Philip is away on holiday this week, so in his place Noel Williams, Head of Energy Saving Trust Northern Ireland has written a guest post.
Over 70% of Northern Ireland homes have oil as their primary fuel for heating and hot water. This is in stark contrast to GB where over 90% of homes use natural gas.
Natural Gas is going to take some years to reach the ‘Really Rural’ areas of Western Northern Ireland. Government therefore needs to look at taking a range of short, medium and long-term measures to reduce carbon emissions, energy use and by doing so save the householder money. ‘Energy Affordability’ is a term I much prefer (as opposed to Fuel Poverty), but it is a particular issue in these times of high fossil fuel costs. It is also very much on the political agenda at present with the Minister for Social Development establishing a Task Force to explore possible measures to alleviate Energy Affordability needs.
I would like to see a Rural Grant Programme in Northern Ireland to encourage the uptake of energy efficiency measures in areas where choice is limited. This would need to be combined with outreach work, face-to face advice and home visits, to provide the householder with the most appropriate advice tailored for their needs. This could be a tailored version of our Home Action Plan within our Green Homes programme.
In the short term, we must ensure that there is maximum take-up of gas along the North West and South North gas pipeline to provide critical mass for extending it into the ‘Really Rural’ areas of Northern Ireland. In the ‘temporary’ absence (probably 15 years) of natural gas in the Really Rural West, we need to put in place specific measures to ensure that householders are not unduly disadvantaged by being in an off-gas area.
Householders would be able to apply for a grant to replace old, inefficient or broken boilers with new high-efficiency condensing boilers, providing that they have had fabric improvements made to the property to improve the thermal efficiency of the building (i.e. cavity wall and loft insulation).
Regarding insulation, we also see the potential for a rural-only top-up grant being made available to provide these measures for free, or at little cost to the householder.
Also, the proposed Rural Grants Programme could, and ought to, provide a top-up grant for the installation of a renewable energy heating system in Really Rural areas where there is a proliferation of households suffering with Energy Affordability difficulties.