The National Rural Conference 2024

The Rural Services Network (RSN) is thrilled to announce the National Rural Conference 2024, taking place from 16th to 19th September. This virtual event, accessible via Zoom, is the premier gathering for senior officers, members, policymakers, and rural service professionals.
Further information and booking details can be found here

It’s time for a technology inclusive approach to heating rural homes - National Rural Conference 2022 Feature Article

OFTEC, an organisation with decades of experience in the rural heating industry, sets out the challenges and solutions for decarbonising off-gas-grid heating.

The current cost of living crisis has driven the goal of achieving net zero down the list of worries for most households. That’s hardly surprising given the need to deal with the very real challenges of the here and now. However, for rural households, it should be high on the list of concerns because the government is planning a green heating revolution. Rural households are set to bear the brunt as the guinea pigs for its plans. It means that, if you don’t use mains gas, replacing your heating system could soon become very expensive indeed.

In principle, there’s nothing wrong with the drive to lower carbon emissions. The unprecedented temperatures we’ve seen across the UK this summer underline the need to act fast. The problem is not with the goal, but rather with how the government plans to achieve it.

Decarbonising the emissions from heating is a difficult task. To be fit for purpose, a successful decarbonisation policy must be fair and affordable for consumers. The government is committed to using heat pumps, a type of electric heating that relatively few UK households currently use. To build the market for these appliances, it plans to begin the deployment in new homes - which makes sense - and existing homes off the gas grid – which absolutely doesn’t.

Under the proposals, from 2026 most households that currently use oil, LPG or solid fuel for heating will need to install a heat pump if their existing boiler fails. If you live in a modern home, with reasonable insulation, this should be relatively straightforward. If not, you may be in for a nasty shock.

The cost of an air source heat pump system (the most popular type) is around £11,000. However, rural homes which tend to be older and poorly insulated often need extra work for the technology to be suitable. This could include a hot water tank, larger radiators or insulation which means the price can easily top £20,000. This is a lot more than a replacement boiler.

The government is gambling that the cost of heat pumps will fall sharply. However, the current economic situation makes this very unlikely. Worse still, new heat pump installer businesses are less likely to enter the market when trading conditions are tough, so support for the new technology may be patchy at best.

This means that rural households could face very high costs and significant disruption from 2026, should they need to replace their heating system. That would be hard to swallow, even if everyone was in the same boat, but households on the gas grid won’t be affected until 2035, a situation that clearly treats rural households unfairly.

OFTEC is a trade association and technician registration provider focussed on the heating technologies used off the gas grid, so we understand how this will impact rural households. We think it’s essential the government revisits its plans and we advocate policies that are technology-inclusive, with support for all viable low carbon heating solutions to give consumers a fair choice.

We think one of these should be renewable liquid fuels and we have worked with a range of industry partners to show how this could be achieved. This approach, currently focussed on a fuel called Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO), can reduce emissions from homes that use oil heating by around 90%, and conversion typically costs less than £500.

It’s an affordable, hassle-free solution and we’ve already demonstrated the solution works after converting nearly 150 properties from homes, businesses, churches to schools from oil heating to HVO as part of a demonstration project through our Future Ready Fuel campaign. Extensive research also shows there is more than enough HVO supply to meet demand across the heating, transport and aviation sectors where the fuel is also being tested.

The industry is ready and waiting. It now only requires government support to make HVO a commercial reality. Alongside liquid fuels, OFTEC now offers training and registration for heat pump installers, enabling our industry to provide rural households with a range of heating options and a genuine choice in how they go green.

To find out more visit oftec.org

Photo caption 1: Malcolm Farrow, Head of Public Affairs at OFTEC
Photo caption 2: Nearly 150 properties have converted to HVO as part of a demonstration

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