A small group of people from the Dingle Peninsula in West Kerry are helping to shape the power grid of the future for the whole country.
They are part of a € 5 million ESB Networks project aimed at measuring the impact of a low-carbon lifestyle on the electricity system.
Over the past three years, the company has monitored the changing demand for electricity from 35 families as they change their lifestyles, work and travel.
Two of the people involved in the project will travel from Dingle to Glasgow by electric vehicle next week for COP26. They will give the United Nations climate change conference an overview of the steps they have taken to reduce their carbon footprint and that of their families.
Deirdre de Bhailís is an engineer. She runs the Dingle Creativity and Innovation Hub – sustainable rural development is her thing. Deirdre lives in Ventry with her husband, Gary, and their three children.
As part of the ESB Networks project, Deirdre received an EV for one year. A charging station has been installed at her home. The costs – estimated at around € 15,000 – were borne by ESB Networks. Deirdre’s use of the car was monitored and his charge model was recorded. The information will help ESB Networks assess how, for example, nighttime charging of an increasing number of electric vehicles will impact the electricity grid in the future.
In Deirdre’s case, she traded a gasoline minivan for the EV. She says the minivan was costing her € 50 per week to refuel, while the cost of recharging her EV in a week is less than € 10.
Deirdre says she intends to use the money she saved over the year to buy her own electric vehicle, once the ESB Networks project ends in December.
“It’s a dramatic reduction in costs,” Deirdre said.
To prove the viability of electric vehicles to others, Deirdre will leave Dingle next Monday to travel to the United Nations climate change conference, COP26, in Glasgow, via Belfast.
“One of the reasons is that we really want to put the electric vehicle to the test,” Deirdre said. “One of the things we will be told here on the (Dingle) Peninsula is that it is quite difficult, we are so far apart – how do we make EVs work for us. on a mission to prove that we can do and we can take it on an extended journey and make it work for us. “
Deirdre also has an important message that she will deliver at the COP26 conference.
“The big message I would like to bring to the COP is that rural communities like us are very dependent on agriculture and transport and we need solutions to address this,” she said. “We are working to develop these solutions here and we are ready, but we need support to implement them. “
A little further west on the Dingle Peninsula, Carol Uí Laoithe is a teacher in Ballyferriter. Her house, which was built in the early 1990s, is home to herself and her husband, Seán, and their six daughters.
As part of the project, the house underwent a total renovation, which was funded by ESB Networks to the tune of around € 100,000, of which around half was repaid in grants. Their house has been transformed. Equally important, Carol said her attitude towards energy efficiency, energy conservation and climate change has also changed dramatically.
“Well, I’ve definitely changed and I’m a lot better than I was,” Carol said of her experience with The Dingle Project. “I’m more aware of my carbon footprint, and I would like to think the kids will follow suit.”
As part of the renovation of Carol’s house, the attic was emptied and insulated; the interior and exterior walls have been re-paved and plastered; the windows have been replaced. An air-to-water heat pump has been installed, which absorbs heat from the outside air and uses it to heat his house and provide hot water for the house.
Photovoltaic panels have been installed on the roof of the house. These use sunlight to charge the batteries in his laundry room. The energy from the solar panels is first used in his house and any excess is stored in the batteries. The appliances in the house – from the washing machine and dishwasher to the stove and kettle – are powered by solar / photovoltaic panels and batteries, and these are backed up, if necessary, by electricity from the network.
The weather obviously has a huge impact on how much electricity Carol can generate on her own in her own home: on a sunny summer day, she said that up to 95% of the home’s energy needs can be supplied from own home. In the depths of winter, this percentage can be reduced to one figure.
Carol was also able to use an electric car for a year.
She readily accepts that the work on her house was a huge undertaking that might have been beyond her means, had it not been funded by ESB Networks as part of the company’s Dingle Project. However, after seeing the benefits and financial returns, she said that she would have invested her own money as well, if that was so.
“Based on the knowledge I know now, yes I would definitely explore the realm of an EV (electric vehicle) because I know the car has been such a big economy,” Carol said. “I would also, without a doubt, spend money on PV (photovoltaic) panels, and put the battery in, because that’s where I can see the biggest savings of all, in those three areas.”
Carol has since traded in the family diesel car for an EV.
Carol accepts that the renovation was difficult, but she’s glad she did.
“No it wasn’t easy and I guess we were also really green when we started,” Carol said. “We were oblivious to what might happen. But, yeah, we encountered it all and got over it. It was tough… but it was worth it in the end.”
Dinny Galvin’s farmhouse overlooks Dingle Bay in Aglish, outside the village of Lispole in West Kerry. He treats 50 cows and takes care of around 150 ewes. Dinny and his wife Nicola have five children. Their house, built about 15 years ago, was equipped with solar / photovoltaic panels, an aerothermal heat pump and a battery management system as part of the Dingle project. The work cost around € 40,000 and was paid for by ESB Networks. Dinny also received an VE for a year as part of the project.
He estimates the energy savings at home to be around € 100 per month, while the cost of running the car has dropped from € 60 to € 70 per week.
Dinny wants to be able to extend the savings he makes at home to farms across the country. He designates the sheds he has in the farmyard for the cows and for the milking parlor. He also wants to install photovoltaic panels on the roofs of the hangars – not just on the roof of his house. Dinny wants farmers to become power producers so they can feed into the national grid. He would like to see the electricity he produces – clean, green energy from renewable sources – offset by his farm’s carbon footprint.
For the moment, this is not possible, as the electricity grid is currently not able to ensure the connection to the national grid of thousands of small energy producers.
Dinny is yet to give up and promises to continue campaigning to make it happen. He created a group called the Sustainable Energy Community of West Kerry Dairy Farmers. It has about a hundred members. They share ideas on energy saving with each other and are dedicated to change.
“Photovoltaic panels would be a big, big thing with me that I could see deployed on any farm,” Dinny said. “We have the space on the roof. They are not awkward to look at: they are like big tiles,” he said.
“We would create as much electricity as possible and hopefully we would be allowed to put the rest back into the grid. If we do, we are reducing our emissions; we are giving back to society. And I would be saying ‘you can give back, there is a tremendous amount that can be done on the farms to reduce our emissions. “We are looking at the small wind turbines. A lot of water is flowing from the mountains of West Kerry. Basically you are blocking it. ‘water, you run it through a pipe and feed it through a turbine and you have electricity on the other end. “
Dinny Galvin will be in the passenger seat of Deirdre de Bhailís electric vehicle en route to COP26 in Glasgow next Monday – he is also eager to deliver his message to COP26, on behalf of farmers in West Kerry.
In the meantime, the results of the research gathered as part of the Dingle project in West Kerry over the past three years will be collated by ESB Networks when the project ends in December. The company chose the territory because it offered urban, rural and village environments. The terrain is also demanding, both physically and from the point of view of the strong winds and sometimes abundant rains that one meets there.
ESB Networks hopes that the lessons learned in West Kerry can be applied to other communities across the country.
The knowledge will also be used to shape and design the electricity grid of the future in this country.
It will also serve to communicate to other communities across the country that investing in energy efficiency is worth it.
Claire McElligott is responsible for community engagement at ESB Networks. She believes the community ambassadors the company has selected for the Dingle Project – like Deirdre de Bhailís, Dinny Galvin and Carol Uí Laoithe – will be at the heart of this.
“Our ambassadors are there. They share their learnings and experiences with their friends, family and neighbors, ”says Claire McElligott. “And it is this reliable information that will motivate communities to change.”