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Winter (holiday) is coming

Ill. foto: Colourbox

Do you know the historical reason why we have winter holiday in Norway? Hint: It’s about heating – and money.

During the cold winter of 1942, amid the German occupation of Norway, temperatures were exceptionally low. Schools at that time relied on costly fuels like coke and coal for heating, representing a financial strain. In response, the German authorities made the decision to temporarily close schools for a week during the coldest period, to save costs. In our neighboring country, and before the war, the Swedish government had also implemented a week of school holidays as a cost-saving strategy in winter.

Post-war, the link between physical activity and well-being also gained importance. Recognizing the health benefits associated with engaging in sports and outdoor activities during the winter, the concept of “sport holidays” emerged. In Sweden the name has remained “sportlov”, in Norway the week is known as “vinterferie”. This understanding eventually laid the foundation for the winter holidays as a dedicated period for both recreation and recuperation.

Norwegians leave tracks

Activity at place of residence from telecom data in week 8 compared to previous weeks (week 1 – 7) as difference in %. Figure: NILU

Our dependency on mobile phones has become an integral part of our daily life, shaping how we communicate, how we work and how we navigate the world. Therefore, the use of telecom data can provide useful insights on human dynamics and mobility flows.

Telia Crowd Insights provides information derived from anonymized and aggregated mobile phone locations. The dataset includes activity (home, work, other and total), and routed trip split in transport mode, and visit. More information on Telia Crowd Insights can be found in https://business.teliacompany.com/crowd-insights

Using Telia Crowd Insights for Oslo and Viken, for the period between January 2019 and today, we have evaluated mobility and activity over time. What we have learned gives us insight into what will most likely happen during the coming winter holidays.

Go west! Life is peaceful there…

In 2023, week 8 stands out from its predecessors (week 1-7). In Oslo and surrounding areas, the activity drop is equivalent to 100 000 people leaving. This is a large chunk of the population – where did they all go?

The answer lies in the mountainous part of western part of Buskerud, formerly known as Viken, formerly known as Buskerud (yes, we know). There, activity increased by up to 150%. Areas with ski resorts such as Geilo, Ål, Hemsedal and Norefjell account for much of this, but it is not enough to consider all the disappearances. Towards Sweden, some municipalities like Hvaler also got increased activity. The common denominator: high cabin density. Norwegians truly love their “hytte”!

Playa! Playa de Mallorca

Skiing and cabin trips represent a substantial portion of winter holiday movements in Norway. Still, some opt to travel south, for instance to Spain, in search of milder weather. Some also leave to explore alternative winter destinations for a change of scenery, such as the Alps. This can be seen if we use telecom data to look at trips to and from Gardermoen Airport.

In 2023, in the weeks before winter holidays (from week 1 to and including week 6), the weekly sum of trips to Gardermoen was about 175 000. In week 7, the number of trips rose to 190 000, and in week 8 to 213 000. In the following weeks, the number was around 200 000 trips.

The winter holiday week is set locally and is either week 8 or 9. In Oslo and most surrounding municipalities in Viken it is week 8. Thus, we can estimate that the around 35 000 additional trips to Gardermoen from Oslo and Viken are done to fly somewhere.

Trips to Gardermoen based on telecom data from Telia Crowd Insights from January to March 2023. Figure: NILU

So, does winter holiday still save energy?

The origin of the winter holiday week was to save energy by not having to heat schools. With continued high electricity prices there may still be a need to keep saving energy. So, is our winter holiday of today still an energy saving phenomenon?

For the main part, heating in both schools and in homes is often left on regardless of if we are there or not. Schools today are heated by electricity, whereas most homes are mainly heated by electricity (85%) with an added touch of wood burning (15%).

Many effects of winter holidays are hard to capture accurately, such as changes in daily routine, lower congestion levels in the city that leads to more efficient transport. However, there are several things we can quantify:

In terms of energy, a turn-return route flight for a family of 4 to Mallorca is equivalent to an electrical consumption of about 2000 kWh. For most houses, this is more than the monthly use of electricity.

If the same family goes on a round trip from Oslo to Hemsedal, the number is 80 kWh for an electric vehicle, and somewhat more for an internal combustion engine.

In terms of CO2 emissions, the Mallorca trip is about 2150 kg CO2 in direct emissions, whereas the round trip to Hemsedal is around 50 kg CO2 emissions.

While burning wood has no fossil CO2 emissions, the telecom data analysis lets us estimate the wood consumption in the cabins during winter holiday. During week 8, as cabin heating mainly relies on wood burning, approximately 28 000 tons of wood will be burned in cozy cabin fireplaces. Wood consumption in cabins is higher than in residential houses, – when occupied.

Norwegian cabin activity peaks during Easter and Winter holiday week. By leaving for the mountains, you may not save any energy, but you will contribute to some much needed relief for the urban areas. They have struggled with high air pollution levels due to wood burning for a few months now.

Daily wood consumption for heating in residential areas and cabins. Winter holidays and Easter week are marked for reference. Figure: NILU

In conclusion, and as Ylvis says: “Now, why don’t you come to my cabin?”