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What’s right for oil heated homes?

The UK decarbonisation strategy must embrace measures that not only address emissions reduction, but are affordable for homeowners, boost domestic industry and preserve jobs. This will be more important than ever during a post COVID-19 era according to Oftec chief executive Paul Rose


Oftec chief executive Paul Rose

A number of comparisons have been made between COVID-19 and climate change. Both are global emergencies with major implications for society and whilst one crisis may be immediate, the other remains a critical threat, albeit unravelling at a slower pace.

If there are any lessons learned from the pandemic, it’s that when government and scientists pool resources and galvanise towards the same aim, results can be achieved. 

This same mass effort must now be applied to climate change while there is still time to make considered decisions and minimise the impact on personal and public finances, especially given the economic realities of a post-COVID-19 world.

None of us yet know what the full repercussions of the pandemic will be. But we do know that government borrowings will greatly increase, which could mean higher taxes and, with the expected rise in unemployment, many consumers will struggle for a long time. That’s why now, more than ever, UK decarbonisation strategy must embrace measures that not only address emissions reduction, but are affordable for homeowners, boost domestic industry and preserve jobs.  

The CCC has also highlighted how COVID-19 has intensified the importance of a just transition to low carbon heating and the need for cost effective measures, particularly for the retrofit market.

Costs must be cut

With this in mind, we must question why policy advisers continue to back electrification and the use of heat pumps as the best way to decarbonise domestic heat, particularly for off-gas grid homes.

Air and ground source heat pumps can cost anywhere between £6,000 to £18,000 to install according to the Energy Savings Trust – and that’s in homes with adequate energy efficiency measures already in place. For most of the 97% of oil heated homes in England alone that currently fall into the lowest Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) Bands D-G, the cost will be much higher. 

On top of purchasing a heat pump, these properties’ owners would need to fund additional energy efficiency improvements, such as underfloor heating and solid wall cladding, to ensure their homes were suitable for these low temperature renewable heating technologies. 

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, rural homeowners were living on lower disposable incomes and experiencing significantly deeper fuel poverty levels. The majority also have little or no savings to draw on, while many are in debt, so these households, arguably more than most, need affordable, simple to implement decarbonisation solutions. 

Having committed billions to fighting the coronavirus fire, government subsidies are also less likely to be forthcoming. So, pursuing the current heat pump route might not be viable for most rural homeowners who are among those in most need of support.   

The alternative choice

OFTEC is wholly committed to the UK’s decarbonisation agenda and has drawn on over 25 years’ experience of off-gas grid heating, alongside extensive independent research, to recommend a simpler and more affordable solution to the decarbonisation conundrum for oil heated homes.

In-depth analysis shows that sustainable low carbon liquid fuels offer both consumers and government a cost-effective route to reducing emissions from oil heating – and backed by the right policy, a 100% fossil-free liquid fuel could be in use by 2035. 

This solution doesn’t require an expensive system change or major retrofit work for efficient performance and so is likely to be accepted by consumers whose buy-in is critical to success.

Additional research confirms the supply of biogenic raw material available for fuel production is greater than official estimates suggest and would adequately supply the heat sector. Also, that whichever pricing model is used, a sustainable low carbon liquid fuel offers an economically efficient decarbonisation option for properties that rely on oil heating. 

The liquid fuel supply infrastructure is already mature and a full network of installation and maintenance professionals is on-hand with little additional training required. At a time when UK unemployment is likely to surge, retaining jobs and bolstering home-grown manufacturing is even more crucial.

We know that key decarbonisation decisions are expected to be made this year. We need to make sure these are the right ones. Future policy must support low carbon liquid fuels to give industry the assurance it needs to deliver this compelling solution and provide rural homeowners with the fair, affordable option they urgently need.


3 June 2020


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