Rath GWS showcases potential of renewable energy sources

Renewable energy was hot on the agenda at a recent open day, hosted by Eglish & Drumcullen (Rath) GWS in April. The Offaly group water scheme showcased a range of biodiversity and climate action measures it has recently implemented, including a solar PV array that was installed in late 2019.

There were 19 people in attendance at the event, including representatives from Offaly County Council and a number of personnel from other group water schemes nationwide that were interested in finding out more about the project.

Three shallow wells serve the scheme, with water pumped 5km to a reservoir and then gravity-fed into the network to over 550 connections. With energy costs comprising a large portion of running costs, the GWS conducted an energy audit in 2018 to identify opportunities for a more sustainable and less expensive operational system.

Following audit recommendations, the scheme installed a 20kW solar PV array, which spans an area of approximately 120m2. It was estimated that the array will generate 17,427kWh per year for consumption on site. Based off energy costs at the time, this equated to a saving on electricity costs of almost €3,000 per year. Although the total cost of the project has been circa €53,000, it is offset significantly by a €20,390 Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SIAI) grant.

Early data

Those in attendance at the open day were walked through the system and how it feeds into technology in the pumphouse. Data from the first year of the array showed that it had generated 14,387.26kWh of energy, with 92.2% consumed onsite and the remainder fed to the national grid.

Speaking about the event, NFGWS climate action and development officer, Róisín Dowd Smith, spoke about how the project is providing valuable learnings for the sector:

As one of the first schemes in the country to install a solar energy system, Eglish & Drumcullen (Rath) GWS has shown the potential that exits for group water schemes to become more self-sufficient.

We’re really appreciative that the scheme has welcomed everyone here to learn more about its efforts, and it’s fantastic to see such interest from other like-minded group water schemes around the country.

Ms Dowd Smith also added that recent technological advances has enhanced the viability of similar projects, with less PV panels now capable of generating the same level of output.

Biodiversity enhancement

Aside from its solar PV array, the GWS has also taken steps to enhance biodiversity around its site. The area is now pesticide free and its boundary is decorated by native Irish trees, with further plans to plant fruit trees along the pumphouse driveway.

The scheme has also installed concrete water troughs, which are a low cost, effective tool. These have been planted with pollinator-friendly shrubs and the troughs are also faced with timber that double as a habitat for wild bees.

Group water schemes interesting in finding out more about energy audits and how they can implement biodiversity and climate action measures are urged to contact their local NFGWS development officer.

This article originally featured in the most recent edition of the Rural Water News magazine. To read the full edition and to sign up to our magazine mailing list, click here.