Will pragmatism prevail in UK and Irish heat policy?

In both Ireland and the UK, heat pumps are the preferred solution, but the governments face a range of economic and practical challenges. The sector makes the case that low-carbon and renewable liquid fuels are a pragmatic and efficient solution to decarbonise heating in those countries.

In the UK we are currently in a state of policy limbo, while we await the government’s response to the off-gas grid policy consultation it carried out over the winter on 2021-22. The policy proposed:

  • From 2026, households will no longer be able to install a replacement new fossil fuel oil boiler when their existing one breaks down.
  • In most cases, off-grid homes will be expected to install a heat pump. A measure of ‘reasonable practicability’ will be used to determine suitability and whether other low carbon systems should be used instead.
  • From the late 2030s, kerosene cannot be used for home heating.

A lot has changed since the government began formulating its plans, not least the covid pandemic and now a cost-of-living crisis fuelling price inflation.

The government’s proposals were based on two key ideas: that the cost of heat pump installations will fall rapidly, and that most off grid homes are suitable for them without expensive energy efficiency upgrades. However, even before the cost-of-living crisis, the forecast heat pump cost reductions look hard to achieve in older, off-gas grid homes. With high inflation now seemingly baked in, it looks impossible to achieve. The idea that most off-grid homes are suitable is also questionable, being based on highly optimistic data. Worse still, the army of heat pump installers that will be required by 2026 are unlikely to be ready.

Should the government press on with their plans, rural households will face high costs, massive disruption, and very uncertain outcomes, all while on gas grid households can carry on installing fossil fuel boilers until 2035. This is clearly unfair and is likely to become politically sensitive for the government’s traditional supporter base. With a general election looming in the UK in 2024, it would be extremely brave for the Conservative government to press on with the current plans.

The liquid fuel sector would advocate that the overarching objective of any energy policy should be to ensure that the right system is put into the right home. This requires a technology inclusive approach and the key focus to 2030 should be ensuring that certain low-regret pathways remain open, while focusing on removing the most carbon intensive sources of heating. We believe we can do that without serious cost implications for liquid fuel users, by replacing heating oil with renewable liquid fuels such as HVO.

HVO tanker at School 1024x554

Photo caption: The Future Ready Fuel campaign was launched to raise awareness of the renewable liquid Fuel HVO to consumers on oil heating across the UK

More information at Home - Future Ready Fuel


The policy situation in Ireland is broadly similar. Heat pumps are the preferred solution, but the government faces a range of economic and practical challenges, with little evidence demonstrated to date, that they can be solved. To make the alternative case for renewable liquid fuels and coordinate the industry’s response, the Alliance for Zero Carbon Heating (TAZCH) was set up by three industry partners to show how fuels such as HVO can meet the needs of the 37% of Irish households that depend on liquid fuels.

There are signs that the message may be getting through. For example, a representative of the SEAI, speaking at a recent Oireachtas Committee about the potential use of biofuels in home heating, said that some energy upgrades will allow homeowners to continue the use of their oil or gas boilers. He spoke about alternatives to heat pumps, saying that there are “biofuels that could potentially be used.” The SEAI, he said, does “not see the solution being homogenous, that it will only be heat pumps for everybody. There will be solutions required depending on the home and the location. It appears pragmatism may win in the end!

TAZCH will continue its work to make the case for renewable liquid fuels, while also taking the steps necessary to bring them to market, once government gives the green light.