VIENNA, Austria — Long underwear in South Korea, extra sweaters in U.S. classrooms, rising sales of wood-burning stoves in Denmark. Winter is here, and because of a spike in heating costs, people from Tokyo to Toledo are looking for alternatives to oil.
Heating oil and other energy prices are up to 40 percent higher than three years ago. That translates into bad news for Northern Hemisphere consumers whose budget is already stretched by a summer of high prices at the gasoline pumps — and into opportunities for those who cash in on the cold.
In South Korea, where a vigorous save-energy campaign is under way, the clothing industry expects a 10 percent rise in profits from sales of warm apparel. But not only manufacturers see an opportunity.
“We have seen a lot of thefts of heating oil … stolen from private properties and construction sites,” says Peter Josephsen, a police officer in Ringkoebing, 140 miles west of Copenhagen.
Henrik Sloth, who sells wood-burning stoves and fireplaces in Roskilde, also west of the Danish capital, says sales are “smoking hot.” And Denise Henry, whose family deals in firewood in France’s Bourgogne region, says “the phone is ringing off the hook.”
The high-tech heating industry in Austria also has benefited. One company, EVN Fernheizwerk, recently hosted a Japanese delegation that had brought with it tons of wood waste by ship and rail, and said the visitors were impressed that so much energy could be produced from what is normally thrown away in Japan.
Energy costs are grist for publicity stunts, such as the one at a Tokyo fashion show that featured the “Warm-Biz Bra,” complete with reheatable gel pads and a sensor that flashes and buzzes if the room temperature goes above 68 Fahrenheit. Triumph International, the European lingerie company that created the bra, has no plans to market it.
In Germany, unusually warm weather had been leaving some people cold. The country’s petroleum marketing board estimated a few weeks ago that household heating oil tanks were only about 60 percent full, with customers apparently waiting for prices to fall. Germans can even sign up to receive text-messaged tips on where to buy bargain-price oil.
The South Korean government is urging people to wear long underwear and is running a campaign called Nan 2018 — the Korean word for “I am” that is also the Chinese character meaning warmth. 2018 refers to the goal of setting thermostats between 64 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
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