What does the solid fuel ban mean for renewables?

In February, the government broadcast that the sale of the most polluting fuels burned in household stoves and open fires will be phased out in England from 2021, in order to clean up the air.  

Plans for the ban were first announced 18 months ago, but the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has now confirmed it is going ahead. 

Bruce Allen, CEO of HETAS and Woodsure, said; “The future ban will only affect the most polluting fuels i.e. bituminous coals and wet wood logs. 

“This particular round of legislation is aimed at home heating – sometimes described as ‘domestic burning’. Interestingly, the figures for pollution from what is termed ‘domestic burning’ include forest fires, agricultural burning, commercial catering, bonfires, BBQs and so on, but within that the home heating sector is about solid fuel and wood burning at home where the market is predominantly room heater stoves and some cooking, with a much smaller proportion of heat for hot water and radiators. 

“Studies have shown that there are huge inefficiencies involved in burning wetter wood and that using dryer Ready to Burn logs is more cost effective and much less polluting. The same can be said for using smokeless fuels rather than bituminous coals. The emissions from smokeless fuels are a fraction of house coal. The biggest effect should be on creating a much bigger market for seasoned and kiln dried logs and for authorised smokeless fuels. We would also like to see open fires replaced by modern HETAS Approved cleaner burning stoves and boilers.” 

Collaboration is needed

“OFTEC broadly supports the Government’s aims to cut carbon emissions and improve air quality. The Solid Fuel Ban announced in February is an example of such an initiative, but it is unclear up to now how this will be enforced.

“Those who rely on solid fuel for home heating may consider switching to oil heating as the ban is enforced, but with the direction of travel to reduce carbon emissions being very clear, they may be concerned about whether this is a future-proof choice. OFTEC is already working to develop a low carbon biofuel, and developing plans to support the deployment of the new fuel.

“We need to work collaboratively within the oil industry in order to bring alternatives to the table, but we are optimistic that this is achievable.“

Health benefits

Aside from the emissions caused by burning such solid fuels, the government highlighted that a ban would help in the effort to tackle tiny particle pollutants known as PM2.5, which can cause serious health problems if they penetrate the lungs or the blood when breathed in. 

“Cosy open fires and wood-burning stoves are at the heart of many homes up and down the country,” said Environment Secretary, George Eustice. 

“But the use of certain fuels means that they are also the biggest source of the most harmful pollutant that is affecting people in the UK.” 

Modest effects  

Bean Beanland, Chairman of Ground Source Heat Pumps Association (GSHPA) sees the solid fuel ban as more of an educational piece on the negative effects of burning coal and unseasoned wood.  

“Very few people are using coal as main heat source any longer. Coal is very cheap, but the negative effects of using it are increasingly known. However, more people seem to be unaware of the impact of burning unseasoned timber.”  

Bean goes on to say that the effect of the solid ban on sales of renewable energy alternatives will be relatively modest, but that the ban has helped to “ratchet up the policy. It’s another step up in the push of the decarbonising future.” 

The phase out will commence until 2023, to give householders and suppliers time to move to cleaner alternatives, such as manufactured solid fuels or dry wood.