However, Northern Ireland’s Energy Strategy ‘The Path to Net Zero Energy’ outlines the long-term vision to achieve net zero carbon and affordable energy for Northern Ireland consumers. Phasing out oil and gas and replacing high carbon heating sources with lower and zero carbon heating technology, in households and businesses, is a key objective of the strategy and will contribute towards meeting our climate and clean air goals.
An increasing number of properties in Northern Ireland are adopting low and zero carbon heating solutions which can also be referred to as renewable heating technology or simply, green heat. Renewable heating is a more environmentally friendly and sustainable way of providing heating and hot water without relying on fossil fuels and their increasing uptake will ultimately help to reduce carbon emissions and promote energy efficiency.
Renewable heating appliances
The two most common types of domestic renewable heating in the UK are heat pumps and biomass boilers. Heat pumps are highly energy-efficient and can significantly reduce carbon emissions. They extract heat from the ambient air, ground, or water, and then use it for heating and hot water. Biomass boilers are used to burn organic materials such as wood pellets to generate heating and hot water. When sourced sustainably, biomass is considered carbon-neutral since the carbon dioxide released during combustion is offset by the carbon absorbed during the growth of new biomass.
Biofuels - low carbon alternatives to oil and LPG
Biofuels include hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) and BioLPG liquid fuels and are derived from renewable organic sources such as plant materials, agricultural residues, and waste. They are low-carbon drop-in replacements to traditional fossil fuels, like oil and LPG, that can be used to quickly decarbonise heating and hot water.
HVO is a replacement for oil systems and can be used after a minor conversion of the existing oil (kerosene) boiler. BioLPG is a replacement for LPG (off-grid gas) users and existing boilers require no modifications. Using HVO and BioLPG delivers significant benefits in terms of reducing carbon dioxide emissions (in some cases by up to 90%).
Almost two out of every three homes in Northern Ireland are still heated by oil and, while oil remains unregulated to the same degree as natural gas and electricity, there is an extensive network of oil distributers and suppliers which ensure that heating oil prices in Northern Ireland remain competitive with other regions.
Coal is used as a primary heating source in a small percentage of homes in Northern Ireland. The new Energy Strategy for Northern Ireland commits to phasing out the use of coal and other solid fuels for domestic heating purposes. Policy proposals will be consulted on in due course.
Only one large power station in Northern Ireland continues to use coal, and has plans to convert to natural gas, with coal generation expected to cease in 2024.
As we move towards our vision of net zero carbon and affordable energy our reliance on more polluting imported fossil fuels such as oil, coal and solid fuels will decrease.
Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG)
LPG is mainly used by consumers who are not on the natural gas grid, largely as an alternative to heating oil, and for cooking. The LPG market in Northern Ireland, consisting of both domestic and business users, is served by two suppliers. As in Great Britain, the small LPG market in Northern Ireland is not regulated in the same manner as the much larger natural gas market. The sector has an aim to fully transition to BioLPG by 2040, which has up to 90 per cent carbon emissions reduction compared to LPG.