Government must move on low carbon heat policy, says OFTEC

Government must develop a more inclusive UK heat policy which addresses the key issues of energy efficiency and fuel poverty alongside efforts to reduce carbon emissions from heating in off-grid homes, says OFTEC.

The government’s current focus on renewable heat has failed to deliver the progress required towards achieving the EU 2020 targets and overlooks other simple, more cost-effective alternatives which would encourage greater consumer buy-in – and therefore greater carbon emission reduction.

A lull in government policy development due to the creation of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), focus on Brexit and the consultations currently in progress, also means critical time is ticking past without a clear strategy for industry to work towards.

To date, the government’s main carbon reduction scheme for UK homes, particularly those off the gas grid, has been the domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). But take up has been poor, primarily due to the prohibitive expense of installing renewable technologies.

With an estimated four million UK households* (15% of the total population) living in fuel poverty, and the depth of this poverty much higher in rural areas where most off gas grid homes are located, OFTEC says UK heat policy must also tackle energy efficiency, which means a new focus on measures that consumers can actually afford.

Last month, OFTEC wrote to the Secretary of State, the Rt Hon, Greg Clark MP, suggesting a number of principals which should be adopted into new government policy to provide a joined-up approach that addresses carbon reduction, energy efficiency and fuel poverty simultaneously.

OFTEC CEO Paul Rose comments: “Despite a number of significant voices attempting to influence the heat agenda, there appears no clear consensus yet on a way forward. OFTEC believes the Government should radically change its approach and implement new policies that are practical and affordable to encourage greater buy-in from consumers.

“If the government continues to focus most of its efforts on promoting renewables as the only solution to its ambitious carbon reduction targets for heat, opportunities to also address the major issues of energy efficiency and fuel poverty will be missed – along with the targets.

“While oil prices remain low, off grid households using oil are going to be reluctant to switch to expensive renewable heating options – why would they actively choose higher fuel bills especially given the large proportion of fuel poor in rural areas?

“Oil prices will of course rise in the future but it’s unlikely we’ll see costs increase to anything like the highs we saw in spring 2013. Government must consider this reality when shaping future policy.”

OFTEC’s recommendations to government are based on the following principals:

  • A joined-up approach to address carbon reduction, energy efficiency and fuel poverty, simultaneously
  • Compatible solutions which are easy to install in UK homes without expensive renovation
  • Affordable measures to encourage high levels of participation
  • Incentivise take up of solutions through simple, low cost loans and/or a scrappage payment scheme
  • Reduce bureaucracy to a minimum, encouraging buy-in from all competent installers to promote solutions
  • Pragmatic, value solutions which give the best result for least cost e.g. condensing boilers, controls and insulation rather than costly renewables.

OFTEC has long championed the idea of a universal boiler replacement scheme to help consumers upgrade to modern condensing models as a short term measure to cut carbon output and improve energy efficiency. OFTEC’s independently verified research shows this approach would, for the same government spend, prove five times more effective in reducing carbon emissions than the domestic RHI scheme – whilst cutting energy bills and reducing fuel poverty at the same time.

However, in the longer term, a more complete solution to low carbon heat for the UK’s 1.4 million oil households must be found and OFTEC believes that the solution lies with the fuel rather than the appliance.

Paul Rose concludes: “OFTEC recognises that although a boiler replacement programme is a low cost, workable solution in the short term, we need to think long term. We are working on the development of a bio-oil which will deliver substantial carbon savings for households currently on oil. We believe the fuel will work well in existing boilers with only minor modifications as confirmed by our initial successful field trials in 2010.

“Switching to a low carbon bio-oil would be more practical and affordable for off grid consumers than opting for expensive to run and install heat pump technologies. Government has already recognised the viability of biomethane as an alternative to natural gas, so there is no reason why a bio-oil which delivers similar carbon reduction should not be an equally acceptable solution.

“Carbon reduction is a global issue and we need to find a way to reduce the carbon footprint of our industry. Good work is going on regarding the enhanced combustion of oil, the production of higher efficiency appliances and improved user controls - but this will only take us so far. We need to look at the energy source itself.”

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