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SERVE Site North Tipperary


Project status



The rural region of North Tipperary in the Mid-West of Ireland covers a total area of 600 km² with a population of 10,000 people. The region has an agricultural base and its village and town structure are typical of rural Ireland. There is limited use of renewables and 60% of existing houses were built with poor insulation levels (prior to 1980). The SERVE project aims to develop a sustainable region in North Tipperary through the implementation of actions in the field of sustainable energy. Actions include energy upgrades for existing dwellings, installation of renewable energy heating systems, development of an eco-village in Cloghjordan and the development of a district heating system. A comprehensive renewable energy retrofitting programme sees high efficiency wood stoves and boilers installed in hundreds of homes. Other households will benefit from micro-wind turbines and PV panels.


Site facts and figures

  • Estimated population involved:  approx. 4,000
  • Approx. geographical area coverage: Information will follow
  • Approx. energy saving (in %): Information will follow
  • Approx. energy from RES (in %): Information will follow



At “Eco-Village” (Picture 1) approximately 8,300 m² of new energy-efficient residential buildings have been built according to a defined master plan. Additionally a Community Hostel (588 m², completed in June 2011) and an enterprise building (599 m²) have been built on the site. The average energy performance of the residential buildings is 24% better than SERVE targets at 53 kWh/m²a.

For providing heat to “Eco-Village” a new district heating system has been installed, supplied by 2 “Hertz” boilers of 500 kW each (Picture 2) and a solar thermal array with 506 m². Another district heating system based on two 300 kW biomass boilers has been implemented at the “Gurteen Agricultural College” (Picture 3). The network of 250 m is equipped with upgraded controls and a monitoring system.

At the college also energy efficiency upgrades (insulation, lighting, heating controls) have been performed to compliment the district heating system. A storage and a drying floor for the wood chips has been constructed for future management of wood fuel and potential drying of external fuel sources. Additionally 40 acres of willow have been planted for future biomass supply. Activities after CONCERTO included the installation of a Wind Turbine (50 kW).
Biomass heating systems have been installed at the public buildings “Nenagh swimming pool” (400 kW) and the “Nenagh VEC School” (200 kW). A 6 kW wind turbine has been installed.

More than 65,000 m² of buildings (about 400 homes and 20 non-residential buildings) have been retrofitted during the project. Within the activities about 2,300 kW of wood stoves (many small stoves as secondary heating systems, replacing peat ovens) and over 450 kW of biomass boilers have been installed. Manifold refurbishment packages have been applied, often including the improvement of insulation at roof, walls and windows and the installation of efficient gas boilers. More than 450 m² of solar water heating systems were installed at existing buildings.


District Heating at Eco-Village

The district-heating system (DHS) was installed in 2008. It consists of 2,500 m of network pipe in total. 700 m of the pipes are 100 mm diameter steel district heating piping, with 100 mm insulation and strong PVC covering. The diameter of the remaining distribution pipes varies between 40 and 60 mm distribution piping. The total investment costs for the DHS were about 275,000 Euro.

The DHS is supplied by the so-called „Energy Centre“. It consists of a store for wood chips, containers for two biomass boilers, a solar thermal field (506 m², Picture 4) and a large buffer tank (20 m³, Picture 5). The solar field is situated in the North East area of the „Eco-Village“.

The two 500 kW „Hertz“ boilers provide excellent solution to the needs of the eco-village, at a cost effective price. The systems are designed to integrate with the solar water heating area and all controls are developed to maximize the efficiency of the system. The DH pumps are sized to match summer and peak load as required. Therefore Hydraulics include two district heating pumps with variable speed capability, one pump sized for peak load, second for summer load and a pressurization unit to maintain pressure in system.


District Heating and Energy efficient measures at Gurteen College

At Gurteen College a district-heating network of 250 m with upgraded controls and monitoring system has been installed. The network is provided with heat by two 300 KW highly efficient boilers, which replaced an inefficient peat based boiler. A large storage tank supplements the system (Picture 6).

The college also completed energy efficiency upgrades to compliment the district heating system. Additionally a storage (Picture 7) and a drying floor have been constructed for future management of wood fuel and potential drying of external fuel sources. Additionally 40 acres of willow have been planted for future biomass supply, so that the college realized the whole supply chain of wood heating at their own territory – from the growing of the plants to the production of heat by burning them. This issue is also integrated into the teaching courses of the college.
See a list of all activities at “Gurteen College” in Table 1.


Table 1 – Measures performed at Gurteen Agricultural College
Table 1 – Measures performed at “Gurteen Agricultural College”


Exemplary monitoring approach

The SERVE succeeded in implementing a very efficient, low cost building monitoring. Main pillars of building  monitoring were:

  • Collection and analysis of oil & electricity bills (combined with measuring oil tank levels) for several years before and after refurbishments
  • Support of monitoring by collection data from performed building energy ratings (BER) before and after refurbishment as well as for new buildings
  • Extensive collection of economic data differentiated by measures in case of refurbishments
  • More detailed monitoring for a sample of refurbished buildings (approximately 100) and highly sophisticated monitoring for a smaller subsample (electricity flows by appliances, temperatures, heat flows, high temporal resolution)
  • Using questionnaires for monitoring of secondary heating systems (solid fuels)
  • Collection of monitored data in a central database using broadband internet connection
  • Installation of electricity and (district) heat meters in new buildings
  • Combination of CONCERTO funds with SEAI funds for the monitoring activities and systems

For details please look at the presentations of Mr. Kaj Peterson and Mr. Michael Bell.

Lessons learnt

The following information has been gathered as part of the CONCERTO Premium policy research.

Benefits of CONCERTO:

Key benefits:

It has led to increased cooperation and a direct line into national policy development. In addition to this, there are two key reports by the Tipperary Energy Agency that will be a key influence to the implementation of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive and the National Home Energy Savings Scheme. The ecovillage in particular has put Cloughjordan on the map – it has now become a tourist destination. Attracting up to 300 visitors a month, including school and university groups as well as those attending courses on sustainable construction and similar topics, which are being held in the village. 60 new families have been attracted to Cloughjordan in total. Cloughjordan has the largest solar thermal array and largest district heating network in Ireland (at time of writing). Cloughjordan has been ranked within the top 10 places to live in Ireland by “Irish Times”.

Local economic effects:

About 25% of economic activities associated with SERVE were local, the remaining proportion were still based in Ireland. A 3 day conference attracting 170 people resulted in EUR 6000 going into the local economy. It was organised by Project Partner SEAI – the Irish Energy Agency. Approximately 10-20 new jobs were created, that will continue to exist). Several small businesses have been set up by the residents of the eco-village: a bakery, a hostel, a café, a picture framer, a café, and some internet-based one-man companies. The percentage of people in employment in the region has slightly gone up. Contractors have been working on the construction of CONCERTO projects gone on to work on similar projects (skill transfer, new business opportunities, etc). It was a specific project objective of SERVE to train construction workers and energy advisors on the retrofitting projects are now able to provide their expertise to other similar projects. The economic benefits of the project can also be illustrated by the fact that instead of losing a teacher each, each of the local schools had to employ one more teacher. Also, the local train station that may have come under threat of closure could be retained.


Barriers encountered:

Technical barriers: The solar thermal array had technical flaws. The supplier has since gone into liquidation. It is unclear who can or should pay. Wood chip is too cheap in comparison to make repair of the SHW-system financially attractive. There was a lack of skills amongst construction professionals and trades, especially with regard to retrofitting. The SERVE-project was used as a testing ground for training construction workers and energy advisors.

Economic barriers:

Due to the economic crisis many plots remained unsold in the eco-village. Plot prices had to be dropped. The district heating had to be operational very early on, serving initially only one house, before others were built, thus running at a loss for the first two years. Theoretically individual boilers could have been installed temporarily or a conventional (cheaper) boiler instead of the woodchip boiler, changing to the intended system later on. Now that 50 houses are connected the system is breaking even.

There were challenges regarding cost-effective retrofitting. Creating investor confidence was another challenge. The message here is that it is crucial to present the right information, and that it is being presented by the right people, info needs to be reinforced from multiple angles: from the contractors, by public relations, the municipality, (Serve created its own norm for getting the message across), a clear and consistent message.

Social barriers:

There was some mistrust towards district heating as not common in Ireland. It was difficult to convince people of the need for an integrated approach – there is a silo-mentality with either a focus on energy efficiency only or renewable energy only. There are also no experts for an integrated approach. With the decentralized hot water storage tanks and a user friendly charging structure the requirements of users were met.

Administrative barriers:

The planning process for the village buildings in the eco-village became complex, as people wanted to use their own architects for their units, even if closely joined to others. The SERVE funding offer for potential retrofitting projects had to differentiate itself from the national retrofitting scheme – „you have to do more“, people got more money in exchange, money from serve and from the national agency SEAI. Generally 40% support could be given. A “master architect“ was employed to act as conduit between the council and the individual architects.


Success factors identified:

Technical success Factors:

Decentralised hot water stores give households a certain independence from the central district heating networks. Downtimes are not felt. Sound and effective Monitoring was important. Monitoring was the condition for getting funding. Monitoring equipment is however expensive – so a collaboration with SEAI was entered into. It could be integrated into the SEAI objectives, hence SEAI co-funded monitoring: This type of detailed and widespread monitoring has never been done before. Every house has a monitoring system, which had been developed with an external company, it encompasses multiple meters for electricity, gas and renewables. Data is logged in houses, transmitted via broadband to data-base, automatic capturing of consumption, monitoring with home owners. The human resource cost for monitoring are also high. Secondary heating is a big issue (fireplaces, wood coal) –it can only be monitor via visits. Some estimates have also been made. Participants had to log all fuel they burned. The monitoring shows that heating from secondary sources it is actually in the region of 30-35 % of total heating, whereas the national energy rating system assumes only 10% of secondary heating. The energy rating system is being used for investment decisions – but in reality energy consumption is quite different. There are plans for a “Smart E-rating” that is based on consumption rather than an asset rating (a calculated rating for energy performance certificates.

Social success factors:

Strong emphasis has been put on educational activities: training construction workers on site, collaborating with the two local schools. Extensive communication campaigns meant that there were no objections at all during the planning process. Energy performance Certificates ( “BER”-ratings) were put to effective use in order to communicate energy performance and improvements.

Institutional success factors:

The strong involvement of a NGO was key. It had been specifically founded in order to develop the eco-village. Each new buyer of a plot becomes part of. CONCERTO-project could therefore be embedded into an already an on-going very ambitious eco-village project, which provides many sustainable life style components, e.g. a so-called “community supported farming” (residents have a subscription, which costs € 80 per month and obtain all their vegetables from the farm, also integration with biodiversity and woodland management, permaculture principles, allotments, fibreoptics cables for home working, live/work units and a small-business centre. The new ecovillage has been designed around people and human interaction, rather than cars. The fact that it is integrated into an existing established village is important, as existing infrastructure such as a train station and schools can be used. Furthermore, there was close collaboration with North Tipperary County Council.


Business models used:

A group of around 20 people drove the idea for the ecovillage – once land was found they had to raise half of the 0,5 million EUR costs themselves (often covered in parts by loans from friends and family) in order to qualify for a loan from a community bank for the rest. Once outline planning permission had been obtained, the land value had risen to 4.5 million.

Which then allowed for further loans to be secured more easily. Regarding the sale of heat from district heating various pricing structures have been investigated. In the end a relatively high standing charge and relatively low price per unit of heat was chosen as this seemed most acceptable to users.

The construction of the District Heating system was financed through the company named SPIL (Sustainable Projects Ireland Ltd.). Incorporated in 1999, trading as The Village, SPIL is registered as Educational Charity. Run along co-operative principles, SPIL has a context of a community where rights and responsibilities of making the project work successfully are shared out to its members. Accordingly, the evolving decision-making processes are founded on the Consensus Model, with practical structures in place to ensure that the company will achieve its aims. The Village is an organisation and a company limited by guarantee and a community. Articles of association ensure that the group operates as a co-operative. A legally binding members agreement defines members' rights and obligations.


Legacy – follow-on projects:

The ecovillage is expected to expand to eventually reach the 150 units originally planned. These will adhere to the standards used in CONCERTO, and in particular be linked to the district heating system. A wind turbine for the ecovillage on a neighbouring farmer’s land is being discussed in order to cover all electricity demand from the vilage. The Council of North Tipperary wants to refurbish a total of 4000 homes. The technical skills gained by construction workers who have been trained on SERVE sites will take their new skills to their future projects. Furthermore, detailed energy -monitoring is continuing as a follow-on project. The municipality is still working with SEAI, collecting energy-consumption data from houses. This is being extend into a longitudinal study, as Ireland does not currently have good longterm data, North Tipperary are looking at actual achievable E-savings, comparing actual vs. national typical data, and also testing investment figures. Kerry County Council is doing a sustainable energy action plan, benchmarking it against serve. The SERVE-coordinator is also working with another community in North-Tipperary (Drumbane) and helped get funding for the community for initially retrofitting 40 homes, with a second phase underway. They are mainly using wood energy.


Legacy - Policy Developments:

Significant faults in the understanding of dwellings, their heating systems, and the methodology of inputting that into the official Irish energy rating software “BER”. As a result of this the software which was in final stages of development was modified to interlink values and prevent the assessors entering the incorrect details. Going forward this will eliminate a huge amount of incorrect BER certifications. As a separate and parallel project to SERVE a training and auditing project for Sustainable Energy Ireland was completed to improve the quality of assessments, understand all the key difficulties faced with implementing the EPBD from an assessment point of view. It also led to a methodical and careful collation of what evidence is available to support a BER for the EPBD implementation for existing dwellings. The key target audience of this analysis was the EPBD implementation Team, all national training providers and BER assessors. Local & regional policy was affected in as far as The county development plan for North Tipperary was under review and a consultation document was be launched, offering the opportunity for SERVE partners to make a submission. Altogether, the SERVE project started at exactly the right time to ensure that there was real on the ground information made available to the national scheme to aid the decision makers. In addition to this, the SERVE partners have forged close links with Sustainable Energy Ireland, which helps the two way flow of information. It led to increased cooperation and a direct line into national policy development. In addition to this, there are two key reports by the Tipperary Energy Agency that influenced the implementation of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive and the National Home Energy Savings Scheme. A renewable energy development strategy, building on SERVE has been deviced. Tipperary energy agency has to comply with the EU 20-20–targets. Hence it has to identify how to develop each type of renewable energy. The same model is now being used for South-Tipperary. North Tipperary is involved in the EU-funded initiative Build-up skills – work with the national government, aiming to put in place legislation for min. standards for construction workers, registration process for construction companies – Currently there is none! It would include energy-aspects.

The CONCERTO approach

To accompany these measures, the buildings – 500 in all – have improved insulation installed, along with modern energy control systems, giving homeowners more control over their power consumption. Serve is also serving up a first for Ireland: a specially designed and built ecovillage at Cloghjordan. This will have 132 homes, all constructed to the highest standards of energy performance, marking a 40% efficiency gain on current building standards.

The village is heated by Ireland's first district heating system based on renewable power. As with individual dwellings, woody biomass is used for heat, with the installation of a biomass boiler with 600kW capacity. Solar power also contributes. The plan is for the project to set new standards for energy performance and renewable energy supply in rural Ireland. The energy efficiency and renewable power measures undertaken will be monitored and measured with a view to improving Ireland's energy performance overall. Importing knowledge from other EU countries will also be crucial to this – and will help Ireland make inroads on its CO2 emissions, which have risen quickly as a result of the rapid economic development of the country. Renewable energy installations in existing buildings will cut emissions by 330 tonnes of CO2 annually, while the ecovillage will emit 1,200 tonnes less per annum relative to conventional developments.


Seamus Hoyne
LIT Tipperary

Building aspects

  • Building Energy Services
  • heating (only)
  • Building Energy Services
  • heating and DHW
  • Installed Renewable Energy Sources
  • photovoltaic
  • Technology used to supply the buildings
  • district heating (DH) network
  • Technology used to supply the buildings
  • stove

Thematic Field

  • New Building(s)
  • Refurbished Building(s)
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Project data