A mammoth task but liquid fuel industry is up for the challenge

OFTEC welcomes inclusion of biofuels as energy strategy consultation seeks roadmap to net zero emissions...

HVO is already available in Northern Ireland and global supply is increasing fast.

When it comes to decarbonising home heating in Northern Ireland, it’s not a case of one size fits all, instead it is going to take a mammoth effort from all sectors of society to achieve net zero greenhouse gasses by 2050.

At OFTEC we welcome a major first step in this journey with Economy Minister, Diane Dodds launching a public consultation on a new Northern Ireland energy strategy. We are also pleased to see the inclusion of biofuels in the consultation as an option for the 500,000 homes in NI using liquid fuelled heating systems.

The Energy Strategy was released at the end of March to the public outlining ideas to achieve net zero carbon and affordable energy in Northern Ireland. We would urge everyone to get involved and have their say on this very important issue. 

The consultation has proposed two broad approaches to phasing out fossil fuel heating oils for off-grid consumers. In one of these scenarios, oil boilers would be banned, which would place a significant emphasis on heat pumps for off-grid properties.  

The second of these options continues to allow oil boilers for properties and would instead focus on phasing out the sale of fossil fuels. This option would give consumers a range of options for their home heating including biofuels and biomass in addition to heat pumps. 

It has been estimated that bringing homes already heated by liquid fuel up to an acceptable level of insulation would cost on average between £12,300 – £18,900 depending on the type of property. The subsequent average installation cost of an air source heat pump would add approximately an additional £11,000.

OFTEC believes that consumer choice must lie at the heart of any new energy strategy and given the costs of retrofitting above, believe many will opt to retain their liquid fuelled boiler and decarbonise their fuel instead. 

We have always said that heat pumps are a great option for new and well insulated homes but over 50% of houses here are below SAP level C and not very thermally efficient. These homes will require extensive and expensive remedial work to bring them up to the optimum level for heat pumps to become a viable option.

The consultation has challenged the oil industry in Northern Ireland to provide a credible pathway to net zero by 2050 involving biofuels. This work must provide robust and comprehensive information on current and future costs and supply. We are certainly up for the challenge.

A change to biofuels utilising existing equipment is an easy, low cost and non-controversial option. OFTEC’s aim is to enable all existing oil heating users to convert to a 100% sustainable fossil-free liquid fuel by 2035, well ahead of governments’ 2050 decarbonisation targets.

We will work together with the distribution sector to deliver a clear and concise plan outlining how biofuels can lead the way to reaching energy targets. Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO) offers a near drop-in replacement for heating oil at a fraction of the cost of installing an air source heat pump and an immediate reduction of around 88% in carbon emissions. 

HVO is already available in Northern Ireland and global supply is increasing fast. With the right policy support, UK industry could scale up domestic production and deployment to meet the heating requirements of rural homes well within the net zero timeframes. We’re already seeing some refineries move away from fossil fuels in favour of creating new renewable fuels.

We know the lifespan of fossil fuels is limited but in the short to medium term consumers should not be put off investing in new heating systems which run on liquid fuels as fossil fuels will still be in the marketplace for a number of years and the majority of appliances sold today are already biofuel compatible. 

In the longer term we see HVO playing an important role in helping Northern Ireland meet its net zero commitments. Hitting that target will be a mammoth task which will involve all departments of government and all sectors of society pulling together, but the liquid fuel industry is ready to play its part.

We think it’s an exciting time and predict hugely interesting developments over the next 10-15 years. HVO is only the start and we can envisage home heating liquid fuels being derived from other waste materials such as used tyres and plastics as technology moves forward to address the needs of a low carbon society.

Local industry will engage and help deliver solutions here in Northern Ireland which could well  be different from the rest of Europe but will meet Governments’ requirement for a speedy reduction in the use of fossil fuels.

David Blevings, OFTEC Ireland Manager on
T: +44 (0)28 9186 2916

Sean McBride, Ireland Representative on
T: +44 (0)7540 502 304 (NI) or +353 (0)87 241 7041 (RoI)