Price of heating oil soars in middle of Northern Ireland heatwave
Demand for home heating oil may have plummeted as Northern Ireland basks in the sunshine - but prices are soaring, according to the consumer watchdog.
Even though Northern Ireland has been sweltering in Mediterranean temperatures, the price of oil is 39% higher than this time last year, the Consumer Council revealed.
Price comparison services are showing rises of up to £74 for a 500-litre delivery over the past year.
In July 2017, according to the Consumer Council, the average cost of a 500-litre oil delivery was £188.70 - but today that figure sits at £261.80.
And economist Andrew Webb from business advisory firm Baker Tilly Mooney Moore said the current hot spell would have little impact on prices because of activity in the global market.
He said: "Prices have been rising and are probably at their highest for quite some time.
"We're back at levels that we would start to get concerned about."
Richard Williams, head of energy policy for the Consumer Council, said: "Home heating oil prices fluctuate due to a number of factors, making it difficult to predict.
"The price can be less expensive in the summer as demand is lower during hot weather. However, other factors including changes to the price of crude oil, refining the product, marketing and distribution, and competition from suppliers also influence the price.
"The price of home heating oil has been steadily rising over the last year and is currently higher than it was in January 2018.
"Home heating oil is also 39% more expensive today than it was at the same time last year."
One home heating oil provider told the Belfast Telegraph that "supply and demand of home heating oil during a heatwave in Northern Ireland was a drop in the ocean" when it came to factors influencing prices.
The Consumer Council is encouraging users to shop around by checking its weekly oil survey, which currently has price differentials of up to £20 per delivery.
In its most recent statement, the Northern Ireland Oil Federation anticipated the cost of a barrel of oil would rise to $80 (£60.50) this summer. Today it sits at $77 (£58.23).
David Blevings at the Federation said: "We are seeing an increase in local fuel prices.
"This is a result of inflated crude and wholesale fuel prices due to the current round of sabre rattling in the Middle East.
"Any sign of discontent in this region is usually bad news for oil prices as the threat of reduced supply spooks the market and pushes prices up."
He said that with countries threatening to tighten supplies further, prices could go higher.
Esmond Birnie, senior economist at the Ulster University economic policy centre, said there were "winners and losers".
He said: "It is possible the heatwave will lead to higher measured economic output in both Northern Ireland and the UK.
"High temperatures in 2003 led to greater use of electricity and hence a spike in industrial output growth and growth of GDP.
"This might be regarded as a rather notional gain to economic activity because it does not improve wellbeing."
He added: "Parts of retail will gain and parts are likely to see consumption reduced."