Make the right decarbonisation decision for your off-gas grid home?

19th February 2020

The following is the first in a series of articles that aim to help domestic consumers of oil in the UK and Ireland understand how the decarbonisation of off-gas grid home heating could impact their home and impact the choices they need to make either now or in the future.

UKIFDA represents a distributor membership that delivers over 70% of the domestic heating oil in the UK and Ireland but that doesn’t mean that we support and defend that industry with no regard to common sense, climate change goals or the needs of the consumer. You cannot argue with the need to decarbonise our society. It is likely that this will mean reduced demand for liquid fuels in the future as some households move to other technologies so our Members will look to futureproof their businesses through divergence or expansion. However, we believe that for a vast majority of homes currently using oil, liquid fuels with reducing carbon content should be part of the future mix as they will continue to offer efficient, cost effective solutions without the need for immediate, high cost changes to the fabric of the building.

In the second and third articles of the series we will concentrate on where to get advice on making the right decisions and then outline how the industry is liaising across the supply chain and with government bodies to create a biofuel future for you. We will also outline how you can help us in that work. This first article focuses on the here and now and tries to help consumers find a personal pathway that fits the finances of the household but still contributes to lower carbon emissions in a timescale that meets net zero goals.

“So, I need to change away from oil heating within the next 5 years then do I?” is a regular comment that our Members hear. The short answer is no. There is no legislation in place in either the UK or in Ireland that means that existing users of oil heating need to make any changes. The only two comments made on this subject refer to the building of new homes off the gas grid.

In March 2019, Philip Hammond (then Chancellor of the Exchequer), stated that “all new homes built from 2025 onwards will be heated without fossil fuels”. He made no mention of existing homes. The government’s Clean Growth Plan states: “Our ambition is to phase out the installation of high carbon fossil fuel heating in new and existing off-gas grid residential buildings (which are mostly in rural areas) during the 2020s” but there are no announcements or plans to ban or stop the installation of oil boilers in existing homes.

The Irish Government has said they want to phase out the installation of oil boilers in newly built homes in 2022 but there are no announcements or plans to ban or stop the installation of oil boilers in existing homes.

Even so, industry Trade Associations have been working to show governments that biofuels can play a role in the future. Recent studies (2019) undertaken by trade association OFTEC and their consultants In Perpetuum suggest that biofuels offer the most efficient and cost-effective way to reduce carbon emissions in off-gas grid homes due to the type and fabric of the houses. These studies suggest that retrofitting homes so that they can efficiently operate on newer technologies such as heat pumps could cost up to £11,000 (dependant on type of house) if only reasonable improvements are required or over £11,000 (and up to circa £34,000 in larger homes or even €50,000 in Ireland due to the fabric of the rural homes) for deeper retrofits. The cost of a new condensing boiler and biofuel tank will be around £4,000  – or more for larger homes.

As a result, three of the supply chain Trade Associations have announced transitional plans to be able to accept biofuels at 30% by 2027 and 100% by 2035. We will talk more about these recent studies and strategy work in the third article but the recent press release can be found here

So, what can you do whilst that transitional work takes place? How can you play your part in reducing carbon emissions today? How do you make decisions about your own home when you are not sure if other technologies will be as effective? In the second article we will provide you with information and links to help you analyse your home and review available options (efficiency and costs) but for now, we want to help you think about your home using a simple decision tree diagram

UKIFDA decision tree

By taking this logical approach, homeowners can make decisions that meet the needs of their home, their finances and their conscience as purchasing energy efficiency measures (even small ones such as draft excluders) will reduce energy use and therefore reduce cost and emissions. This means that you can make carbon savings now AND set your home up to be able to accept several different technologies at the end of the lifecycle of your current equipment without the significant cost that will be faced trying to convert a home with low EPC rating to another technology now. It will be up to each industry (including our own) to ensure that they have viable options available to consumers when that review happens.

This approach is gaining momentum. Energy efficiency is key across all heating irrelevant of the technology. The better insulated your home, the less energy you use, the less it costs and the lower your emissions and the more efficient your home the wider the choice of effective technological options. The key becomes what can you afford to do and when without causing people to fall into fuel poverty because they feel forced into making poor decisions quickly.

“But surely this just delays change and allows people to sit and do nothing if they so desire?” Well it will need some legislation to ensure that the balance doesn’t fall too far from forcing poor choices into lethargy or inactivity. Other organisations have started to create ideas in this area and there are some interesting ones such as the recent policy paper from the Sustainable Energy Association which proposes a household carbon measurement whilst recognising that people can only move at rates dictated by finances

In the second article we will outline where you can find the information, support and technical advice to help guide your decision making (our website is also a great sources of information). In the meantime, we suggest you dig out the last EPC rating you have, understand what sort of boiler and tank you have in situ and when it was installed and review your finances. This will allow you to create an outline plan of action and next time we will try and help you complete that plan.

Advice on completing your home’s decarbonisation plan

19th February 2020

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