26 April, 2021 - Ministers Foley and Ryan launch €14 million 2021 Schools Energy Retrofit Pathfinder Programme

Minister for Education Norma Foley TD and Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications Eamon Ryan TD today (Monday 26 April) launched a €14 million Pathfinder programme, that will demonstrate the approach to deep retrofit in the schools’ sector, testing energy efficiency solutions and renewable heat technology.

This government-funded energy retrofit Pathfinder programme will target energy use and CO2 emission reduction by 50%, testing deep retrofit and low carbon heating solutions.  The 2021 programme will see six schools benefitting from a selection of energy efficiency works.

It is jointly funded with a €14 million budget from the Department of Education and Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications and administered by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) and the Planning and Building Unit in the Department of Education.

Minister Foley said: “The Department is committed to playing its part in ensuring energy efficiency in our schools, to support the Climate Action Plan.

“It is important that new design, policy and technologies are introduced to the educational environment on an evidence-based approach. Building on the Department’s Energy Research programme established in 1997, this jointly established Pathfinder Programme in collaboration with the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland and Limerick Clare Education and Training Board is testing and demonstrating energy retrofit approaches and informing stakeholders.

“The Pathfinder programme is a great example of how working together on pilot energy efficiency and decarbonisation projects, we can establish approaches to ensure compatibility with school design and operational requirements on a scalable basis”.

Minister Ryan said: “The public service must reduce emissions by at least 50% by 2030 and to net-zero by 2050. This project is an example of leadership, which is producing sustainable solutions that can be scaled up around the country. Schools are at the centre of our communities, and are where our children learn skills for their future. By ensuring that older schools undertake energy upgrades to become low-energy buildings, we can demonstrate the steps necessary to our children, and the wider community, while critically reducing running costs, emissions, and improving the comfort levels and learning environment in these vital buildings.” 

CEO of Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, William Walsh said: “SEAI supports schools with energy efficiency through student workshops, resources and energy management (more than 800 schools to date). This allows them to report energy data through our monitoring and reporting system (2,569 schools reporting in 2020). Since launching, this pathfinder programme is providing a template for large scale retrofit of all schools in Ireland, which will be required to help Ireland on its ambitious national targets.” 

This Pathfinder programme is paving the way for, and informing, a much larger national schools’ programme for the energy retrofit of schools built prior to 2008 from 2023 onwards, as included in the National Development Plan. It is facilitating research on a range of typical retrofit options, which will have been tried and tested. It is providing valuable development information for a solution driven delivery strategy which will be founded on a solid evidence base that has proven the robustness and scalability of renewable solutions within the schools’ sector. 

Now in its fifth year, the pilot programme has retrofitted 39 schools across Ireland to date. This year will see six schools undergoing deep retrofit to a Building Energy Rating (BER) of B with renewable heating systems. Each school underwent a comprehensive assessment to ensure that the measures were suitable for that school and would deliver value to both the school and learnings for the national retrofit programme. 

The schools for 2021 present a variety of challenges, including building age, archetype and retrofit requirements. 


Notes to Editors 

The Department of Education is at the forefront of design with respect to sustainable energy in school buildings and this performance has been recognised at both national and international level with sustainable energy awards for excellence in design and specification.

Schools that are designed and built, in accordance with the Department’s schools’ technical guidance documents must achieve an A3 Building Energy Rating A3 and have typically up to 20% higher performance than required by the current Building Regulations, along with 10% of primary energy provided via photovoltaics and infrastructure provision for electric vehicle charging.

All new technologies and approaches are tested to ensure compatibility with school design and operational requirements. Successful and repeatable results are then incorporated into all new school designs and refurbishments.

The Department’s technical guidance documents set the benchmark for sustainable design in school buildings with a clear focus on energy efficiency and they are based on solid energy research projects. The Department’s policy is supported by a strong research programme, with 51 research projects at various stages.

The Department and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland are involved in an energy efficient retrofit pathfinder scheme for schools since 2017. The longer-term outcome of the pathfinder will be to create an accurate and scalable model for energy efficient retrofits of schools across Ireland.  A deep energy retrofit programme for schools built prior to 2008 is due to be rolled out from 2023 onwards and the role of solar PV will be considered in that context.

The pathfinder programme builds on significant investment by the Department of Education in energy efficiency through the 2009/10 Cavity and Attic Insulation/Water Conservation Scheme and ongoing Summer Works and refurbishment projects. 

The schools for the 2021 programme are:

  • Coláiste Iósaef Community College, Kilmallock, Co. Limerick
  • Cornafulla National School, Athlone, Co. Roscommon
  • St. Laserian’s Special School, Carlow, Co. Carlow
  • St. Mary’s Boys National School, Monaghan, Co. Monaghan
  • St. Columba’s Comprehensive School, Glenties, Co. Donegal
  • Maryfield College, Grace Park, Dublin 9

Design teams have been appointed to each school, with deep energy efficiency works to commence in summer 2021. The upgrades target a Building Energy Rating of B, 50% energy efficiency improvement and 50% emissions reduction. The works will involve upgrades to doors and windows, insulation, lighting and heating upgrades as well as renewable technologies.

Selection of 2021 schools:

The 2021 schools were selected to deliver additional learning to the pathfinder programme, based on a cross section of school type (primary, post primary, special needs) and size (based on pupil numbers). There was an ambition to get a number of medium to larger schools delivered in 2021, to test and demonstrate the deliverability for large retrofits within a summer window. In addition the programme wanted to explore and engage with the market regarding biomass heating delivery and the potential roles of Energy Services Companies (ESCO).

The principles of school selection for the 2021 scheme selection were:

a)    Schools which have already demonstrated a strong and holistic commitment to energy management practices (e.g. through participation in the Energy in Education Programme) and are complaint with their energy monitoring and reporting requirements.

b)    Participant schools were selected to provide a cross section of school types and sizes and also to include an element of traditional wall construction and heritage/ conservation requirements. The following categories of schools were selected to further inform the stakeholders

  • Special needs school
  • Medium to large Primary
  • Medium to large Post Primary

c)    Schools with lower energy performance, i.e. higher energy costs, were prioritised.

d)    A practical evaluation of the energy retrofit potential candidate schools was undertaken.

SEAI and the Department of Education have also partnered for a number of years on a range of initiatives, collectively called ‘Energy in Education’, to support the improvement of energy efficiency in schools. There is a strong focus on the provision of practical guidance and direction to schools via the Energy in Education project.

The website www.energyineducation.ie provides a one stop shop designed to help school boards of management, principals, teachers, administrators, caretaking staff, pupils, parents, architects, engineers and contractors to improve energy use practice and reduce school operating costs along with helping to protect the environment for future generations. The project also provides energy management training for schools along with an energy assessment from a professional. 

In addition, the SEAI schools’ programme works with schools, both students and teachers, to provide curriculum material around the energy retrofit, unlocking the educational benefit to these works. More information is available about the SEAI schools’ programme at www.seai.ie