The future of liquid fuels in Ireland

By David Blevings, OFTEC Ireland Manager – There are around 1.2million oil-fired homes in Ireland and the market and legislative framework is different to that operating in GB. While we have a building control requirement in Northern Ireland (if a structural alteration takes place such as a new low-level flue) there is no requirement for any notification in the Republic and limited input from local enforcement in both jurisdictions in replacement boiler scenarios.

These varying requirements present challenges and, at the same time, opportunities in the different regions! There appears to be a low-cost mentality amongst both the installer fraternity and consumers alike and, without enforcement, jobs are often completed without building control inspection/application/approval in Northern Ireland and with no, or minimal legislative input in ROI.

This means the price for an installation of a replacement boiler or tank in Ireland is driven by a largely unregulated market where the lowest price usually wins. This is good news initially for the consumer but without power flushing (magnetic cleansing), installation of zoning and controls, filter etc., they are probably NOT getting an energy efficient product that will save them money and give them a ‘hassle free’ heating experience.

Frustrated householders

OFTEC frequently receives calls from frustrated householders where installers have had to go back to their homes three or four times after a new boiler has been installed, due to radiators not heating, pumps seizing, water leaking, burners failing, or other common, avoidable problems. The most common reason for these calls is that the system and tank was not cleaned properly before the new boiler was installed – the cheap option is to remove the old boiler and slot in the new one – simple!

There is more reason than ever for our industry to step up and offer a first class, compliant installation experience to retain liquid fuel customers. We now face a real challenge because the governments are beginning to push consumers towards low carbon heating. If your customer has a bad experience with liquid fuel (install/service or running cost) they are ripe for switching to an alternative heating or cooking system. If this happens, you are unlikely to see them return to liquid fuel.

As we are all aware, the driving force behind this push to a low carbon society is the requirement that, by 2050, the EU should cut greenhouse gas emissions to 80% below 1990 levels. This is now shaping up into policy – the UK government is consulting on how to achieve its ‘Clean Growth Strategy’ (CGS) which makes it clear that a low carbon future is required and fossil fuelled boilers are not acceptable post 2035.
As the climate change agenda is applicable to both the UK and Ireland, it is likely that the devolved regions will seek to implement policies that reflect those in the CGS.

Ireland’s government vision for a transition to low carbon heat is set out in ‘Ireland’s Transition to a Low Carbon Energy Future 2015-2030’ and is supported by the National Mitigation Plan. Key features of the plan are driven by a significant increase in energy efficiency and greater use of renewables and electrification of heating. This paper envisages an 85% reduction in the use of oil, as well as the complete phasing out of coal and peat for heating by 2030!

So, what is the answer?

The government must meet its targets or face substantial fines. If the liquid fuel sector is to survive, we need to offer a low carbon fuel for consumers and this is something the industry must address through innovation, creation and diversification.
The search for a replacement is already underway and we may adopt solutions that are currently being developed for use in the road transport and aviation industry (which is the other main user of kerosene).

The changeover to low carbon heating will take time, but there is a clear line in the sand and the oil heating industry needs to step up to the mark – with appliance and ancillary manufacturers, installers, service technicians and OFTEC all having a role to play. Without innovation, a new liquid fuel or blend, better installation standards and increased customer satisfaction with their liquid fuelled appliances, our industry could face a serious decline during the 2020s.

So, let’s embrace the change. Air source heat pumps cannot deliver the domestic heat load for all homes in Ireland – so there is a clear need for a liquid fuel and a golden opportunity for us to be part of the solution. Consumers like liquid fuel… they are used to it and will not be prepared to spend thousands of pounds/euros on the retrospective insulation measures (especially solid wall) needed to use heat pumps.

Liquid fuel clearly has a role to play in the future energy mix, so let’s all work together to make it a success.