How your club can save thousands and be kinder to the environment
By John Harrington
Would you like your GAA club to save thousands of euros a year while also being much kinder to the environment?
Of course you would, it’s a no-brainer, and Louth club Clan na Gael have proven it is entirely possible to do.
A mentor club with the GAA’s new Green Club Programme, Clan na Gael recently completed an energy saving project that will result in annual energy and maintenance savings of €10,000 per annum and a massive reduction in CO2 emissions.
Padraig Fallon was a member of the committe that spearheaded the Dundalk club’s ambitious sustainability drive and believes all GAA clubs can save money and be kinder to the environment by following in their footsteps.
“My own background is engineering and one of the big topics going on in the world at the moment is environmental sustainability and energy improvements and carbon footprints and that kind of stuff so that put me and a couple of the guys in the club thinking as to how we were doing things down in the Clans,” Fallon told GAA.ie
“We have a fully functioning bar, and a lot of activity in our facilities, between offices and night classes, the blood transfusion service coming using our facilities, stuff like that.
“Our main pitch had got high energy halogen bulbs. I had an idea that probably we certainly were using a lot of energy so I got our electricity and oil bills for exactly three years and I analysed them and what I found then was quite startling.
“We were probably spending about €18,000 a year on electricity and oil, which when you did the math equated to 52 tonnes of carbon dioxide in the air every year being emitted by the club. Straight away I knew that this was wrong that there was no way the numbers should be anything like that.
“I started asking some of the older people about the club facilities, when they were built. They were built in the 60s and obviously there was no insulation put in cavities or attics or anything like that so to have a comfort level inside everything was always on the max.
“The temperature was turned up high, the oil was always on because that was the only way you could make the place comfortable.
“Then the big one was our floodlights. We have quite a busy pitch and when I studied the bulbs we had 24 two kilowatt halogen bulbs that required almost 50 units of electricity an hour just to put our pitch going and have a game on it.”
With Fallon’s report in hand, Clan na Gael went to Louth County Council who along with the Louth Energy Sustainable Energy Community helped them receive 50% of the funding they needed for the project with an SEAI grant.
“The whole body of work cost €84,000, inclusive of VAT,” says Fallon. “So we were on the hook for €42,000 of that. And we were actually registered for VAT so you take away five grand VAT it was costing us €37,000.
“The big challenge was always going to be finding the lump of money to make the initial investment that would then pay for itself.
“Our banks were supporting us pre-Covid, but when Covid came they weren't as keen to give us the money they had promised us. We had to move to plan B very quickly and we raised every penny from the local community and club members.
“Plan B was we needed to raise €25,000 overnight. So four or five people, some businessmen, gave loans overnight, that allowed us to get our first 50% paid. And then we went to the community and local businesses, and we raised enough money to pay all the loans back, and pay for the project. And we still have some left over.
“It was the best example of what a GAA club should be all about. It was the best example of people coming together that I had ever seen.
“Just looking at the money that we spent, we'll get a payback in less than three years because I’ll put my neck on the line and say that we'll save €10,000 a year and only be spending around €7,000 or €8,000 now.
“The other area you’re saving big money in is maintenance.
“We were having to spend a lot of money on the maintenance of the floodlights because when a halogen bulb goes you can't just go out with your stepladder and put it in, these things are 18 metres high so you have to get electricians and you have to get a hire out height for hire. To change a bulb could cost you between €700 and €800.
“And we were probably spending somewhere between €3,000 and €5,000 a year on just maintaining our floodlights which wasn't sustainable. That now has totally disappeared.
“The lights we've put in have a warranty for five years so if we go down one day and a light isn't working, I just call the guys up and tell them one of our lights working. And, even at that, the LED floodlights are expected to last 50,000 hours which I won't see out, shall I say."
Fallon believes that energy improvements can be made to any club building that was built more than 15 years ago, but if you’re looking to save significan money quickly, then he’ll point you in the direction of LED floodlights.
Not only are the ones Clan na Gael installed far better than their halogen predecessors, they’re much cheaper to run too.
“They was a big surge of floodlights installed in clubs this last 20 years, but the technology being used by 99.99% of them is halogen floodlights,” says Fallon.
“There's a massive, massive energy, draw on those. Massive maintenance costs. We're fortunate our electricity comes from the grid and we have three phase power coming into our building and that was the only way we could operate our floodlights.
“But I’d say many clubs around the country use diesel generators to run halogen lights. If we were running our old Halogen lights off generators it would have been costing us about €50 to €60 an hour of diesel to run the generator and that leaves a mind-blowing carbon footprint too.
“Whereas, in comparison, to run our LED floodlights today for an hour costs us €4.50 and is much kinder to the environment.
“I actually believe we should be looking to outlaw the use of generators. Clubs should be looking to try to get proper electricity feeds into their complexes because driving floodlights off big generators is extremely expensive and detrimental to the environment.
“A big generator costs €25,000 and clubs do not appreciate then what they cost to run on top of that. The guys fill up the big diesel tank and, you know, it runs out in the middle of the game sometimes and they just fill it up again the next week, nobody is looking at the figures. I've done the figures and I was astonished.”
Clan na Gael's expected savings of €10,000 per annum will make will be make a huge difference to all sorts of projects the club embark on in the coming years, but Fallon derives just as much satisfaction from the positive impact on the environment.
“That was the one factor that stuck me, that we were pumping out a tonne of carbon dioxide a week,” he says.
“It wasn't the money, it wasn't the 18 grand, it was the 52 tonne of carbon dioxide that we were responsible for.
“I was trying to, you know, visualize carbon dioxide for the guys because some people can't get it. Basically, if you have a box that's eight metres, by eight metres by eight metres and you fill it up with carbon dioxide, that's a tonne of carbon dioxide.
“We would have certainly knocked 30 tonnes from our 52 tonnes of carbon dioxide that we were producing and we still have ambitions to reduce that much further.
“We want to eliminate oil altogether, that would involve putting in heat pumps. Maybe just one pretty sizable heat pump which would eliminate the oil. And then we also have ample space to put in any amount of solar panels which will give us free electricity.
“So, the calculations I have done, definitely show that we can actually become carbon neutral and even produce surplus electricity that will then go back to the grid and be used by someone else.”
Clan na Gael’s energy saving project hasn’t just produced a financial and environmental dividend, it is having a social impact too.
Their state of the art LED floodlights have transformed their playing pitch, and their newly insulated facilities are a much more comfortable environment for club-members.
“We got the Louth hurlers down a week or two before the Lory Meagher Final which was the ultimate test for us, and they were blown away by the lights,” says Fallon.
“My own young lad plays with the Louth hurlers and he said you could see the sliotar coming from miles off even if it was 30 metres in the air which wouldn't have been the case in any pitch they'd ever played in before with the exception of Croke Park. So that was the ultimate test.
“We have a floodlit pitch now which I can say for sure myself personally is definitely the best floodlit club pitch around. Our lux levels are over 250 Lux levels which is putting us up to championship hurling level, and I believe the lights are even good enough to broadcast matches for TV cameras if you wanted to.
“None of our adult teams got to play underneath the lights yet because of Covid, but for a number of weeks when we were allowed we had underage groups of 15 down training.
“The managers were competing to get out onto the field because they just loved it. The kids weren't cold, because the lights were that good.
“It wasn't that the lights were emitting heat, it was the psychological effect because the lights were that good and that bright that the kids were didn't feel the cold. They were just so enthused to get out on the field that they ran out in the field and they didn't stop running until the coaches blew the whistle.
“We got to use our facilities for a number of weeks in between lockdowns too, and I remember being down there one of the nights and the bar manager come over to me and he says, "Padraig, we have a problem. I says, "What's the problem, Kevin?" He says all the customers are complaining that it was too warm.
“Everybody had turned up the dials to the normal place where they had always been and because we now had such good insulation the temperatures were off the scale. So that was a good complaint!”
Clan na Gael have lit the way. When you consider the environmental, financial, and social benefits, expect other clubs to soon follow the same greener, cleaner path.
The following Clan na Gael club-members were involved in the energy saving project.
- Peter Dixon, Facilities Manager
- Cormac Woods, Treasurer
- Niall Weldon, Chairperson
- Kevin O'Connor, Bar Manager
- Paula Harrison, Secretary
- Padraig Fallon, Healthy Club Officer