OFTEC committed to helping government achieve its goals for off-grid homes

In June 2019 the Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar, published the Government’s ambitious plans to tackle ‘Climate Breakdown’.

The proposal under the National Development Plan (NDP) is to move 170,000 liquid fuelled homes to air source heat pumps (ASHP) by 2030 (in addition to a targeted 200,000 in new build). However, the CAP suggests that around 400,000 homes currently heated by fossil fuels (oil/peat/gas) would need to be ‘converted’ to ASHP by 2030 to meet the carbon targets – a huge challenge!

Mr Varadkar was careful to play down elements such as increasing carbon taxes and the overhaul of building regulations as simply “nudging people and businesses to make the right decisions.” But opposition parties have been quick to criticise a lack of detail on key elements such as transport and costings.

What’s OFTEC’s position?

OFTEC fully supports Ireland’s transition to low carbon heat and is committed to playing an active role in helping government achieve its goals for off-grid homes.

However, over 90% of Ireland’s off-grid properties are below BER C1 and therefore less suitable for moving to ASHP without significant disruption and expense. Recent research indicates that it can cost on average €40,000 to €60,000 to upgrade a house to make it suitable for a heat pump (https://superhomes.ie/) and we believe that homeowners will be reluctant to spend this amount of money on a new heating system if their current system is working.

Government grants for heat pumps and insulation fall far short of the average cost of retrofitting a typical Irish house. So, in our opinion, it’s simply not economically viable to propose the widespread replacement of oil boilers (or indeed natural gas boilers) with heat pumps.

We believe that a more realistic solution is to decarbonise the liquid fuel and continue to utilise the existing heating systems that are in 686,000 homes in Ireland.

Building on successful field trials of FAME based fuel, OFTEC proposes phasing in a low carbon liquid fuel to replace kerosene during the 2020’s. This realistic approach will see an increase in the blend of sustainable biofuel with kerosene, until a 100% biofuel is reached after several years. Alongside this, we recommend introducing a scheme to encourage consumers to upgrade older, non-condensing boilers to condensing models, install extra insulation and use more sophisticated heating controls to gain higher levels of energy efficiency and carbon reduction.

Is this cost effective?

Crunch the numbers and moving all 686,000 liquid fuelled homes to a 30% biofuel blend by 2030 would deliver over twice the carbon savings of moving 170,000 oil fired homes to ASHP (the NDP’s current strategy) at a significantly lower cost.

It’s all still to play for as the policy decisions made over the next couple of years will have major ramifications on how we heat our homes in Ireland for the next century. We would advocate a liquid biofuel is the answer – providing a cost-effective, seamless transition for users – let’s hope government listens to the voice of reason!

The Climate Action Plan 2019 (CAP) includes major policy shifts to enable a rapid decarbonisation up to 2030 which would deliver a pathway to net zero emissions by 2050. This includes the following targets:
• 1 million electric vehicles on Irish roads
• retrofitting 500,000 homes
• 70% renewable electricity generation
• a ban on oil and gas heating in new builds by 2022/2025 (respectively)
The plan will be backed by annual increases in carbon tax which raises concerns over its impact on the fuel poor. The plan also stipulates a study into how and when the replacement of oil and gas boilers in existing dwellings (domestic and commercial) could commence.

Can we do it

We are asking government to back liquid biofuels which support the move to decarbonisation whilst retaining energy security and diversity in the mix.

Our Vision Document, circulated to all TDs in Ireland, states that the liquid fuel sector wants an active role in the transition to a decarbonised economy and offers a cost-effective solution addressing both carbon reduction and energy efficiency for 686,000 off grid houses.