The Irish Solar Energy Association (ISEA) has welcomed environment minister, Eamon Ryan’s announcement today (Tuesday, December 21) that a new Micro-generation Support Scheme framework is to be introduced with customers likely to receive first payments in summer 2022.
ISEA, which has been advocating for greater supports for rooftop solar projects, said this has potential to be among the most impactful climate measures introduced this decade.
The association said that the measures announced today are aimed at increasing the amount of renewable electricity generated by energy users.
Solar panels located on domestic and business rooftops as well as in agricultural settings are likely to be the most common technologies used.
Energy export to the grid
While this electricity is primarily designed to be used where it is generated, the energy consumer will now be compensated for excess electricity sent back to the grid.
Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) grants of up to €2,400 will be maintained for domestic customers to cover the upfront costs of installing solar panels or other similar technologies.
Businesses, farms and community buildings up to 5.9kW will also be eligible for grant support.
Welcoming today’s announcement, Conall Bolger, CEO of ISEA said: “People across the country have a strong desire to play their part in the decarbonisation of our society.
“Today’s announcement will provide a new option, empowering people, farmers, communities and businesses to produce their very own green energy. At a time when energy bills are soaring this will empower many more people to reduce their costs and dependency on energy markets.
“These new measures can deliver a step-change in how Irish society responds to climate change; giving people an entry point to take meaningful action.”
Bolger added that the potential of solar energy is huge and that Ireland could be generating one gigawatt (GW) of solar energy from this ‘customer scale generation’ by the end of the decade.
Financial incentives for solar power
Bolger welcomed that the measures provide both upfront assistance and a long-term financial incentive.
“The original scheme design omitted support for the capital investment in solar PV, which concerned ISEA greatly. It is good news that the government has heeded the calls from industry and citizens, as it is more likely to result in widespread use of microgeneration,” he explained.
“Similarly providing farms, communities and small businesses with support addresses a longstanding gap in our policy framework.
“This framework could enable farmers, often cast as the pariahs of the climate conversation, to take practical and positive actions towards decarbonisation.
“Inclusion of businesses, communities and farms can maximise the significant potential of microgeneration,” he added.
The ISEA has however warned that the current bottlenecks being experienced trying to connect projects to the electricity network must be addressed, or these efforts may be redundant.
“The solar technology is there and ready to be deployed with householders, farmers and communities all eager to engage,” Bolger continued.
“One of the biggest risks is ESB Networks. [It] must be primed to connect every single customer-scale generator within a consistent and reasonable timeframe. The delays that have been experienced by solar projects to date can no longer be an option.”
Bolger commended the planned removal of Building Energy Rating (BER) restrictions as a condition of accessing support for the Micro-generation Support Scheme.
“By easing requirements on BER ratings, the government [has] removed a barrier to customer-scale solar. Making an expensive renovation a precondition for access would have limited this scheme’s effectiveness,” Bolger said.
The ISEA has also recommended that reforms to the planning rules around Solar PV also be expedited.
“Rooftop solar panels have become a common sight across the country. While robust planning rules are essential for all large solar projects, too many rooftop installations still require planning permission. This acts as an arbitrary barrier for these smaller schemes,” Bolger continued.
“Failure to amend planning regulations in a timely manner would maintain an unnecessary constraint on Ireland’s solar energy capacity.”
The ISEA said that the vast majority of people in Ireland want to take action to reduce their carbon footprint adding that these new measures create a practical route for doing so.