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Thu, 21 January 2021

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Off-grid heating industry ‘willing and able’ to deliver more cost-effective route to net zero for rural households

OFTEC

4 min read Partner content

More than 45 key players in the off-grid heating industry have written to the Minister of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) underlining their readiness to deliver a cheaper, more practical solution to decarbonising oil heated homes than the current options backed by government.

Leading household names including Worcester Bosch, Grant Engineering, Aga Rangemaster and Kingspan, are among those pledging commitment to help rapidly deploy a renewable liquid fuel solution to replace oil heating during the 2020s.

The fuel - Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) - offers a near ‘drop-in’ replacement for heating oil (kerosene), avoiding the high installation costs associated with other low carbon heating solutions such as heat pumps and biomass, and promises to cut carbon emissions from oil heated homes by over 90%.

This is greater than the carbon reduction levels currently achieved by electrically powered heat pumps and also solid biomass systems; the two solutions government is proposing for off gas grid homes.

Following successful laboratory tests and European field trials, HVO is now being assessed in homes across the UK. It is expected that these trials will prove conclusively that HVO is a viable option that UK government needs to adopt alongside other renewable heating technologies.

OFTEC, the trade association for the off-grid heating industry, says that supporting an HVO solution though appropriate policies could save rural households and the government many millions of pounds.

OFTEC chief executive Paul Rose explains: “Off gas grid homes in particular present a number of decarbonisation challenges. In Great Britain, over 760,000 oil heated homes are in the least efficient EPC bands E – G making them difficult and expensive to convert to the low carbon technologies government currently supports.

“BEIS figures suggest bringing these energy inefficient homes up to an acceptable Band C would cost on average £12,300 from Band E and £18,900 from Bands F and G. Fitting an air source heat pump would, on average, add a further £10,900 to these figures, a ground source heat pump some £22,500, and a biomass system around £16,100.

“By comparison, converting existing oil heated systems to run on HVO would cost no more than £500 for a working boiler, or £3,000 if the boiler is broken and needs replacing – similar to the current price of a new oil boiler. There would also be no pressing need to upgrade property insulation, although this is of course preferable to reduce running costs and further minimise carbon emissions.”

Mr Rose adds: “It is essential that more affordable route to net zero are offered alongside the current solutions supported by government. This will encourage competition, improve consumer choice and ensure practical options are available for all housing types and incomes. Failing to achieve this could be disastrous for rural households as many will face a completely unaffordable financial burden.”

The UK Citizen Climate Assembly has underlined the need for greater flexibility and choice in a recent report, stressing that carbon reduction measures must work for all income groups and housing types.

Uncertainty over the cost effectiveness of upgrading the local electricity supply network to enable many rural homes to use heat pumps, whilst also catering for increased use of home-charging for electric vehicles, is also raised in the National Grid’s latest Future Energy Scenarios report. At the same time, concerns about how quickly supply chains and installer training can be scaled up to support widespread deployment of heat pumps have also been voiced.

Paul Rose continues: “Heat pumps offer an excellent solution in the right setting and will play an important role in the UK’s transition to net zero. OFTEC is already working with industry partners to help more installers offer heat pumps as an option. However, they are not the right solution for all properties. This is evidenced by the fact that since the domestic Renewable Heat Incentive scheme started over six years ago, only 13,000 of the 1.5 million oil heated homes have migrated to heat pumps - and that’s with considerable incentivisation.

“Hard to treat rural households urgently need solutions they can afford to implement and HVO offers just that. Yet to date, government has shown little interest in this option, instead favouring expensive and difficult to implement technologies. This makes no sense.

“Industry is willing and able to turn an HVO solution into a reality. Yes, there are still questions over the price of a renewable liquid fuel but this could be addressed through government subsidies which would be at a fraction of the level of support needed for other low carbon options.

“With publication of the government’s consultation to reduce emissions from heat in buildings now imminent, this a critical time for action. We urge all rural MPs and other interested members of the House to contact the Minister and back the pressing need to include HVO as one of the supported solutions available to rural households.”

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