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Is electrically driven heat the way forward for the Republic of Ireland?

ROI-2020

The Republic of Ireland is one of many EU countries with increasing focus on the electrification of heat to reduce carbon emissions in downstream energy use. Already, 40% of residential new build developments have a heat pump installed. This is set to increase at the end of 2019 with the introduction of Nearly Zero Energy Buildings, effectively removing condensing gas boilers as an option in new build.

Electrification brings with it challenges for the operation of the electricity grid – pressure from variable loads and high peak loading from electric heating and transport combined with increasing inclusion of peaky renewable generation. So, is the Republic of Ireland firmly on the path to electrification of heat? What can be learned from their approach?

The Republic of Ireland has set a 2020 goal of 12% heating from renewable sources and has several policies supporting the decarbonisation of heat, in both retrofit and new build.

  • There is a high dependence on oil for residential heating, making decarbonisation of this sector vital. While gas is the heating fuel for around half of the urban population, the gas grid is not extensive and is not a viable option for many rural locations.
  • The government has set out in its National Development Plan that it intends to drive change in retrofit installations from oil boilers to electric heat pumps, supported by the financial incentive programme Better Energy Homes. Even with the challenge of poor thermal efficiency requiring building fabric upgrade, the retrofit market is a major area of opportunity for heat pumps in the Republic of Ireland.
  • Heat pumps make up 35-40% of heating systems going in to new build developments, driven by the EU Part L regulations. The change in regulations at the end of next year, obligating Nearly Zero Energy Building levels for new build, will increase their market share further, putting an end to new condensing gas boilers in urban new build.

The focus is clearly on electrification of heat in the Republic of Ireland, crucially enabled by the Grid25 strategy.

Whilst there is some government support for district heating and biomass, the focus is certainly on electrification of heat as the way forward for decarbonisation of domestic heating in the Republic of Ireland. This gives heat pump and other electric heating suppliers an advantage in the ROI market and creates a challenge for suppliers of alternative fuel technologies such as gas heat pumps or micro-CHP.

Electrification of heat creates challenges for electricity grid operation as heating creates a high peak load which, while predictable, can be difficult to meet with the intermittency of renewable upstream generation (the proportion of which is expected to continue to increase). Due to a considerable investment in past years under the Grid25 strategy, worth a total of over €3bn, the capacity and resilience of the electricity network is good in Ireland – uprated to be able to cope with supplying the increased demand whilst maintaining stable operation. The upward trend in electric vehicles poses a higher potential risk in this area due to the variability of load time and location.

Now we also see a growing focus on demand-side flexibility

Beyond the investments in the electricity grid, we now see an increasing number of trials of connected heating systems providing ancillary services or demand response to the energy system in Ireland. With the expected rapid growth in the number of electric vehicles coming onto Ireland’s roads, we expect an accelerating need for domestic demand side response. The sector coupling between heat and transport in Ireland may develop quicker than in other European countries.

The Republic of Ireland’s whole system thinking is admirable

Republic of Ireland appears to have developed a set of regulatory and investment approaches that support the energy system from generation through the grid to the householder. A recent study commissioned by the Irish gas board Ervia on the economics and viability of extending the gas grid certainly suggests gas heating will continue to play an important role for many years. However, for now, scale up of electrification of heat is a good option for decarbonisation of the Republic of Ireland and we are already seeing impressive progress in terms of sales and business models. Other countries could learn from this – how does yours compare?

If you would like to discuss or learn more about our research into the electrification of heat please contact [email protected] or visit www.delta-ee.com/EHS

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