Barholm pub at heart of heating trial for rural homes that don't get gas as cheaper alternative to heat pumps
Ahead of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), the UK government has unveiled a plan to phase out gas boilers in homes within 14 years. The suggested replacement - heat pumps - can cost about £10,000 or more. But there is a potential alternative, and it is being trialled at a pub near Stamford.
Cheap, efficient and environmentally clean heating is something of a holy grail for people in the UK.
The choices so far have seemed to come at a price. Coal is ‘dirty’, oil and gas increasingly expensive, nuclear is not a comfortable option for everyone, and harnessing wind and sunshine rely on the weather playing fairly.
But now a pub near Stamford is at the heart of a trial that could revolutionise winter fuel for thousands of rural homes and businesses.
The Five Horseshoes in Barholm, a 300-year-old property, doesn’t benefit from the triple glazing or insulation of a modern building, and for years it was heated by a traditional oil-fired boiler.
But this has now changed thanks to one of the pub’s ‘locals’, Alan Black, who began his working life as a heating engineer.
He was later employed by Oftec, the trade body for oil-fired heating, and has researched the potential to reuse waste cooking oils, fats and greases as an alternative for kerosene.
“Hydrotreated vegetable oil - known in the trade as HVO - has become a viable alternative to kerosene,” said Alan.
“Five or six years ago we were aware of its benefits - it is environmentally clean, safe and energy efficient - but had dismissed it because it would have meant using virgin oils. We have all heard about the terrible destruction of wildlife habitats through farming palm oil.
“But now processes have been developed to treat waste oil from the food industry to create the fuel.”
Even with this being imported from a processing plant in Finland rather than being refined in the UK, the cost and environmental impact is significantly less than kerosene.
In fact, according to Martin Cooke, managing director of EOGB Energy Products, which supplied and installed the new heating system at The Five Horseshoes, the pub’s carbon emissions have been reduced by nearly 90 per cent.
How to offset the remaining 10 per cent was investigated, and it was found that this could be done by planting 13 trees every 25 years. Fifteen trees will soon be planted near local schools on behalf of The Five Horseshoes.
The pub has been installed with a modulating boiler, the most energy-efficient available, according to Martin.
“Traditional boilers switch on, heat the rooms to a set temperature, then switch off until the temperature drops below a certain level,” he explained.
“A modulating boiler doesn’t turn off every time the ideal temperature is reached. Instead it ‘modulates’ by reducing or increasing output.”
The result is greater energy efficiency, which benefits the bill-payer and the planet.
While a new boiler was installed at the Five Horseshoes by St Neots firm EOGB Energy Products, and a new oil tank by The Oil Tank Company, which is Wansford-based, HVO can be stored in an existing oil tank and used to fire many existing oil-fired boilers, after minor adaptations are made to a nozzle and a burner.
Converting existing heating systems to run on HVO can cost about £500.
This could make it a much more palatable option for properties that are not on the ‘gas grid’, or those looking for an alternative to gas in line with the government’s targets.
“Even with a new installation, like the one we have carried out at the pub, we’re looking at about £4,000 to £4,500 compared with about £12,000 to install a heat pump system,” said Martin.
Heat pumps, which extract heat energy from the air or the ground, are currently the Government’s favoured technology for homes that aren’t on the mains gas network.
Alan and Martin are keen to change this way of thinking now that HVO is, in their view, a viable contender in the market.
The trial at Barholm will add to evidence they are using to lobby MPs, showing that HVO could help to make the UK more self-sufficient when it comes to energy supplies.
“At the moment the price of HVO is about £1 a litre, but this will come down as the market develops,” said Alan.
“There is a plant to treat waste cooking oil being built on the Humber estuary, and this will help to make it a self-sustaining industry in the UK.
“What we want the Government to do is to subsidise the industry to begin with, to bring down the price to 60 pence per litre, so that it is able to take off.
“Once the supply and market for HVO gets going, the price should come down.”
To support The Five Horseshoes landlords, Emma Freeman and Matthew Thompson, during the trial, Oftec has paid for the installation of their HVO system and is funding their fuel for three years.
In return energy data will be extracted from the building to provide a case study for the fuel to be used more widely in homes and businesses around the country.
Several other trials are happening in locations around the UK.
“It’s a fantastic bonus for us,” said Emma, who has run the pub with Matthew for the past 10 years.
“We’re not eco-warriors, but you have to do your bit."
“When we were shown the figures for the carbon reduction, it made sense.
“If we continued to use our old oil heating for the next 25 years we would need to plant 200 trees to offset the carbon emissions. We can’t all go around planting that many trees.
“With the new system it’s just 13 and these will be planted around primary schools in the area.”