Friday 23rd February marked Fuel Poverty Awareness day, during which organisations and individuals across the country highlighted the challenges faced by families unable to afford even the most basic of living essentials; heat[1]. As the UK continues to experience one of the harshest winters for several years, the impact of cold, inefficient and expensive to run homes can be devastating. A recent report by E3G found that the UK ranks second from bottom in terms of excess winter deaths, when the heating season length is taken into account, with only Ireland performing worse. The majority of these deaths are linked to the avoidable circumstance of living in a cold home.

NIBE Energy Systems believes that everyone should have access to clean, affordable and reliable heat.[2] Renewables are the only real energy-secure future proof solution to heating our homes, however encouraging consumers to switch to low carbon solutions can be challenging. To understand the barriers, in co-ordination with the Department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy, we asked our installers what they thought the barriers to heat pump uptake were. Almost 140 people responded to the survey, of which 43% highlighted cost as a significant barrier for heat pump deployment. A key theme throughout the responses was the fall in oil price over the last couple of years and consumers relying on low oil prices to heat their homes. Respondents stated that “oil is seen as the cheaper option” and that “oil seems to be favoured while oil prices are currently so low”.

Whilst the low oil price over the three years has provided some rest bite for off-grid households, since August the oil price has rebounded, and prices have risen[3]. Prices peaked to those seen in 2014[4], with the average price for a litre of heating oil increasing by 24% between November 2016 and November 2017. This price volatility makes it increasingly difficult for households to budget for their energy requirements and it can leave households opting to not use their heating when prices unexpectedly rise, particularly in the winter months. For households at risk of fuel poverty, this unpredictability can be devastating.

Switching these homes to clean, renewable heating systems is a quick win in terms of reducing carbon emissions, lowering fuel bills and improving comfort. As part of the Clean Growth Strategy, the Government has committed to phasing out high carbon fossil fuels in off grid homes during the 2020s. This will help to lower emissions from buildings, which currently represent almost 40% of the UK’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, households switching away from fossil fuels, can realise substantial energy cost savings.

Air Source Heat Pumps (ASHPs) provide heating with significantly reduced running costs compared to fossil fuels because of the high energy conversion efficiencies that can be achieved. Using the department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s central oil price scenarios, switching to an ASHP would lower the cost of heating for an average detached house by 9%. These calculations do not include the financial support consumers could receive from the Government’s Renewable Heat Incentive and do not account for the difficulty in predicting and preparing for oil price fluctuations.

The need to move away from fossil fuels is clear from an environmental perspective and for homes not connected to the gas grid, significant savings can be made through the adoption of renewable heating systems. Fuel poverty is multifaceted and like decarbonising our homes, there is no silver bullet, however the Government’s commitment to phase out high carbon fossil fuels is a step in the right direction for households struggling to afford to heat their homes.

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[3] House of Commons Library (2018) Briefing Paper Energy Prices

[4] Oil price comparison site