The energy crisis has led to a high demand for firewood

Fears of price hikes and power shortages this winter have prompted many consumers to stockpile fuel, according to distributors here.

Solid fuel companies have reported a surge in orders in recent weeks, with many consumers on average buying more than they would a year ago.

It comes as concerns have been raised about the potential for a power shortage during the winter season, largely due to lower supplies from Russia.

Ecofuel, which specializes in sustainable solid fuels, including alternatives to peat briquettes made from waste sawdust pressed into combustible logs.

It was founded in 2014 and has grown steadily since then, with its business rebounding significantly during the pandemic.

That growth has begun to level off again this year, as the country’s economy has returned to normal, but has picked up again in recent weeks.

“In the past two months, July and August, we’ve seen an 85% increase,” said Janis Vittols, founder and head of sustainability at Ecofuel. “July was crazy – we saw a 138% increase in July compared to last year.”

Mr Vittols said the sudden surge in demand was due to both returning and new customers, while the company also saw a significant increase in the volume of merchandise purchased per transaction.

“I’ve seen a 171% increase in the past two months in average order values,” he said. “So men are not only buying early, but also making bigger purchases.

“People are generally concerned about how much it will cost them in October or November, but more importantly they are wondering if it will be available for consumers to buy.”

Summer sales of solid fuels rise

Co Fermanagh based Surefire Wood has also seen an increase in demand from its customers in recent weeks.

“Customers order two or three bags instead of just one,” said Richard Armstrong. “Coal has tripled in price in the past six months or so, so there’s a higher demand for firewood anyway.”

He said July and August have traditionally been the quiet months for his business, but that has begun to change in recent years.

But the increase in demand has been particularly large this year.

“I would say demand tripled anyway,” he said. “The temperature was 25-30 degrees and requests will still come in for the winter.”

A lot of the activity is coming from existing customers buying more this year, Armstrong said, but there are also many new customers who are also looking at the fire as a home heating option again.

Despite this, he said the availability of solid fuels should remain well through the winter, even if some suppliers are struggling at certain points.

“We have been in this field now for 35 years,” he said. “Different suppliers are quiet at different times of the year or in different years, they may not have enough supply for you, but there are always back-up suppliers out there.”

Customers order heating oil early and often

There is also little concern about shortages in the home heating oil market, although it has seen consumers react differently to the energy crisis.

Many consumers placed orders earlier and larger than usual in the immediate aftermath of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has reduced demand in recent months.

“In the past two months, sales have fallen significantly, by about 20-25%,” said Kevin MacBartlan, CEO of Fuels for Ireland, formerly the Irish Petroleum Industry Association, which represents fuel distributors and retailers across the country. “.

“We’re not seeing hoarding right now – what’s really happening is that the quantities that people are actually ordering are less than they normally would, but they are buying more often.”

This is because customers are now asking for, say, €500 worth of kerosene instead of asking to fill their tank, MacPartlan said.

Significantly high oil prices mean that the cost of filling the tank in one go is out of reach for many consumers, he said.

Price volatility means that some will also be reluctant to pay for a full tank when there is a chance the price will drop later in the year.

“The wholesale price of kerosene is rising between 6 and 7 cents a day,” he said. “What this means is that if I receive a delivery today, and I receive tomorrow, the price that you and I are offering, even if we are on both ends of the same city, could be radically different.”

He said consumers are proving smart in this regard and are actively seeking the best price in the region.

This means that distributors who stock at a high point in the market are often left struggling to divert their supplies.

But whatever way the price moves, supplies are expected to remain steady through the winter.

Delivery times are also short at the moment, even with the trend of smaller but more regular orders, although Mr McPartlan said they could slow somewhat in the event of a cold snap.

Supply Concerns Grow

Gas prices rose last week after Russian energy giant Gazprom said it would cut supplies to the Nordstream pipeline, citing the need for maintenance.

The move has once again raised concerns that Russia will completely cut off gas supplies to Europe during the winter. This will also have a disproportionate impact on electricity prices here, as nearly half of Ireland’s electricity generation is gas powered.

Authorities across Europe are studying ways to reduce energy demand in the coming months.

In Ireland, the Utilities Regulatory Commission has suggested that suppliers could be charged more for energy during peak hours from 5-7pm.

It has also proposed a number of actions targeting larger energy users, such as data centers.

However, while suppliers of solid fuels and heating oil may benefit from higher demand, they are also affected by the general increase in energy prices.

Fuels For Ireland says the cost and availability of diesel is a particular weakness for its members, as this is a key factor in their ability to deliver fuel orders to customers.

Meanwhile, eco-fuels have also been negatively affected by higher utility prices, largely due to the energy required to make their products.

The wood and sawdust used need low humidity levels in order to burn effectively; They require heating, which means that rising gas and electricity prices have led to higher production costs.

However, Vitols says the product price increases have not been as dramatic as those faced by customers who rely on gas and oil.

“We supply most of the wood-fired pizzerias in the country… We have specialized molds from France,” he said. “We are only raising the price for our suppliers by 15% – which is a great advantage.”