As a devolved matter, our local politicians will be deciding on a future Energy Strategy for Northern Ireland in early 2021. To my mind this is a good thing.
Locally elected MLAs making decisions that will affect local people. OK, so they have not always got it right in the past, but given the difference in our fuel mix compared to GB (over 60% of homes here use a liquid fuel) and the ‘rural’ nature of our homes it is likely that we will see a different policy compared to GB.
The good news is that the liquid fuel sector is ably represented as OFTEC has a seat on the NI Heat Strategy Group. This was set up by the Department of Economy to advise the Minister on the proposed new strategy. This group brings together the major fuel groups, consumer interest groups, scholars and energy specialists.
Talks continue, and to date we have developed positive discussion around the potential inclusion of biofuels in the future strategy. Most participants agree that due to the relatively low thermal efficiency of our housing stock and the rural nature of our dwellings that heat pumps are not the panacea to our carbon reduction dilemma.
(70% of bungalows, 44% of terraces, 50% of SDV and 53% of detached houses in Northern Ireland are SAP band D-F and in OFTEC’s opinion, not readily suitable for air source heat pumps without significant cost and disruption).
The group’s view is that a ‘range’ of fuels will make up the new strategy and promotion of a technology-neutral approach is starting to develop with different ‘options’ for on-grid (heat pump and bio gas) and off-grid (biofuels and heat pumps where feasible) appearing.
The group’s curent thinking is that a ‘range’ of fuels will be included in the new strategy and promotion of a technology-neutral approach is starting to develop. Different options are being considered for homes on and off the grid.
For homes with a grid connection the options include heat pumps or a blend of biomethane produced from biogas being introduced through the natural gas pipeline. The gas sector sees the introduction of hydrogen blending as the next step before moving to to the ultimate goal of 100% hydrogen use.
For off grid homes the choices are more limited and some homes may benefit from a heat pump but OFTEC sees the majority of off grid liquid fuelled homes moving across simply to burn a biofuel blend in the short term with the introduction of a 100% biofuel derived from waste within ten years. The group has discussed and will recommend not setting a date for phasing out fossil fuels and is concentrating on delivering cost-effective solutions at lowest cost to the consumer.
We have advised local government that current oil consumers can reduce their carbon emissions from their home heating by up to 91% by using hydro-treated vegetable oil (HVO) while retainingexisting equipment. This is great news and means consumers can reduce their carbon footprint significantly with no capital cost compared to the large sums of money required to retro-fit a house to make it suitable for an air source heat pump. While some are sceptical of biofuels, the reality is that we now have HVO in NI and being burnt by local boiler manufacturers.
We are also in discussions with the NI Housing Executive about a trial in public sector homes. The future for biofuels as a viable and realistic option for decarbonising the liquid fuel sector is real and gathering pace.
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)