Energy Saving Trust is an independent organisation dedicated to promoting energy efficiency, low carbon transport and sustainable energy. We aim to address the climate emergency and deliver the wider benefits of clean energy as we transition to net zero.
We empower householders to make better choices, deliver transformative programmes for governments and support businesses with strategy, research and assurance, enabling everyone to play their part in building a sustainable future.
We are the Programme Administrator, on behalf of the Utility Regulator, of the Northern Ireland Sustainable Energy Programme (NISEP) which puts us at the heart of the energy efficiency challenges in Northern Ireland and, with our UK and international perspective, enables us to contribute ideas and solutions for the future.
We responded to the recent Department for the Economy (DfE) Energy Strategy consultation with a focus on home energy efficiency. It’s clear that the Executive wants to make up for lost time and is in the process of formulating a wide-ranging strategy that looks promising in its scope and ambition and offers an excellent opportunity to refocus priorities and tackle the decarbonisation challenge.
Northern Ireland has some unique characteristics that will need to be addressed as part of the transition to net zero heat:
- the emerging gas grid and plans for its continued expansion. Natural gas is not a low carbon or renewable fuel and as such does not have a role to play in the medium-long term. The potential to use hydrogen in the gas grid remains uncertain and is far from being deployable at scale. Heat pumps offer a proven and effective alternative to on and off-gas grid homes;
- the high reliance of oil as a heating fuel. Again, oil is not sustainable. However, given that 68 per cent of all domestic homes use oil, there will need to be a carefully managed transition away from oil towards alternatives such as renewable heating;
- relatively high levels of fuel poverty and the transient nature of fuel poverty, particularly in Northern Ireland where the reliance on oil for heating leaves consumers vulnerable to the volatility of oil prices;
- lower levels of spend on energy efficiency than some other parts of the UK. The thinktank E3G estimated at the end of 2017 that government spending on energy efficiency support, per person, was three times higher in Northern Ireland than in England but was still less than Scotland; and
- slightly better levels of average home energy efficiency than other parts of the UK put Northern Ireland in a good place to be able to drive forward energy efficiency improvements to its housing stock.
So, what would we recommend? Some of the suggestions made in our Energy Strategy consultation response centred around home energy efficiency and fuel poverty:
- establishing a new EPC target for fuel poor homes;
- reach the most vulnerable households through tailored in-home engagement and advice;
- ensure hardest to improve homes have access to financial support to improve energy efficiency; and
- undertake heat pumps trials to show the benefits and suitability of heat pumps within domestic settings.
The key to reaching net zero across Northern Ireland is complex and needs to take into consideration the unique characteristics of the country, but as a minimum we need to incentivise households to invest in off-gas, low carbon heating and support low income and vulnerable households to access the health and financial benefits of warm and efficiently heated homes. There will be many challenges on the way, but Energy Saving Trust will continue to be part of the positive change.
Energy Saving Trust