Tuesday, 3rd January, 2017
In the current economic climate, businesses need to pay increasing attention to variables they can control. Of course this has always related to costs, and heating sources and the fuel used for them has always been a big factor in that. Today, however, the environmental impact plays almost as big a role in determining which fuel source is used. When comparing the major fuel sources available to commercial businesses these usually focus on gas, LPG and electricity, but heating oil has a part to play too, and while there are undoubtedly pros and cons, it is being found that heating oil is becoming more popular as a heating source for some businesses.
Unit costs of oil have reduced in recent years to make it more economical to purchase and use, and of course there are always technological advances which assist in ensuring oil burns more efficiently than it previously did. Natural gas remains the cheapest fuel when comparing relative unit costs, and there are also two major cost factors which count against using oil for heating purposes, when comparing it against other fuels in a commercial environment. Firstly, oil prices tend to fluctuate more significantly than LPG – the fuel it is most often compared with – and so for budgeting purposes, the more stable LPG market makes it easier to predict demand and therefore fuel costs. Also, in a commercial environment, LPG can be used for many different industrial processes, for power requirements and also for fork lift trucks, while heating oil is restricted only for using in a boiler.
Of course there are many ways to run oil heating systems efficiently to make up for any unit cost differential, and this still makes oil an attractive option, particularly in some areas where there may not be natural gas supplies. But users should also be aware that oil and LPG supplies are subject to other cost factors. They each require storage tanks, which should be located outside a commercial building, and there are often standing charges for these, with a supplier also tying you to a fixed term contract. So there is a little less flexibility when using oil and LPG compared to gas and electricity, as it is not as easy to ‘shop around’ and find better deals.
Installation costs are minimal when looking at storage tanks for oil, and indeed LPG, as a contractor will often install these free of charge or at minimal cost, as part of a contract which then ties you to using their supplies.
The environmental impact of using oil for heating purposes is reasonable, as there is minimal air pollution from burning oil, but the CO2 emissions from LPG are less, and of course there are cleaner heating technologies such as biomass boilers and heat pumps. With oil there is also the danger of spillage, as the fuel is stored in an external tank, a factor that does not apply to the comparable storage of LPG.
From a health and safety point of view oil is a good material, as when it reaches the correct temperature it vaporises and mixes with oxygen to create a fuel, it also is not explosive and will not burn.
Boilers used to heat water from oil supplies or indeed LPG are very similar in design to conventional gas boilers, except of course that fuel supplies are stored on site rather than arriving from ‘the grid’. This does mean that maintenance costs and available technical assistance is quite widely available. However, the biggest practical factor is the continuity of supply. Gas and electric supplies are readily and consistently available, but oil supplies need to be monitored and as the responsibility of a third party contractor, may be subject to availability of supply. With an external storage tank being required also, there may be space limiting factors on a commercial site.
Oil is a long established and reliable heating fuel, but may not compare favourably with gas in a large scale commercial property, and certainly in terms of environmental impact, biomass technology is far superior and cheaper to run, while also having other limiting factors. There are certainly some commercial premises for which it would be beneficial to consider oil heating, and it is advisable to consult qualified heating engineers who can survey your site, your processes and your needs, and discuss the options available for the most cost effective and green-conscious fuel source for you.
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