There is a lot of talk about energy at present and I have spoken on several occasions about the immediate work that must be done to address the rising cost of fuel. In addition to this short-term piece, however, there is some work that needs to be done to build our energy security and resilience to such price spikes in future, and to help us to progress towards our climate goals.
As much of Devon is rural and therefore off the gas grid, with 12% of Devon using oil heating as opposed to 5% in the whole of the UK, we face some different challenges to other parts of the country when it comes to making our energy supply more eco-friendly. It is important to understand what the Government’s plans would mean for areas such as ours with a higher proportion of rural, and also listed homes.
The Government has announced plans to start phasing out the use of fossil fuels in off-grid homes from 2026, and larger businesses from 2024. As it stands, the proposals would mean thousands of off-grid consumers would be prevented from replacing their oil or LPG boilers in only a few years’ time, while over 1 million natural gas boilers will continue to be fitted annually in on gas grid homes, perhaps until 2035.
Air source heat pumps are offered as the primary alternative for home heating by Government, but they are currently extremely expensive. It is estimated that average installation cost for an oil heated UK home will be £20,500. The Government has introduced measures to reduce the cost of the Heat Pump itself, but this does nothing to mitigate the other costs associated with their installation which can include substantial extra insulation to reach the efficiency of other heating solutions, and potentially having to fit significantly bigger radiators. For some listed properties, these retrofits may not even be possible.
Octopus Energy has recently advised that they will be targeting post-1970s, 3-4 bed semi-detached homes as part of their heat pump roll-out strategies. This seems a far more sensible place to start the mass roll-out of these systems, rather than to target rural off-grid homes. I will therefore be pushing for Ministers to take a similar approach which does not put rural consumers in the difficult position of being guinea pigs for a policy that will be particularly hard to implement here.
I don’t believe that the Government’s current plans have given enough consideration to the alternative options which may be better suited to rural and off-grid homes. Bio-LPG is a more environmentally friendly alternative to standard LPG and can be used with the same boiler for those already using LPG, which would significantly minimise cost and upheaval. It is also already being used to heat some homes here.
Hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) is a fascinating option composed of treated waste vegetable oil from homes and businesses. To harness this technology and make use of waste oil could be a game-changer. To adjust an oil boiler to HVO ready costs £500.
Though renewable liquid fuels are significantly more expensive than their fossil fuel counterpart, these fuels are already used in vehicles where they benefit from a price reduction to the consumer of over 80p per litre through a Department for Transport scheme. It seems logical that a scheme with similar benefits is introduced for the home heating market.
Hydrogen boilers can be used to heat homes while only producing water as a by-product. A hydrogen boiler is similar to a natural gas boiler. They are still at prototype stage, but manufacturers are confident they won’t cost any more than the equivalent natural gas boilers.
It seems clear to me that the Government needs to look at policies which make a wider range of heating options affordable. They also should rethink their policy to target rural homes first- I will be raising this with Ministers.
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