Buildings account for an estimated 40% of EU energy consumption, though only a proportion are oil-heated. They are also key emitters of the major greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2). Both the German environment ministry and environment agency welcomed Deutsche Shell's announcement, which the ministry said was "a step in the right direction".
The new Shell heating oil - dubbed Thermo Eco-Ultra - contains 0.05 per cent sulphur. This is one quarter the level of standard grades, but still one thousand times as much as the EU limit for petrol and diesel due to enter into force in 2005. Low-sulphur heating oil has already taken a 30% share of the Swiss market, according to Shell, but this is the first major EU country in which it has been widely introduced.
For Shell's target efficiency gains to be reached, many oil-fired space heating boilers would have to be upgraded. Shell claims this is not an unreasonable expectation since one-third of all boilers in Germany are currently over 16 years old. The most efficient burner technologies now available cannot cope with current levels of sulphur in heating oil, the company stresses.
In 1996, the Germany oil industry reached a voluntary agreement with the government to improve the efficiency of oil-fired space heating by 25% by 2005 from 1990 levels. Deutsche Shell said its new low-sulphur grade should help to achieve this goal.
The company's announcement comes before a long-awaited national energy-saving ordinance for domestic and commercial buildings (ENDS Daily 27 July). The government recently identified the domestic heating sector as a key potential area for reducing CO2 emissions in its draft climate protection strategy, allocating savings of 10-25m tonnes.
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