09 March, 2020 – Ministers McHugh, Bruton and Mitchell O’Connor announce €3 million fund to improve energy efficiency in higher education sector

The Government has today (Monday 9 March 2020) announced a €3 million pilot programme to improve energy efficiency and support decarbonisation in higher education institutions as part of targets in the Climate Action Plan. 

The programme is co-funded by the Department of Education and Skills and Department of Communications, Climate Action & Environment (DCCAE) under Project Ireland 2040, and administered through the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) and Higher Education Authority (HEA). 

Higher education institutions will be invited to apply for funding for projects to be carried out in 2020 and 2021 under the Energy Efficiency and Decarbonisation Pathfinder Programme. 

Among the initiatives that will be considered include deep retrofitting of older or low energy efficiency buildings to bring them to at least B2 Building Energy Rating, viable renewable technologies, decarbonisation of heating systems and projects that delivery maximum energy reduction and carbon savings. 

The programme will also help to develop and trial scalable approaches to retrofitting in a similar way to a pilot programme which is benefitting 33 schools over the last three years. 

Projects being assessed for the €3m pathfinder programme will be measured against national targets, including targets to reduce emissions and improve energy efficiencies in the public sector by 2030. 

Minster for Education and Skills Joe McHugh T.D. said: “The aim of this green fund is to support colleges and universities on the road to improved energy efficiency and more renewable technologies, recognising the excellent work already being done in the sector. 

“And the Government will be able to use the successful projects to test and demonstrate approaches to achieving the targets of the Climate Action Plan. 

“The fund also builds on the collaborative work that is ongoing to retrofit 33 schools and the lessons that we are learning from that programme as we plan for a major school retrofit programme from 2022.”

Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, Richard Bruton T.D. said: “Our education institutions are pillars of their community. It is crucial they take the lead and implement the changes that are being demanded by their students. This fund will allow us to pilot approaches and see what works best but it must be the start of more radical reforms. The Climate Action Plan target of 50% efficiency by 2030 must now be regarded as an absolute minimum requirement as we move towards ambition.”

Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor said: Our higher education institutions have a great record in innovation and development and are already playing a lead role when it comes to climate action and sustainability. The programme will complement investments already being made and technologies tested at the level of individual institutions. We are particularly keen that lessons learned both from this programme and other initiatives are widely shared. The scale of the challenge in meeting the energy efficiency and decarbonisation targets of the Climate Action Plan requires a collaborative approach across the sector.”

The €3m fund is an initial allocation for 2020 on a 50/50 basis between the Department of Education and Skills and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment with the possibility of extending the programme in 2021. Grants will be provided for successful projects through the Higher Education Authority (HEA). 


Notes for Editors


  • The Energy Efficiency and Decarbonisation Pathfinder Programme forms part of a collective ongoing response to Action 67 of the Government’s Climate Action Plan (2019) and supports achievement of Public Sector Energy Efficiency Strategy (2017) targets.


  • It will involve close collaboration between the Department of Education and Skills, DCCAE, SEAI, the HEA and individual higher education institutions.  


  • The Climate Action Plan is an all of Government strategy which sets a new, more ambitious, target of 50% improved energy efficiency to be achieved by public sector bodies by end 2030. In addition, the Climate Action Plan requires a new Public Sector Decarbonisation Strategy to be put in place ‘to deliver 30% emissions reduction by 2030 and to develop a roadmap to carbon neutrality by 2050.'


  • This programme builds on significant investment by the Department of Education and Skills and DCCAE, through SEAI, in energy efficiency through previous and ongoing schemes in the primary and post-primary sector.


  • Most recently, in 2019, a fund of €7 million was announced to reduce energy consumption, test retrofit solutions, build capacity and test delivery and procurement models in the schools sector.


  • A call for expressions of interest in participating in the Energy Efficiency and Decarbonisation Pathfinder Programme, together with terms and conditions, will issue to higher education institutions. Projects will be selected for funding with reference to criteria such as potential energy efficiency improvements and carbon savings; scalability and deliverability.


  • Project Ireland 2040 signals overall Exchequer investment of €2.2 billion in higher education over the decade 2018-2027.


  • The Energy Efficiency and Decarbonisation Programme is one of a number of actions being taken in collaboration between the Department of Education and Skills, Department of Communications, Climate Action & Environment, HEA and SEAI on climate action and higher education capital investment.


  • SEAI has provided consultancy support on Energy Efficient Design (EED) to a number of higher education institutions and a Technical Steering Group, chaired by the Department of Education and Skills, is now advancing a Renewables Plan for the higher education sector.


  • This plan will provide an analysis of strategic options for energy efficiency and decarbonisation of energy use in higher education buildings.