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Energy Conservation

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 14 December 2021

Tuesday, 14 December 2021

Questions (37)

Pádraig O'Sullivan

Question:

37. Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan asked the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications if consideration has been given to converting oil heating systems to eco-friendly hydrotreated vegetable oil, HVO, biofuel instead of kerosene and other fossil fuels; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [61338/21]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Environment)

Has consideration been given to converting oil heating systems to run on eco-friendly HVO biofuel instead of kerosene and other fuels?

At the request of my Department, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, is currently developing a comprehensive national heat study for Ireland. The study aims to examine options to decarbonise the heating and cooling sectors in Ireland to 2050 and includes the examination of a range of options and pathways. These options include the potential use of sustainable bioenergy such as bioliquids in place of fossil fuels in heating systems. The national heat study is almost complete and I expect that the SEAI will publish the outcome of the study early in the new year.

My Department recently carried out a consultation on the potential introduction of a renewable energy obligation in the heat sector. If introduced, such an obligation would require the suppliers of fossil fuels for use in the heat sector to also supply renewable energy. The level of renewable energy that would have to be supplied would be based on a proportion of the fossil fuels supplied. The obligation could potentially be met through the supply of renewable gas, biomass or renewable fuels such as hydrotreated vegetable oil.

I expect the national heat study and the outcome of the consultation on the introduction of a renewable energy obligation to inform future policy and provide clarity on the potential role of alternative fuels in the heating sector.

That is an encouraging response. As the Minister of State is probably well aware, there are 700,000 oil-burning boilers at present in the country and nearly 700,000 gas boilers, not to mention 100,000 liquefied natural gas boilers. It is important for that fact to be recognised. There is a gain to be made in the short term here. We can reduce CO2 emissions by between 80% and 90% by converting many of those gas and oil boilers and availing of HVO. It goes without saying that up in the North technology is being trialled by the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, which is retrofitting many of its stock of houses with this technology. Other countries in Europe are rolling it out. Finland is a world leader on it. It is only a matter of time before Ireland unlocks this potential. It is very encouraging that is under consideration.

To give the Deputy more information on the SEAI national heat study to which I referred, it will focus on achieving net-zero emissions in the heat sector by 2050 but it also aims to provide a detailed evidence base, including technology and policy pathways, data and insights for the Government, industry and other stakeholders, and enhanced energy sector modelling capacity developed by SEAI. The completion of the heat study is expected in mid-January 2022. The publication will come out in a number of different sections, including: low-carbon heating and cooling technologies; district heating and cooling; electricity infrastructure; green hydrogen as a potential fuel for heat; sustainable bioenergy for heat; carbon capture use and storage; net-zero emissions by 2050; exploration of the decarbonisation pathways for heating and cooling in Ireland; spatial analysis; and energy efficiency potential. I look forward to seeing that report in January 2022.

As I stated, it is welcome, but I wish to put on the record that these boilers can be converted for as little as €200 and will reduce emissions drastically. Carbon tax is not a very popular topic in these Houses but, of the €9.5 billion over the life of the national development plan, approximately €5 billion will be reinvested into retrofitting programmes such as those we are discussing. I ask the Minister of State to provide clarity regarding the SEAI and the grant system it currently runs. Am I right in saying that anyone who has previously availed of an SEAI grant is unable to log a second request or application? Is that likely to be reviewed or changed? That is my understanding at present. As regards the full retrofit programme, many of the heat pumps that it is proposed to install in properties have a life expectancy of seven to ten years. We need to be cognisant of that in terms of affordability into the future and providing loans or other measures to people.

The Deputy asked earlier about examining the experience of other jurisdictions, including Northern Ireland. Of course, we will do that very carefully and we will see what experience they had with their renewable heat obligations and incentives.

He also asked about the SEAI and whether a person who previously received a grant can apply for another grant. He indicated such people are excluded. I will have to check out the rules of its scheme in that regard.

As to whether we can convert boilers to alternative fuel sources, part of my remit is the circular economy and trying to fix and remediate things rather than building new. Therefore, if at all possible, I will consider that. Of course, the Deputy can contact me if he has specific recommendations in that regard.

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