Ken’s Cronin, CEO UKIFDA: Are you sitting comfortably?

I am writing this on the train back from Coventry, where the UKIFDA Show & Conference took place.  During the event, many people came up to me and commented on the positive vibe, with special mention given to Amy Williams, our excellent after-dinner speaker.

Why no one should be feeling comfortable

I can’t help but reflect on how much we have progressed as an industry over the last few years and how much remains left to do.

I believe Rupert Turner of P66 had it just about right in the conference opening keynote speech – no one in the room should be sitting feeling comfortable.

The impressive turnout for the keynote and the subsequent roundtable on future fuels demonstrate the progress we have made. Industry leaders are now focused on what the future holds and are committed to providing a heating solution and affordable fuel to our customers.

An unequivocal message

There is at least one other group that should not be sitting comfortably, and that is government. Regardless of the media debate surrounding hydrogen and heat pumps, the general public has sent a clear, unequivocal and, yes, uncomfortable message to the Government over the last 12 months.

At the conference, we learnt that kerosene sales have decreased by 18% and domestic gas sales by 16% since the Ukraine invasion. This is a clear message that a significant number of people cannot afford the increases and are therefore reducing their consumption. According to Malcolm Farrow from OFTEC, a recent survey revealed that approximately 75% of councillors believe their constituents are concerned about the affordability of decarbonising their heating.

While some may view this as a positive step towards decarbonisation, the issue of affordability remains a prominent concern. Citizens Advice recently issued a warning that net zero retrofit costs will be unmanageable for most homeowners at just under £15,000 per household.  Citizens Advice also warned that half of households have savings of less than £10,000, and more than one in ten have no savings at all.

As we know, there are solutions out there – but we need to be practical, technology agnostic and, above all else, flexible.

All the tools in the box

Elizabeth de Jong of UKPIA reiterated the need for recognition and support for low carbon fuels and this was supported by evidence from the Future Fuels campaign which stated that nearly 89%* of oil heating customers want a renewable liquid fuel as an alternative.

The Future of Trucks roundtable also delivered a strong message – a one size fits all strategy “will not fit all” and immediate action is needed.

The day before the UKIFDA show the Energy Bill was debated in Parliament and, again, clear messages were given to government from across the political divide.  Hilary Benn (Labour) commented: “I think we will need all the current technologies and all the technologies that have yet to be invented to meet this challenge.” And George Eustice (Conservative) said: We need a diversity of different technologies because it is essential that we have all the tools in the box to achieve our objectives.”

The title of this piece: “Are you sitting comfortably?” came from the iconic BBC Radio 4 programme, ‘Listen with Mother’, which started in the 50s and was later replaced by ‘Listening Corner’ in the 80s. The phrase has been widely used in popular music by artists such as The Moody Blues and Slade, as well as in TV shows and films like Doctor Who and Wargames. More recently, even PlayStation has referenced it.

The phrase may evoke nostalgic memories of an ageing relative sat in an armchair stroking a cat (maybe even Mogg – sorry, you had to be there). But, walking away from Coventry, one clear message is ringing in my ears – it is time for the Government to stop sitting comfortably and firmly move to the listening corner.

*Future Ready Fuel campaign household survey 2022