Decarbonising emissions from oil heated homes - information for policy stakeholders
New thinking is urgently needed to speed up the decarbonisation of oil heated homes. Find out how a change of policy focus can make low carbon heating more accessible and how renewable liquid fuels can deliver a transition to net zero.
Around 1.5 million UK households use oil heating, and, with the exception of Northern Ireland, most are located in rural areas. A further 686,000 mainly rural homes rely on oil heating in the Republic of Ireland. Compared to properties on the gas grid, oil heated homes are much more diverse in character, age, design and construction and collectively pose a unique and difficult decarbonisation challenge.
- 97% of oil heated homes in Great Britain are energy inefficient (EPC Band D - G).
- 46% were built pre-1919 with hard to insulate solid walls.
- 51% are detached and typically larger than average.
- Many have valued period features or planning constraints.
- Oil-heated homes in the RoI share a similar range of challenges and constraints.
Understanding rural households is also vital
Just as oil-heated housing stock is unique, so are the challenges faced by the families that live in these homes:
- Typically, lower disposable incomes and significantly deeper levels of fuel poverty.
- Many are low to middle income households with little or no savings.
- Average unsecured household debt is currently over £14,000 - a record high.
- Households who have efficient traditional heating will see little improvement to their quality of life to be motivated to invest in low carbon alternatives.
- It's inevitable that the COVID-19 crisis, will further affect these households' ability to invest in energy efficiency measures and low carbon heating systems.
It is a sad reality that rural households on the lowest incomes usually live in the worst housing so will inevitably face the highest costs to improve their homes. This includes a high proportion of oil-heated households.
Currently, government only supports a narrow range of expensive low carbon heating solutions: heat pumps and solid fuel biomass boilers.
Of these, the solution most frequently advocated for decarbonising oil-heated homes is heat pumps, a low temperature electric system. While it is possible to install a heat pump successfully in virtually any building, it can be extremely costly and disruptive to retrofit many older buildings. This means that without generous financial support from government, consumers will be slow to embrace heat pumps - particularly those living in hard to treat oil-heated homes.
This is clearly demonstrated by the slow take up of support schemes such as the domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). After six years of substantial payments, the installation rate of supported technologies has hardly improved - and installation costs for some technologies have risen steeply.
If households can't or won't act, carbon reduction targets will not be achieved. If more draconian measures are used and too great a burden is placed on households, this could damage much-needed support for decarbonisation.
Simple, less costly solutions are far more likely to be successful than expensive or disruptive ones. Heat policy needs an urgent rethink.
The only way progress can be made on decarbonising heat from rural homes is to bring down costs and increase consumer choice. This can be achieved through policies that create a competitive market. Simply regulating future carbon emission targets for heating systems would give any technology that can meet these an opportunity to compete.
This regulatory clarity will provide the confidence needed across the heating industry to increase investment in research and development, drive innovation and ultimately provide consumers with better solutions, more choice and, most importantly, lower prices.
We know that capital cost is a major barrier to households embracing low carbon heating which is why we favour changing the fuel, rather than switching to a completely different heat technology.
Renewable liquid fuels manufactured from waste material could provide a drop-in replacement for heating oil. We believe that, with the right policy signals from government, these fuels can quickly be brought to market and have the potential to virtually
remove emissions from the UK's 1.5 million and RoI's 686,000 oil-heated homes.
- If you are living in a home heated by oil, take a look at our information page for oil heating customers, which will help you understand more about the changes to your heating system proposed by government.
- Got a question? Check out our FAQ on renewable liquid fuels.
- Want to help with our campaign? - our resource page has templates you can download and share.
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