The Housing Executive is expanding its eco-friendly heating scheme

The University of Ulster led the program along with the housing executive.

A Northern Ireland Housing Executive (NIHE) scheme to decarbonise residential heating is being implemented in a further 300 homes.

It followed successful trials in the year since COP26.

The Rural-Led Energy Transition (RULET) project uses smart energy systems with environmentally friendly heating so that the most vulnerable households are not left behind in the transition to net zero.

The University of Ulster led the program along with the housing executive.

NIHE is responsible for 85,000 homes in Northern Ireland.

Two years ago, six homes in Lisnaskea, County Fermanagh, piloted the scheme.

In 2021, 10 properties in Omagh, County Tyrone had their insulation and windows upgraded, before an air source heat pump or hybrid oil fired heat pump and backup system was installed.

Raymond McAleer

Raymond McAleer, from Omagh, said the standalone heat pump meant he used less energy

Raymond McAleer of Hunter’s Crescent in Omagh acquired a standalone heat pump.

“The heat, maybe you don’t have to turn it on as often, you use less energy,” he told BBC News NI.

“You can keep your heating really low and let it tickle over something, so you save money too.

“It’s a better system, there’s more control. I would never go back to what I had.”

Like around two-thirds of homes in Northern Ireland, his home was previously heated with oil.

His new system is controlled via a panel on the wall and an app on his phone, which also provides NIHE with information on how the system is being used and performing.

Robert Clements

Robert Clements says there are many benefits to the program

“The Housing Executive has two roles here,” said Robert Clements, the agency’s head of sustainable development.

“It is the strategic housing authority and the largest landlord in Northern Ireland, so we want to use a clear evidence base and we will inform all other housing providers what is best practice as we transition and have a fair transition to net zero.”

But he added that retrofitting a home, including upgrading the insulation, and installing a renewable heat system isn’t cheap.

“The typical average cost … is around £18,000 per house,” he said.

“This will cost money to start up, but there will be the benefit of reduced carbon emissions, more thermal improvement, better health and well-being and better outcomes for the owner.”

Project organizers recognize that many people will not be able to afford the cost.

But they say RULET will have a long-term impact beyond those working in social housing who benefit immediately.

Patrick Keatley

Patrick Keatley said the program will ultimately reduce costs

“In the long run it will reduce costs,” said Patrick Keatley, a University of Ulster lecturer in energy policy and infrastructure.

“The scale of the social housing sector will ultimately reduce these costs and open up markets for all.”

He said previous incentives, which depended on people having money to spend in the first place, created the risk of effectively creating a “middle class subsidy”.

Household emissions of greenhouse gases have fallen by more than a fifth (22%) since 1990, which is taken as the base year for assessing emissions.

However, they still contribute 13.7% of Northern Ireland’s total emissions in 2020.

Extending this smart energy project to the western counties will allow more of the wind power generated in Northern Ireland to be used, rather than being switched off at times.

Heat pump RULET

Heat pumps are used in the pilot scheme

“It’s not just about putting the kit in, it’s about changing the way people live their lives so they benefit,” said Professor Peter Roberts, former chairman of the Housing Executive.

“They have a warmer home, they don’t use as much diesel or electricity as before and overall their carbon budget goes down.

“It also has a positive impact on their wallet.”

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