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What’s The Future For Oil Boilers?

What’s The Future For Oil Boilers?

Heat Pump Oil boiler

The UK government is planning to ban new oil boilers from 2026 and to encourage homeowners to replace them with air source heat pumps (ASHP) or ground source heat pumps (GSHP). Currently 6% of UK households rely on an oil boiler for their heating needs because they are unable to connect to mains gas and use a gas boiler. 

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The potential ban on oil boilers in 2026 would mean that 1.5 million households could be looking for a different way to heat their homes. The impact of the ban would be felt by those living in houses that are not connected to the gas grid and would see rural homes particularly affected. These rural homes would face restrictions about 10 years before other UK homes face bans.

Back in 2021 when plans for the ban were first laid out, homes that were off the gas grid were considered to be a viable early target because of their relatively high emissions and expensive fuels, such as oil boilers. If the ban was to go ahead as planned rural households who rely on oil for their heating and hot water would either have to install a completely different heating method or modify their existing oil boiler to accommodate an eco-friendlier heating fuel. 

The transition to another heating method could be expensive with the householder having to spend thousands of pounds on a new system which could be a challenge for rural households. Alternatively, the householder could convert their existing boiler to run on relatively greener biofuels such as Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO). Converting an oil boiler to run on HVO is quick and undisruptive, and can lead to an 88% reduction in carbon emissions

BioLPG is an eco-friendlier variant of LPG, which is gas that exists in a liquid form. It produces 38% fewer emissions than ordinary heating oil, but is less efficient, meaning you’ll use more fuel to keep your home warm. The former Environment Secretary, George Eustice, said that he thinks the best way forward at the moment is to call off the ban on the sale of oil boilers and pursue a different strategy, which would be to properly incentivise renewable fuels in oil boilers. His suggestion was to convert existing kerosene boilers to run on hydrotreated vegetable oil made from waste cooking oil or vegetable waste, which he said would cost just “a couple of hundred pounds” to do. In fact, in a proposed alteration to the Energy Security Bill subsidies are set to be offered for hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO), which can serve as a replacement fuel for boilers with minor adjustments.

Among the available alternatives, is heat pumps, which are more energy-efficient for fuelling houses as it runs on electricity and not fossil fuels. It is hoped that the ban would boost the lagging uptake of heat pumps in the UK. Heat pumps work by extracting warmth from the air outside, the ground, or water. If you can operate your heat pump on electricity generated by solar panels, you can have a 100% sustainable way of heating your home. Heat pumps are very efficient too, averaging an efficiency rating of 300%. This means it converts one unit of electricity into three units of heat, which is much higher than the 94% max efficiency of modern gas boilers. Some models can reach 400%, or in the case of water heat pumps, as high as 600% efficiency.

Another alternative to an oil boiler is an electric boiler which works in the same way as ordinary boilers. Because they produce far fewer carbon emissions it makes them much better for the environment. If you combine an electric boiler with a sustainable energy source such as solar panels or even a small wind turbine it’s a very green way to keep warm. The typical cost of an electric boiler including installation is £3,350. However, they may not be the best choice for larger properties as they may not meet higher central heating and hot water demands.

Biomass boilers are better for the environment than oil burners but still produce carbon emissions because they need to burn fuel to work. They are powered by burning waste material, usually wood in the form of pellets, chips, or logs. They typically cost £16,000 including installation. 

You can also use solar thermal panels to heat your water although they are not yet powerful enough to replace a home heating system completely. The typical cost of solar thermal panels is £4,000 including installation. 

Infrared heating panels are relatively new to the market. They heat your home by emitting a harmless infrared radiation that warms the surface of any object it comes into contact with. You can put them on a wall, on the ceiling or in a bathroom disguised as a mirror.
If you place infrared panels on the ceiling, it’ll radiate warmth around the entire room. If you put them on a wall they must not be covered by sofas, wardrobes etc. in order for them to work properly. You’ll have to find another way of heating your water, however, as they won’t efficiently heat water. The typical cost of installing infrared panels for a three-bedroom house would be £6,000.

According to the Energy Saving Trust, installing an oil boiler will usually cost up to £4,000 while an air-source heat pump costs around £14,000 and a ground-source heat pump can cost up to £49,000 based on the type of installation. There is also concern about the lack of capacity-trained installers and engineers to make the switch to heat pumps within the next few years. 

There has been significant opposition to the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak’s planned ban from fuel poverty campaigners and even some Conservative MPs who fear that it will financially impact the 1.5 million rural homes in the UK. Some Conservative MPs are concerned that it will put people off from supporting the Tories. The government has argued that the ban is necessary to meet its net zero emissions target. However, growing opposition to the ban may force the government to reconsider its position. It is likely the legislation around the ban will be revised later on this year.  

Though the ban would be a promising step towards a greener future, it is feared that if the ban happens too quickly, the National Grid would not be able to cope with the inevitable increase in electric home heating. The government has been urged by the independent think-tank Localis to delay the ban until 2035 to allow the grid more time to prepare which would also put it in line with the general ban on all fossil-fuel boilers happening in 2035. This would give homeowners more time to find a replacement and for the government to work on incentives. 

It’s not completely certain that the ban on oil boilers will go ahead in 2026 as it’s possible that the eventual decision will involve narrower restrictions to allow these boilers to remain in operation if they change to more environmentally friendly fuels.
As it stands at the moment the Energy Security Bill and oil boiler ban will undergo final approval during the autumn parliament.

Currently, the government says it is fully focused on delivering its aim to install 600,000 heat pump installations a year by 2028 and to facilitate this it is offering heat pump grants of £5,000 and £6,000 towards the cost via the Boiler Upgrade Scheme. The Boiler Upgrade Scheme also covers biomass boilers. Apart from the Boiler Upgrade Scheme there are no other plans from the government to help households replace their existing oil boilers. However, homeowners might find relief through the ECO4 scheme, which is designed to assist the lowest-income households in enhancing their energy efficiency. This scheme potentially covers the full or partial costs of replacing old boilers with more efficient alternatives. To be eligible for replacement boiler grants, individuals need to be homeowners or private tenants residing in energy-inefficient homes and meet certain income or government benefit criteria.

A spokesman for the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero said:

“We have consulted on new regulations to phase out boilers in homes and non-domestic buildings off the gas grid from 2026. We will confirm our plans when we publish our response to the consultation in due course.
We have already issued over £75 million in vouchers (the Boiler Upgrade Scheme) – lowering the price of heat pumps and making it an increasingly similar price to installing a gas boiler.”

The Government remains committed to improving heat pump installations and using this as the primary alternative to oil, gas, and coal boilers. It’s unclear how the government would enforce the oil boiler ban other than declaring that homes would be required to replace or convert their existing oil boiler to a low-carbon alternative. They could instigate property inspections or ask households to submit information about their replacement or converted heating system. Householders will still be able to use their oil boilers after 2026 even if the ban goes ahead but when it stops working or becomes too inefficient, they will have to find a different way to heat their home. 

Some householders might choose to install a new oil boiler before the ban but even though oil boilers should typically last 15 years this is only an estimate, and it could break down just a few years after installing. Householders should be aware that despite there not being any requirement for oil boilers to be installed by a Gas Safe registered installer, it’s still important that they use an installer who is a member of the Government-approved Competent Person Scheme. If the oil boiler ban goes ahead in 2026 it will make life difficult for millions of people unless the government comes up with a plan to help householders switch to greener heating methods. 

The Boiler Upgrade Scheme will only cover 90,000 UK households meaning there is virtually no support for the 1.5 million who face having to replace their oil boilers. Though it’s very good to see the government phasing out oil boilers there is a problem in that alternative systems such as heat pumps are big investments that don’t break even for a long time. The government needs to implement further incentives to help the UK reach its target of net zero by 2050.

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Janet Richardson

Janet is an accomplished director and writer at The Renewable Energy Hub. Janet has worked at a senior level at a number of publishing companies and is an authority on renewable energy topics. Janet is passionate about sustainable living and renewable energy solutions, dedicated to promoting eco-friendly practices and creating a vibrant community of eco-conscious individuals and businesses seeking sustainable energy solutions.

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