Blackpool Community Centre sets the standard

This year, Blackpool Community Centre in Cork made the brave decision to invest in energy-efficient measures that would see the group pay off its investment in the technology within seven years.

The installation of solar PV panels and the addition of LED lighting has also helped the centre play its part in tackling climate change.

With the help of a Better Energy Communities (BEC) grant administered by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), the energy-efficient measures are beginning to prove their worth, and the centre is being hailed as a model for other local groups across the country.

Blackpool Community Centre plays an important role in the town offering medical services, educational classes, an over-60s club and a youth centre. Mark Cronin is the honorary secretary at the centre and one of the initial advocates for the introduction of energy-saving measures at the facility. As a member of the Green Party, Mark is acutely aware of climate change and its effects.

“The idea of reducing the centre’s energy consumption was a consideration, as was the idea of saving money through reducing our energy consumption,” he said. “Without the money-saving aspect, the idea probably wouldn’t have developed as quickly.”

Mark was familiar with the BEC scheme, having used it previously for his own home. Despite this, he and the team at the community centre came up against a brick wall.

“Our initial application was turned down. It was only when we came under the umbrella of NCE Insulation in Cork that we were successful. Really, it was through their hard work that we secured funding and without them, I don’t think the project would have gone ahead,” he said.

NCE Insulation is one of the biggest community-based installers of energy-saving measures to households in Ireland. The company prides itself on helping home-owners to combat fuel poverty, improve energy efficiency and reduce energy costs, both economically and environmentally. With NCE’s help, the community centre received a 40% grant, with the remaining 60% provided by the centre itself.

New lighting at Blackpool Community Centre.

“We’re hoping that once the savings kick in, the solar panels and LED lights will start to pay for themselves,” said Mark.

Approximately 28 LED light fittings were installed by Daniel O’Leary last March, a local electrician from the area. Before the solar panels were installed, the centre saved approximately 15% on its energy bills, thanks to the new LED lighting. With the solar panels working in tandem with the LED lights, Mark is hoping for significant energy savings.

“We’re hoping that the solar panels will give us 10,000kwh. We’re taking a very cautious approach to what we think we’ll save – publicly we’ve said we’ll make 40% savings but I would expect it to be more.”

A display panel on the energy converter – located in the youth club – shows the amount of energy that the solar panels are producing on a daily basis.

“We’re inviting schools to come down and see for themselves what the solar panels are capable of achieving.”

Solar Electric installed the solar panels last August.

“When I started investigating who could carry out the installation, I noticed that a lot of companies are involved in installing the panels that use water,” said Mark. “Not so many install the purely electric solar panels. That’s partly why we went with Solar Electric in Wexford, a company that had carried out the largest solar panel project in Ireland. The work was completed in three days, there was no inconvenience, and the firm was extremely efficient.”

Efficiency is guaranteed for 25 years with the solar panels.

“A total of 39 panels were installed,” explained Mark. “Within a year I’ll have all the figures, but I can say for certain that we’ll get our money back. Even with the weather we’re having at the moment and the shorter days coming in, I know we’ll be in a much better position, energy-savings-wise, in a year’s time.”

Visiting the community centre recently, Denis Naughten, Minister at the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, said, “We’re hoping that people will look at projects like this and realise that it makes sense. People can see that this is not half-baked or cracked — it does save money. Energy prices will continue to rise. That’s the trajectory. We need to be far more energy-secure in this country.

“We have good renewable energy sources and we need to concentrate and support those. This all makes sense from a consumer point of view — it makes homes far more comfortable to live in, it reduces the energy bills, but it also protects us in relation to the long-term effects of climate change.”

In Cork, the North Cathedral, Ballyvolane Fire Station, Blackpool Shopping Centre and car park, UCC, Leisureworld in Bishopstown and council housing at Ardbhaile and Glenamoy in Mayfield have all benefitted from an estimated €3million investment in energy-efficiency projects — insulation, LED lighting or solar panels — under the BEC scheme during the year. Around the country, the scheme has supported 300 community energy-efficiency projects over the last five years, with more than 15,000 homes and hundreds of community, private and public buildings receiving energy-efficiency upgrades.

The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment has confirmed that €25million will be made available in 2017 for more BEC scheme energy-efficiency upgrades to over 2,600 homes and almost 300 community and commercial facilities.

For more information on the BEC grant scheme, contact the SEAI on (RoI) 01 8082100 or (NI) 00353 1 8082100 or visit