Vulnerable must not be afraid to switch on heating in winter

Debts can be paid back over time, lives cannot be bought back, says Kathriona Devereux
Vulnerable must not be afraid to switch on heating in winter

POWER AT YOUR FINGERTIPS: Elderly and vulnerable people may be worried about heating their homes as prices soar

ANOTHER cold and rainy November morning, another flick of the switch for the kettle to fill yet another hot water bottle.

The hot water bottle is my primary protective tactic against turning on the heating. I’m morphing into my grandmother, who had her trusty ‘jar’ next to her as a constant companion for most of the winter months.

Thermal base layers, three woolly jumpers, and endless consumption of tea are my other ways of resisting Vladimir Putin’s merciless war, and saving myself from shock when the next gas bill comes in the letter box.

Despite zealous turning off of lights and appliances in the last two months, our last electricity bill was double what it was for the same period last year. Taoiseach Michéal Martin’s €200 contribution to the electricity bill certainly took the sting out, but those savings will no doubt be hoovered up by the heating bill.

I’m fortunate to be able to cope with price increases and have the option of turning on the heat if it gets really cold. Ads on the radio for vulnerable customers are reminders that not everyone has the choice or ability to reduce their heating and electricity costs easily, and with the wider cost of living crisis, many families are really struggling to pay for the essentials.

The Economist last week published research that examined the relationship between energy prices and winter deaths across Europe, and modelled what might happen this winter with record energy prices.

Other factors like the severity of the cold and flu season, the age profile of the population, and income rates in countries, were embedded in the model, which estimated 32,000 extra deaths might occur across Europe this year if the winter is mild, but that figure might explode to 335,000 if we experience the harshest type of winter.

It is a stark reminder that we must mind our vulnerable carefully and not let people suffer, or die, for fear of an expensive or unpaid bill. Debts can be paid back over time, lives cannot be bought back.

These energy price worries pale against the unspeakable damage being wrought by Russia on Ukraine.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), ten million Ukrainians are without power and half the country’s energy infrastructure is damaged or destroyed.

The WHO expects three million Ukrainians to leave their homes this winter to find warmth. Delivery of generators is as important as ammunition for Ukraine’s survival this winter.

It’s clear that Putin has moved on from withholding gas and oil to the straight tactic of using winter cold to kill people.

Sadly, it’s a tactic that is likely to work. President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Russia is trying “to turn the cold of winter into a weapon of mass destruction”.


The entwined energy and cost of living crisis underlines the desperate need for Ireland to break our reliance on imported oil and gas as ways of heating our homes.

While electrifying our heating systems and installing heat pumps instead of boilers is one major approach, utilising our existing gas grid to burn biomethane instead of natural gas is another path we’re taking.

Biomethane is considered a carbon- neutral renewable gas and is made from farm and food waste in a process called anaerobic digestion.

Slurries, waste from the food industry, even grass clippings can be fed into a digester where microbes break down the organic materials producing gas in the process. The biogas is captured, upgraded to biomethane, and then injected into the gas grid.

Biomethane is structurally identical to natural gas and can be used in existing boilers and appliances. Homeowners and businesses don’t have to change a thing.

Biomethane not only helps decarbonise heating, our homes can also help reduce agriculture’s emissions.

As well as a biogas, the process of anaerobic digestion also produces a high quality fertiliser that can replace imported and energy-intensive fertilisers (often from Russia).

Getting manures and farm waste into digesters will reduce the environmental impact of farming and will provide economic opportunities for rural communities.

A very small amount of biomethane is already used in our gas grid since 2019, but as part of our climate action commitments to reduce emissions by 2030, and beyond, the government wants much more.

Gas Networks Ireland (GNI) is responsible for enabling more biomethane to flow through our gas grid and helping to establish a sustainable indigenous biomethane industry.

GNI wants to hear from people and businesses that can be part of this national biomethane network, to help develop a roadmap of where and how biomethane will be produced in Ireland in the coming years.

It’s an important time in Ireland’s energy history. By 2050, we can aspire to have renewably generated hydrogen fuelling our gas grid, but in the next few years, by 2030, Ireland’s biomethane producers will play a big part in insulating us all from a cold winter.

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