With the government including oil heating in its clean growth strategy, Max Halliwell asks how we can help people get away from oil dependency.

Like many in the industry, I was expecting oil heating to be left out of the government’s recent response to the ECO3 Consultation and I think we should all be disappointed that this opportunity to move the country away from carbon-intensive oil as a heating source has been missed.

Everyone now knows that using fossil fuels to heat homes must eventually stop and calls for all off gas properties to move away from fossil fuels during the 2020s are already in place as mentioned in the latest report to parliament by CCC.

So leaving oil heating in the mix does not seem to align well with the government’s clean growth strategy but maybe this is just a result of intense lobbying by the declining oil sector. 

As a nation though, we urgently have to find more sustainable ways of heating our homes if we are to get anywhere near the carbon reduction targets that have been legally committed to. Not forgetting the significant reduction in running costs that modern, renewable ways of heating offer individual homeowners and businesses.

I can only think that the government was also taking into account any possible remedial energy saving measures that many older homes (and particularly those more likely to be on oil) need to implement before being able to truly benefit from low carbon heating.

We are moving rapidly away from fossil fuels and its difficult to see how much longer oil can and will be supported

Max Halliwell Max Halliwell Product Manager for renewable heating

A never ending cycle

The problem with leaving oil as an option though is that we are in danger of creating a never ending cycle.

A lot of oil boiler sales are a result of distressed purchases, where the homeowner is faced with a complete failure or realises that their heating is not going to survive another winter.

We therefore need to get in front of these people long before their heating fails and highlight how adding a renewable heat pump can help them in both the short and the long term.

What I would have hoped to see as part of the current thinking is a programme encouraging homeowners on oil to improve the thermal efficiency of their properties AND plan ahead for the failure of their current oil heating.

When these antiquated, carbon-intensive systems reached the end of their working life, an education or incentive programme would have allowed households to switch to renewables in a much more painless way.

Hybrid option for now

The inclusion of oil heating in the clean growth strategy doesn’t mean that every house with an oil boiler is condemned to always use oil forever and ever though and, as an industry, the renewable sector should be looking at every opportunity to encourage the switchover.

We’ve had a glorious summer but we know how fickle the British weather is and there will be many a household wondering if their oil heating will last another winter.

Now is the time to educate people on the advantages of adding a heat pump to their existing system.

Modern heat pump systems for example will happily work alongside oil boilers with their advanced control system working out when it is best to run the low-carbon heating, or the oil one as this video shows.  This installation in is rural Ayreshire which is not always the warmest part of the UK.

Working in perfect harmony This customer in rural Ayreshire added a heat pump to his off-gas home

Immediate benefits

Adding a heat pump gives the homeowner two immediate benefits:

Firstly, the clever controls on the heat pump will work out when it is most efficient to use either technology, meaning the homeowner gets reliable heating whatever the weather – at the lowest cost to them.

Secondly, if their oil heating is old, or nearing the end of its life, adding a heat pump to do the overwhelming majority of the work could actually help extend the working life of the oil boiler – making that need for a distressed purchase much less likely.

The added advantage is that the homeowner can also claim quarterly payments from the government for every kilowatt of renewable energy produced by their heat pump.

This will not only shorten the payback period for the renewable technology, it could also provide much needed funds to help the homeowner improve the insulation of their property.

And after ECO3?

Although we have just had the ECO3 Consultation, it is pretty clear that we are moving rapidly away from fossil fuels and it is therefore difficult to see how much longer oil can and will be supported beyond this round.

We should therefore take this opportunity to help and encourage homes that need more energy efficiency work to reduce their heat demand in the first place and adding in a hybrid heat pump would be a good place to start.

After all, the evidence is now pretty clear – the future is electric!

Max Halliwell is Product Manager for Mitsubishi Electric's range of renewable heating systems.