Energy Efficiency in Northern Ireland
As 2016 draws to a close, Bryson Energy Director Nigel Brady takes take the chance to reflect on the past year in terms of our own work as well as thinking about energy in the wider context for future work.
At Bryson Energy we provide leadership, advice, support and installation of energy-saving measures in homes, tackling fuel poverty and helping to reduce energy costs for householders. The reduction in oil prices at the start of the year was welcomed by many households and we continued to encourage households to install energy measures to energy proof their homes.
We worked in partnership with a large number of organisations this year to get this message about energy efficiency heard and to enable us to reach a wider community. In particular, we successfully partnered with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) on a number of projects which you can read about in their 20th annual progress report though key milestones are also outlined below.
We provided impartial energy advice to 7,178 households through our telephone free phone service, 0800 14 22 865. We taught 1,924 primary school pupils about energy efficiency through delivering lessons in 160 primary schools across Northern Ireland. We also provided 6,300 Housing Executive tenants with energy advice in their homes through our Heatsmart programme.
We established 27 oil buying clubs across Northern Ireland to help homes dependent on oil to reduce their costs by buying their oil orders in bulk as part of a group. As recognition of this work and in partnership with NIHE, we were delighted to be awarded the ‘More than Bricks & Mortar’ title at this year’s Chartered Institute of Housing NI’s Awards. To date, we have delivered more than three million litres of oil through the oil clubs enabling members to save up to 10 per cent when purchasing oil, supporting householders with their fuel bills. We have no doubt that oil will continue to rise in price as production is reduced, making our energy efficiency message more important than ever.
Once again, we have worked with PowerNI on administering one of their Northern Ireland Sustainable Energy Programmes (NISEP) Schemes, Cosy Homes, which funds insulation and heating in Housing Associations and in addition we have been undertaking benefit assessments for their customers. With the proposed closure of NISEP now delayed until March 2017, we look forward to seeing the outcome of the Department for Communities’ review of Energywise and the plans for an energy efficiency scheme to assist households to reduce their energy costs and increase thermal comfort.
Under a separate initiative, it is one year since we installed our first pellet boiler in a pilot scheme. This was the first of 70 pellet boilers to be installed in rural homes. Unfortunately, due to the closure of the Domestic Renewable Heat Initiative scheme, we were unable to roll the scheme out further. This scheme won first place in the “Most Successful Renewable Heat Installation” category of the Action Renewables Awards. We have now commissioned the University of Ulster to undertake an independent evaluation and they will contract a number of the households to gather their experiences of using pellet boilers for heating.
Another Bryson Energy renewable project, a 12 kW Photovoltaic system at St. Georges Church in Belfast, won second place in the Best Community Project section of the above awards. These Photovoltaic panels reduce both costs for the Church and their carbon footprint.
Our Handyperson service continued in Belfast and Ballymena and we are seeking ways to ensure that we can continue with the service, which brings excellent feedback and helps those most in need.
Another successful partnership has been our work with the University of Ulster which came to fruition this year with the launch of two Whole House Solutions reports. The first report entitled, ‘Transforming Northern Ireland's Domestic Energy Efficiency Landscape’ highlights the need to move away from tackling energy efficiency in a siloed approach and to focus on a more holistic approach which we call a Whole House Solution. The other Report entitled 'Bryson Energy Retrofit Scheme' was an evaluation of our work in the Omagh and Strabane area in a Whole House Solution Pilot.
A Whole House Solution sees a range of bespoke energy measures taking place at the same time in a home. It is not only the physical measures such as installing heating and insulation but includes a wrap around service looking at areas such as budgeting, fuel purchase and benefit assessments amongst other signposting services. These works and services will be provided by a range of organisations but are facilitated by a single organisation who oversees all aspects of works and services from start to finish and deals with any issues on behalf of the householder. We have met with the Minister and officials from the Department for Communities to promote a Whole House Solution approach to fuel poverty and look forward to helping inform the new Fuel Poverty Strategy, which is outlined in the draft Programme for Government.
As we approach the end of the year we are delighted to have secured funding from both Oak Foundation and Big Lottery. This will allow us to examine the feasibility for Social Supermarkets in Northern Ireland. This funding allows us to examine some possible solutions to the “heat or eat” dilemma faced by many fuel poor homes. Further funding secured from Oak will also allow us to both look at ways to assist householders using 20 litre oil drums to heat their homes and promote Whole House Solutions as the most viable way of future proofing houses against rising energy prices and fuel poverty.
We started the year with a welcome reduction in oil prices but the recent surge, the third biggest price increase on record, teaches us not to be complacent. We are faced with a future where prices will continue to fluctuate and where resources aren’t finite. We need to plan ahead and continue to find creative ways to support households to fulfil a basic human need - a warm and comfortable home.