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Energy Use in Irish Buildings

Curious about how Irish buildings use energy? Read below for current information about our building stock.

Based on 2011 figures, the residential and commercial/public sector account for 26% and 18% of final energy consumption in Ireland, respectively, with the majority of the energy use attributable to buildings. The figure below shows the total final energy consumption by sector.

Ireland's Energy Use by Sector

Ireland’s Energy Use by Sector

Considering the proportion of energy consumption by the residential and commercial/public sectors, it is clear why energy use in buildings is being targeted by policy makers as an area of possible efficiency improvements. For Ireland to meet its energy saving targets, buildings must contribute a big share in energy use efficiency improvement. What needs to be determined now is where exactly this energy is being consumed (or wasted) in the buildings and the key factors contributing to the final energy consumption.

Energy Use in the Residential Building Sector

Energy consumption in the residential building sector accounts for 26% of Ireland’s total consumption. The figure below shows a breakdown of where energy is used in the home.

Energy Use in the Home, Ireland

Energy Use in the Home, Ireland

It is estimated that energy saving of approximately 27% is achievable in this sector by 2020, making it potentially the most significant contributor towards the targeted reductions for buildings.

Some energy use is affected by factors which do not relate directly to the building itself, for example, the energy rating of electrical appliances, internal/external temperatures, the number of occupants and their behaviours. About a 21% fall in energy usage per square meter was recorded for the residential sector in Ireland between 1990 and 2006. However, over the same period, average floor area was estimated to have increased by 15%. Therefore, while we may have achieved improved efficiency in our building and energy usage, we now have to heat significantly larger spaces. In 2006, the average floor area in Ireland was 26% above the UK average and 36% above the EU 27 average in 2005.

Space and water heating systems, along with the fixed lighting points are parts of the installed elements of the building, in other words, parts that are influenced by building construction/maintenance/renovation activities. Space/water heating and lighting account for upwards of 90% of energy consumed. Because of the potential for efficiency improvements in these areas, they have been the main targets in the amendments to building regulations and the implementation of retrofit measures administered through SEAI programmes.

Overall, improvements to building fabric performance, installation of low energy lighting, installation of high efficiency gas and oil boilers, insulation of storage and distribution, heating controls and heating installations based on renewable energy technologies have been the main focus for achieving significant reductions in energy use.

Energy use in Non-Residential Sector

Energy consumption in the commercial sector has increased at approximately 3 times the rate of the residential sector, due partly to increases in floor space. For example, offices occupied almost double the floor space in 1994 relative to 1970. However, the industrial sector has registered a decrease in energy consumption (5.4% in 2008 relative to the previous year) primarily attributed to higher efficiencies in modern manufacturing processes and technologies.

The commercial sector has recorded the most significant increase in energy consumption for space conditioning (heating & cooling), lighting and Information Technology (IT). Recorded data in the period 1998 – 2008 indicates a 52% reduction in the demand for oil and a 130% and 91% increase in the demand for gas and electricity respectively.

For all building use categories, the highest proportion of energy demand is for space heating/cooling, hot water and lighting. Similarly to the residential sector, these are the areas that are affected by performance of the buildings envelope and building services.

From this we can see that managing the energy use in all Irish buildings is very important. Ways for home owners and commercial building owners to do this is to audit your energy use, and then look into any upgrades and improvements to the building and its systems after you know where you can best save energy. And always hire designers and builders who understand and are upskilled in low energy design and building.

For any builders reading this article, check out the Free Foundation Energy Skills programme available, starting in April.

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