Officially it’s Spring – feel the warmth.

27th Mar 2017

 

It’s officially Spring. Living in rural Worcestershire there’s even a hint of buds appearing in the numerous apple orchards near me. And after a conversation with a well-informed Conservative MP this week, what better time to explore rural heating and in particular oil.

I’ve chosen this fuel because it is one that the Government wants to replace. The previous energy Minister in December made it clear that oil-fuelled heating systems were in the firing line; officials I know have referred to the rural off-grid sector as “low-hanging fruit” in the decarbonised heat world.

But I’m not so sure it is that easy to get over a million homes to switch from using oil to electric for their heating and hot water needs. Firstly, it has long been recognised that the rural off-grid housing stock is less energy efficient than its more urban counterparts – nearly half of off-gas grid homes receive one of the three least efficient EPC ratings. According to experts, this makes it harder for electric systems such as heat pumps or storage heaters, which rely on highly insulated buildings to deliver cost-effective space heating.

Secondly, it’s colder in rural Britain than urban settings. According to the Met Office, winter maximum temperatures are 1-2 degrees colder in rural areas and urban settings have 2-3 weeks fewer frost occurrences. So the heating systems have to work harder to achieve the same result.

Then there’s the cost. Setting aside reinforcement of the electric transmission system; costs associated with decarbonising power generation; the costs of new systems to replace the oil appliances – all of which need to be paid by the consumer somehow – (and I haven’t included the costs associated with improving the energy efficiency of the building). The actual running costs are also a significant impediment to change. Now you know I like using stats that are well-sourced, so I went to the consumer group Which, to see what they said on this.

Which quote the cost of oil central heating and hot water to be £425 a year on average compared to £2053 for electric heating. A difference consumers would notice.

Finally, a bit of human behaviour theory. This Conservative MP, well-versed in energy matters, with strong environmental credentials, when challenged on the desirability of replacing oil (including to his AGA) told me that was a step too far. It might be that the low-hanging fruit proves to be harder to reach than we thought.

Best wishes

Mike Foster, CE