Consumers in the Northeastern U.S. who heat with oil may be facing substantial price increases this winter, according to the Energy Information Administration. The agency projects that heating oil prices will average $3.71 a gallon, or about 33 cents more than last winter.
According to EIA, the average price paid by homeowners in the region has more than doubled in the last seven years.
The continued increases in oil-based heating fuels is encouraging many consumers to switch to gas. But it also offers an opportunity for the renewable thermal-energy sector to raise awareness about biomass, solar thermal and geothermal heat pumps.
Currently, only 4% of the Northeast’s thermal energy comes from renewables. The Biomass Thermal Working Group issued a report last year looking at how New England and New York State can source 25% of their thermal energy requirements from renewables — mostly sustainably-harvested biomass — by 2025. The group calls on policy makers to recognize the trends in fossil energy pricing and make thermal renewables a part of the policy mix:
While US energy consumption is roughly divided into thirds across these sectors, existing public policy has focused almost exclusively on the transportation and electric sectors, recognizing the dependency of transportation on petroleum and the electric sector on coal. Billions of dollars in renewable energy subsidies currently flow to the transportation and electricity sectors, while the very substantial dependence of the thermal energy sector on the same problematic fossil fuels has not received comparable support either in the form of direct and indirect subsidies, or support for R&D.
The authors recommend creation of a national thermal energy target, funds for accurate assessments of sustainable biomass supply, establish consistent standards for biomass emissions, and extended state-level loan programs for renewable heating systems. With a comprehensive suite of policies in place to encourage a 25% penetration in the Northeast, the Biomass Thermal Energy Council estimates that over 140,000 jobs could be created in the region.
Thermal energy is a sorely overlooked sector of the renewable energy market. How many more years of record oil prices will we need to see before these technologies get the attention they deserve?