Liquid fuel “is a fuel fit for future domestic heating”

Before looking forward it does no harm to look back – from centuries of using coal or peat on the humble open fire in Ireland, fast forward to the second half of the 20th century when central heating became the preferred option (for those who could afford it). In the 1970/80’s oil was the fuel of choice and thousands of solid fuel ‘link up’ systems became the norm in Ireland. Natural gas was introduced in the Republic (initially from Kinsale) in the 1980s, and finally in Northern Ireland in 1996.

Liquid fuel is still the premier choice for home heating in the Republic of Ireland with 40% of homes using oil (686,000), compared to 34% using natural gas. Similarly, in Northern Ireland 68% of homes (530,000) use oil as their main fuel.

Looking at progress, an oil boiler installed in Ireland in the 1970’s or 1980’s offered around 70% efficiency, and, in many cases was fitted to a single pipe system with no separate hot water, zoning or thermostatic control. Today’s condensing boilers offer efficiencies of up to 94%, with zoning and thermostatic control the norm and consumers can even control the heating from their smartphone!

Many of our buildings are now better insulated and more comfortable. Building regulations push to further increase energy efficiency and bring down actual heating demand. Now customers can install smaller, more efficient condensing appliances.

To meet governments’ future climate obligations, the twin priorities are to further reduce our demand for heat and to supply that heat with technologies that are smarter, cleaner, highly efficient and, increasingly, from renewable energy sources. This presents many choices and challenges – especially for the off-grid sector. UK and Ireland’s current focus is on moving domestic home heat to electric heating (air source heat pump) but for older properties this would be extremely costly. Over 90% of the Republic’s off-grid properties are below BER C1 – these homes are not suitable for moving to ASHP without significant disruption and expense for the homeowner. Recent research indicates that costs for upgrading a house to make it suitable for a heat pump could be in the region of €40,000 to €60,000. (www.superhomes.ie)

Recent research indicates that costs for upgrading a house to make it suitable for a heat pump could be in the region of €40,000 to €60,000

At OFTEC, we believe that electric heating for existing off-grid housing stock is impractical due to the prohibitive costs. While grants are available, they are insufficient and would still require substantial cash input from consumers. Most upgrades or replacements happen when the current heating appliance breaks down, indicating that heating upgrades are not high on consumers ‘wish-lists’.

So, what is the answer?
Simply put, OFTEC believes the solution is to decarbonise the fuel and utilise the existing heating systems that are already in 1.2million homes across Ireland. Further efficiencies could be gained by promoting better use of controls and additional insulation. This would cost only a fraction of the expense of making a house ready for an air source heat pump.

For example, if all 686,000 homes in the Republic moved to a B30 biofuel (30% FAME/70% Kerosene mix) the carbon saving would be twice the size of DCCAE’s proposal to move 170,000 oil fired homes to air source heat pump by 2030. In addition, the cost benefit of replacing existing oil boilers with new condensing oil boilers is nearly twice as good as replacement with air source heat pumps, assuming fabric thermal upgrades in both cases.

So, is OFTEC anti heat pumps?
Not at all! A heat pump can be a very effective heating solution for a modern, well insulated house or for houses that currently have more expensive heating systems (such as solid fuel or electric).
However, it does not make economic sense to propose the widespread replacement of oil boilers with heat pumps.

So, in conclusion, the liquid fuelled sector has moved forwards in leaps and bounds in terms of efficiency, comfort and controllability in the last 40-50 years. A new biofuel blend would reduce carbon emissions and help government reach its targets, making us just as relevant in the 21st century.