Free electricity for tens of thousands of households from surplus supply in ‘windy day scheme’

Free hot water will be supplied to 65,000 homes under a ‘windy day scheme’ that makes use of surplus wind power.

he scheme will be rolled out to local authority and housing charity tenants first but could ultimately provide a mix of free and low-cost power to all households during spells of high wind.

It is designed to help households with energy costs, speed up the replacement of fossil fuels with renewable energy and prevent the staggering waste of surplus wind power.

Hundreds of thousands of households suffer from fuel poverty while tens of millions of euro worth of clean electricity is wasted each year.

High winds this past week provide an illustration. Surplus wind-generated electricity could have heated three million domestic hot water tanks between 11pm Thursday night and 7am yesterday, but it went unused. At current prices, that was €2.44m worth of clean energy lost.

In an average year before the energy crisis, around €75m worth of surplus wind went to waste, but its value has soared over the last 18 months.

Meanwhile, it costs householders over a euro an hour to run an immersion heater.

The surplus distribution scheme, devised by the EnergyCloud charity, has been run on a pilot basis in 40 rental homes built by the non-profit Clúíd housing body.

Details of a major expansion plan will be announced next month, but already local authorities and Clúid have signed up 65,000 dwellings that are home to 140,000 tenants to take part.

Participating residents have a small control box installed on their wall for free.

They get notice to turn off their immersion heater so they will not be using their own paid-for electricity supply, and by morning they have a full tank of hot water. During one sample period before Christmas, their tanks were heated three times in a week.

EnergyCloud wants to develop the technology further to link up with other household appliances such as storage heaters and heat pumps.

With the first of many large-scale solar farms also beginning to come on stream, the plan is that surplus electricity from those installations would also be channelled to households in need.

The charity is a joint venture between state, commercial and private interests.

It includes Eirgrid, the national grid operator; ESB, SSE Airtricity, Wind Energy Ireland, Clúid; appliances and technology firms Climote and Kingspan, and Technical University Dublin.

They wrote to all TDs and senators recently asking them to bring the scheme to the attention of their local authority and housing charities in their area.

“While a key focus of Budget 2023 has been on measures to help tackle energy poverty, we know from the recent ESRI report that there are over 550,000 households in energy poverty,” they wrote.

“Yet at the same time 1,448 gigawatt hours (with a retail value in excess of €300m approximately and increasing) of renewable energy is wasted each year.”

The idea is supported in the Climate Action Plan published last month which stresses the need for a rapid increase in the displacement of fossil fuels by renewables.

It states: “Innovation in tariff design and new concepts, such as making use of surplus renewable energy for households, in particular those in fuel poverty, are to be encouraged.”

A spokesman for EnergyCloud said details of the planned scale-up of activities were being finalised and would be made public soon.

“But we are heartened to see this reference in the Climate Action Plan which specifically provides for what EnergyCloud is planning to do.”

Renewable energy supplied around 33pc of the country’s electricity last year but that must reach 80pc by 2030 to meet legally binding climate action targets, and then increase to 100pc.

During periods of high wind, the amount of wind energy available is much higher than 33pc but it can not be used for various reasons.

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