Will Pope Francis’s climate change encyclical have a major impact?

The Pope is expected to publish an encyclical today (Thursday) in a continued effort to defend humanity and in particular the poor against the effects of climate change. In anticipation of the upcoming UN summit on climate change in December, Pope Francis will be urging world leaders to commit to reducing greenhouse emissions – in other words, massively reducing the burning of coal, oil and gas. The document, called ‘Laudato Si (Be Praised), On the Care of Our Common Home,’ will portray climate change as a moral, rather than a political, issue and will focus on how many poor communities are, and will be, badly affected by climate change. The encyclical is likely to be critical of the ‘throw-away’ lifestyles of wealthier nations.

Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said, “Pope Francis is personally committed to this issue like no other pope before him. I do think the encyclical is going to have a major impact.” Recently in a sermon the Pope said, “If we destroy creation, creation will destroy us”. How the members of the Catholic Church react to the new encyclical and how it will affect the upcoming climate negotiations remains to be seen.

New Advisory Council on Climate Change

The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Alan Kelly T.D., announced the appointments to the National Expert Advisory Council on Climate Change to be established under the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill. The group will comprise eleven members to advise Government Departments and agencies on the actions required to significantly decarbonise the Irish economy by 2050. The Advisory Council, which will be chaired by Professor John FitzGerald, will comprise 11 members in total and will include 4 members representing the EPA, ESRI, SEAI and Teagasc.

Oisin Coughlan of Friends of the Earth had a broad welcome for the Council but said; “The question now is will they be given the explicit legal protection to do their job independently and the resources to do it properly.” He went on to say;”There are a lot of economists on the Council. Six of the seven independent members are economists. The decision not to include a natural scientist is odd.” Commenting on the Climate Bill Oisin Coughlan said that it needs to needs to specify targets in order to make clear how much we’ll reduce emissions by 2050.

Free Insulation for Certain Social Welfare Recipients

You may be eligible for free attic & cavity wall insulation CAMCAS / SEAI Warmer Home Scheme. The conditions are that you own your own home and it was built before 2006, and you are in receipt of one of the following: Fuel Allowance; Family Income Supplement; Jobseekers allowance for over 6 months, and with a child under 7 years. Contact the CAMCAS office on 049 9527384’

Energy Upgrade for Castleblayney Homes with help of SEAI, local Credit Union & Kingspan

Castleblayney Credit Union & Kingspan have been awarded a SEAI grant (Better Energy Communities Projects) of over €30,000 to make 24 homes in the Castleblayney area more energy efficient. The Credit Union will be providing finance to the homeowners in order to carry out the energy upgrade work. Measures proposed include cavity wall insulation, ceiling level insulation, CFL lighting, high efficiency boilers, heating controls with remote access and mechanically assisted powered cleanse and magnetic filtration heating systems. Grants worth €18.6m have this week been awarded to 29 community energy initiatives nationally under this SEAI scheme. According to the Dept of Energy, the projects will between them improve the energy efficiency of 2,435 homes and 400 public, private and community buildings and are expected to deliver lifetime energy savings of €140m.

France Follows Netherlands in Plan to Ban Sale of Roundup in Garden Centres

The active ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, was in March classified as “probably carcinogenic to humans” by the UN’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). The weedkiller—used by amateur gardeners as well as farmers—is the star product of American biotechnology giant Monsanto. Now there are plans to ban Roundup from open sale to amateur gardeners in garden centres in the Netherlands and France. There has not yet been any announcement by the authorities here in Ireland about the sale of Roundup.

Sustainability Snippets June 2015

An Spud Off Mór: South Monaghan Potato Growing & Tasting Competition

Transition Monaghan is organising a potato growing & tasting competition for growers from South Monaghan. The closing date for entry is Wednesday, 17 June and the tasting will be undertaken by a panel of blind tasters in JJ Cunningham’s Loft, Carrickmacross on Saturday, 4 July, beginning at 1pm. The potatoes must either be boiled or steamed and cannot have any added ingredients. The competition is open to schools, community groups or individuals. For further information see ‘An Spud off Mór’ on www.transitionmonaghan.org or contact Conan on 086 0641864.

Decision Time is Near for Climate Change

The clock is ticking for a climate change deal. It is being discusssed this week by President Obama and the other leaders of the G7 Group at their summit in Germany. In December, world leaders will gather in Paris to agree a legally binding text on climate action. Friends of the Earth and other NGOs are calling on the Irish Government to strengthen its Climate Bill as it is debated in the Dáil. Continue reading

Solar Power to the People

Solar energy initiatives have recently been in the news in many countries.  This week Barry McCarron looks at ways we can generate solar powered electricity and how it could help reduce the cost of energy for homes and businesses as well as the reducing national greenhouse gas emissions.

Roof solar PV panels generating electricity. (Copyright of Albertbridge: licensed under Creative Commons)

Roof solar PV panels generating electricity. (Copyright of Albertbridge: licensed under Creative Commons)

A recent article in the Irish times featured the possibility of the first Irish solar farms which are due to appear as early as next year. This was according to solar energy firm Amarenco.  This company plan to build up to 30 solar farms across the south of the country. The majority of these solar farms (18-20) are planned for the South East and South West.

There are two main solar technologies here in Ireland are.

  1. Solar Thermal Panels – this is for hot water. There are two types – evacuated tube and flat plate. This is the most common technology seen on roofs in County Monaghan. We will address solar thermal panels in more detail in a future column.
  2. Solar panel electricity systems, also known as solar photovoltaic panels (PV). Solar photovoltaic panels capture the sun’s energy using photovoltaic cells. These cells don’t need direct sunlight to work – they can still generate some electricity on a cloudy day. The cells convert sunlight into electricity, which can be used to run household appliances and lighting.

The website of the Centre for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technologies (CREST) in Enniskillen has a number of videos and case studies showing the range of solar (and other) renewable technologies available. (See http://www.crestproject.com). CREST will be hosting a 1 day seminar on 24 June with Dr John Harrison on options for battery storage linked to PV panels. This is aimed at technical and business professionals interested in energy storage installations. (See our Noticeboard below).

As we are located in the border region many of us have perhaps noticed the prevalence of solar photovoltaic panels in Northern Ireland. This is as a result of the financial incentives which are currently in place there. In Northern Ireland there are three benefits to a solar photovoltaic installation these are:

  • Cutting electricity bills. Sunlight is free, so once you’ve paid for the initial installation; your electricity costs will be reduced.
  • Getting paid for the electricity you generate. The UK government’s Renewable Obligation Certificates (ROCs) scheme pays you for the electricity you generate, even if you use it.
  • Selling electricity back to the grid. If your system is producing more electricity than you need, you can sell the surplus back to the grid through the Feed-in Tariff scheme.

This growth in Northern Ireland is also down to the price of solar photovoltaic panels falling dramatically in recent years.  This could also play a significant role in the development of a similar industry here, however, adopting solar farms in the places like the “sunny south east” is a bit like putting the cart before the horse. We would advocate domestic/business scale solar panels similar to the market in Northern Ireland before we allow the development of large scale solar farms on premium agricultural land. These solar farms will have a role to play in the future but caution is needed.

Indeed, planning is vital for new energy projects. A part of this ensures that the project does not have a disproportionate impact on the local landscape and the community. In recent times, large energy projects have caused controversy, as local communities felt that they had not been consulted properly. Community energy projects are popping up around the country, whereby smaller energy projects are spearheaded by community groups, often with local shareholders. These small projects help make villages and towns energy secure and they often come with a long – term revenue stream for the community. Examples of community energy schemes include Templederry Windfarm, Co. Tipperary and Northern Ireland Community Energy (as featured in last week’s column.)

The alternative installation of solar panels on roofs is cheaper and less visually intrusive. Homes and companies that install such panels have the benefit of cutting their own electricity bills and learning about the benefits of renewable energy, but the current regulations here make it uneconomical as there is no instrument to allow us to  sell excess power back to the grid at times when their own electricity demand is low.

Until recently Ireland had a support in the form of a feed-in tariff for micro-generation but this was while the price for solar photovoltaic was unaffordable. These measures were abandoned when the price of solar photovoltaic panels was falling and becoming more affordable. The ESB is reluctant about the development of rooftop solar because they fear it will reduce the overall levels of demand on the electricity grid, and make it difficult to cover the cost of their infrastructure. This point is very much debatable. It should be possible to set the market rules so that flexible local generation is made viable while still covering the cost of running the grid.

One way or another, we are going to have to make a big effort to reduce our emissions in order to deal with the climate crisis, and renewable energy is likely to play an important role. Therefore, it will be important that homeowners and businesses can be incentivised to reduce their electricity and heating use, perhaps, in part, by installing solar panels. For more information see http://www.seai.ie/Renewables/Solar_Energy