For Real Progress, Include Solar in Social Housing

By Morgan Pierce

Updated 27 July, 2023

Flaking paint, extensive damp, mould. Back in 2017, Wexford County Council realized it had to address the dilapidated state of “College View”, twelve social housing units off the South Davitt Road in Wexford town. The row of terraced one-story houses, built in the 1970s, lacked insulation and were a challenge to heat. The units’ BER ratings were at the bottom of the scale at F or G.

Five years later, things look much different. A “deep retrofit” with a grant from the SEAI began in 2017. When the team assessed the project, it became clear that each of the units would require individual attention and site-specific alterations. One thing that would be incorporated in each of the homes, though, would be a 11.6 m2 rooftop solar PV array. 

A bird's eye view of the retrofitted College View apartments with solar panels on them.
A bird's eye view of the retrofitted College View houses, all equipped with a solar PV array. Photo credit: Patrick Browne
Today, the homes – and the lives of their occupants – have been dramatically improved. Not only are residents enjoying energy savings and efficiency, they are reaping the benefits of better air quality in their mould and draught-free homes. At least one resident has seen a marked improvement in his health.

We’ve written a lot about the financial benefits homeowners can achieve by installing solar PV, but what can solar do to help the most in need among us? Those living in social housing, for instance, make up the largest percentage of “pay-as-you-go” consumers and are therefore charged the highest energy rates in the market. The installation of even a small solar PV array could have a huge impact on the amount of energy vulnerable consumers would need to buy.

Around the country, a few other forward-looking Councils have begun to address the inequities in the energy market by incorporating solar into social housing schemes. As long ago as 2006, Tralee fitted a new 64 home estate with solar. In 2020, Clonmel completed the 26-home Glenconner Estate, its first new social housing project in 20 years. It, too, incorporated rooftop solar PV on every one of the new homes – achieving a BER rating of A3.

As we search for ways to cut our CO2 emissions, Ireland needs to look not only at new builds, but at ways to cut emissions for our existing social housing stock. The changes made at College Green in Wexford are a model that can be replicated on many estates across the country.

According to a recent study, for example, 95% of social housing In Fingal was made up of terraced houses. Studies show that such single-family units are among the highest emitters of residential greenhouse gases. However, they are also among the easiest to retrofit with energy saving upgrades like solar.

Dublin has the highest number of social housing units in the country and the majority of them rated only an F on the BER scale. The capital, more than any other city or county, needs to take a careful look at incorporating solar and other energy saving improvements into its existing housing stock. 

Unlike other parts of the country, though, much of Dublin’s social housing is made up of apartments. Until recently, installing solar PV to multi-family buildings posed challenges – about fairness, usage, and billing, among other things. Recent developments, though, have begun to address those challenges.

National and local government needs to act now to ensure that those most in need have an opportunity to share in a cheaper, greener, and more secure energy future.

Investing in solar PV systems can bring many benefits, including reduced energy bills, increased energy independence, and a reduced carbon footprint. If you are interested in installing a solar PV system, it is worth exploring the different grant options available and seeking professional advice from one of our solar energy advisors.

Feel free to contact us for more information, we’re here to help.

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