Islanders tackle energy costs by embracing renewables

As the cost of energy soars, consumers across the country are looking for ways to cut their bills, which is hard to do quickly unless they simply switch off.

In na hOileain Árainn (Aran Islands), off Co Galway, many energy consumers have mobilized in recent years to insulate homes, get rid of oil-fired central heating, install solar panels on their roofs and use electric vehicles.

Many of these steps were completed with the help of the Aran Islands Energy Co-op.

On a windy and wet day ar na hOileain Árainn, Dara Ó Maoildhia drives her electric car.

Living in Mainistir commune, the chairman of Comharchumann Fuinnimh Oileáin Árann (the Aran Islands Energy Cooperative) arrives at his house and plugs in the car, which is partially charged by the garden’s solar panel array.

Mr. Ó Maoildhia says cooperative labor helps islanders make their homes more energy efficient.

“The job of the co-op is to try to facilitate that and get the job done faster than not,” he says.

“So instead of everyone having to apply for their own grant, we could bring people together in a meithal and apply on behalf of everyone, a group of 20, 30 or 40 houses which has worked very well so far.”

Mr Ó Maoildhia says that 300 properties out of 500 on Inis Mór, Inis Meáin and Inis Oirr have now benefited from some sort of energy upgrade since the cooperative was established ten years ago; ranging from internal and external insulation, air-to-water and geothermal heat pumps, as well as the most visible sign of energy upgrades as you drive around Inis Mór – solar panels on the roof.

They directly supply the houses with electricity or simply supply hot water.

Samantha Rogers runs a glamping business near the Cill Ronáin wharf, where many solar panels are deployed.

“It started with the panels on the house and the heat pump and it worked really well for us. So when it came to developing the glamping site we have here, it was only natural that we opted for for the solar panels on the glamping pods as well and they have worked great for us so far.

“They massively reduce our costs and they are also sustainable.”

Panels and insulation aside, heat pumps, geothermal systems and the growing number of electric cars on Inis Mór still need grid electricity to operate and recharge.

Just as bills have skyrocketed for consumers across the country, islanders are also feeling the pinch. The obvious solution to this problem is the production of electricity on the islands, but on a much larger scale, as explained by the cooperative cathaoirleach.

“If we as a community could own our own energy supply, generating it ourselves through a wind turbine for example, then we could sell at any price we set.

“We have a plan to erect a turbine on Inis Meáin but it depends on the full support of the island community.

“ESB offered us a grid connection and we now have two years to go ahead and get planning permission for it, but we won’t go ahead until we have the green light from the local community.”

As na hOileain Árainn’s journey towards sustainable energy independence continues, the cooperative and its work are attracting a lot of interest beyond the island’s shores according to Mr. Ó Maoildhia.

“We want to be a beacon island, we want to be an inspiration to other islands and rural communities and we have a number of European funded projects,” he said.

“We are partnered with many other groups including colleges and private companies to do research here on the islands and we are very keen to support any other communities trying to do something similar to us and we will support them. we’ll talk, we’ll have webinars with them, we’ll invite them to come visit us, whatever they want.”

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