This week we travel to Northern Ireland, to Derry City and Strabane District, to explore how the energy situation is in the region during the winter months.
Even if the winter starts officially in December and lasts to the end of March, there is a notable increase in heating fuel usage from November onwards. “Normally the weather is cold, damp and wet. Usually there are a few weeks of colder conditions with frosty and icy days, but this usually occurs in January and February time”, explains our project partner Heather Young from Derry City and Strabane District Council. According to her, the average winter temperature in the region is 3-7°C. However, occasionally, the temperature falls to -5°C in the winter months. As a curiosity, the lowest temperature ever recorded in the region was -18°C in 2010.
With these conditions, people spend more time indoors and as a consequence this impacts energy usage. Heather mentions that people do spend more time indoors especially when time changes at the end of October and the heating and electricity costs rise during the months of November to March. “The main sources of heating used within public buildings and houses are oil and natural gas. A small percentage of homes will have biomass boilers or heat pumps installed”, adds our partner.
Nevertheless, there are specific strategies and targets for reducing energy expenditure in the winter months when the usage is higher. The Northern Ireland Housing Executive has a freephone advice line to give householders in the area advice on energy efficiency and to point them in the right direction for funding. Apart from that, the government promotes a number of initiatives to reduce energy consumption and promote energy efficiency. “The majority of these are targeted as lower income households to reduce the fuel poverty levels in the region”.
Heather mentions that the Derry and Strabane area shares a similar weather pattern, temperature profile, with Donegal (Ireland), a SMARCTIC project partner as well. “The region has very high levels of fuel poverty which places severe financial pressure on the most vulnerable in society”.
Asked about the current situation in consequence of the Coronavirus pandemic, Heather has no doubts: “this year the health risks associated with COVID have led to the closures of libraries, community centres, luncheon clubs and social outlets. People who previously used these community support services are now having to stay at home for longer periods leading to increased levels of fuel poverty”.