a thriving circular local economy.

Tipperary Energy Communities: This project originated in the parish of Drombane Upperchurch. A community group formed in 2011 and surveyed the parish. They discovered that over €1 million was leaving the small community on energy each year. Each househad an energy survey carried out and by the end of 2014, over 70% of the village will have been retrofitted, through collective tenders, local contractors and local professionals overseeing the work. Three other parishes are currently taking part in the 2014 project, with eight more observing for commencement in 2015. North Tipperary Leader Partnership and Tipperary Energy Agency have helped the community group, but the leadership is from within. Renewable energy supply will be examined in detail in 2015 with a wood energy co-op being first on the list.

Tipperary County Council has also been active implementing its sustainable energy plan since 2007. Over 60 separate actions such as retrofit high-efficiency water pumps, lighting, insulation, heating controls, leakage elimination, five biomass boilers, combined heat and power and wind turbines have been completed. In addition, Ireland’s largest photovoltaic project (193kW) to supply the base load of the large buildings will be completed by the end of 2014. Almost all of the heat energy is supplied by renewables or high-efficiency combined heat and power. The leadership of the local authority in saving of almost one-third of its energy costs has resulted in local engineers and contractors working on almost €3 million worth of cost-effective energy projects.

The EU SERVE project was a partnership between Limerick Institute of Technology (LIT) Thurles (then Tipperary Institute), North Tipperary County Council and The Tipperary Energy Agency invested over €10 million (€4.1 million from EU) in energy efficiency and renewable energy in North Tipperary to create a sustainable energy zone at the height of the economic crisis. Some 400 homes and businesses retrofitted to achieve a 40% reduction in energy use and a significant shift to renewable energy. The legacy of the project is over €1 million less energy spend from the region and a 24 wood-energy jobs in Tipperary as a result, in addition to the induced local jobs.

Gurteen Agricultural College has transformed from peat and imported electricity to self-grown willow for heat and a 50kW wind turbine supplying a large percentage of its substantially reduced energy use. An estimated €70,000-€100,000 will be saved by the college per annum. In addition, the college is educating the next generation of farmers about energy as an income source not just a cost.

All of this is happening in Tipperary due to an initiative begun in 1998, when Tipperary County Council (formerly North and South) and LIT (formerly Tipperary Institute) formed the Tipperary Energy Agency. The agency is a not-for-profit, public good consultancy set up to aid to aid local public bodies, businesses and communities to reduce their energy use and capitalise on renewable energy.

In addition to charging for services the agency has sourced significant funding from EU and National Energy programmes. Tipperary Energy Agency has ten engineers/scientists working full time to support this transition, both locally and nationally. The other equally important role is leadership from within communities, public bodies and supporting organisations (LEADER). Without Individual leadership, change will be slower and may come too late to halt catastrophic climate change.

What should engineers do differently?


Engineers are the profession that can lead the change in sustainable use of energy, as is clearly stated in our code of ethics: “Members shall strive to accomplish the objectives of their work with the most efficient consumption of natural resources which is practicable economically, including the maximum reduction in energy usage, waste and pollution.”

Many engineers are leaders in their organisations and in their communities. Engineers need to ensure they are up-to-date in terms of energy efficiency in their sector and also where the renewable energy opportunities are. It is critical that we do not accept ‘business as usual’ practices, whether it is in a design of a building, a wastewater treatment plant or in terms of infrastructure.

The Tipperary Energy Agency comes across, all too frequently, a lack of attention to energy efficiency in engineering practice. It is imperative that engineers act as social leaders, educate themselves with respect to climate change and the difference they can make with respect to the sustainable use of energy.

Headshots TEA (8 of 10)Paul Kenny is the CEO of the Tipperary Energy Agency. He has been with the Agency since 2006 and is involved with both renewable energy (wind and bio-energy) and energy efficiency projects and programs. Kenny has particular experience with public sector energy management. He also has extensive involvement with the Agency’s European Projects and has worked on a number of local energy-supply projects in wind and biomass. Prior to joining the Agency in December 2006, Kenny worked for Procter & Gamble as a production manager & engineer. Kenny, a chartered engineer, holds a first-class honours degree in Mechanical Engineering from UCD and has also completed several postgraduate certificates in sustainable energy and is currently studying an MSc.

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  Author: Paul Kenny BEC Eng MIEI, CEO of the Tipperary Energy Agency Our energy supplies are entering a period of significant transition. They are moving from a situation where using cheap fossil fuels was acceptable and climate change and energy security was not a concern, to a future that will include...