The Oil Firing Technology Association
Moving With The Times. Jeremy Hawksley has been director general of Oftec, the Oil Firing Technical Association, since 2007. Since then the organisation has faced a number of battles to safeguard the oil heating industry as well as embracing new renewable technologies.
What is Oftec’s purpose?
Oftec is the trade association for more than 160 companies and training centres involved in the oil heating and cooking sector. Our membership includes a host of well-known industry names, including Aga Rangemaster, Clarehill Plastics, Grant Engineering, Firebird Heating Solutions, Kingspan Environmental, Warmflow Engineering and Worcester Bosch.
A critical element of our role is to provide a competent persons’ scheme, which is recognised by the Department for Communities and Local Government, for oil, solid fuel and renewable heat technicians (heat pumps and solar thermal).
There are 8,600 technicians on the register. Oftec inspects these technicians’ work, and ensures they have up-to-date qualifications. It also operates complaints procedures to protect the consumer.
We offer a technical advice service for our technicians and the general public on heating and cooking installation matters. Oftec has a suite of detailed technical books and provides training centre members with assessments that have to be retaken every five years. Oftec also runs an online shop – www.Oftecdirect.com – which sells oil heating accessories.
Have things changed in your time as director general?
In the ‘noughties’ oil heating had quite a revival due to the low heating oil price in the early years of the decade. Sales of boilers and tanks were healthy. In 2007 legislation was introduced to make the installation of condensing boilers mandatory in most replacement situations in England and Wales, and both manufacturers and technicians embraced this important change.
The market cooled after the 2008 recession, but the number of oil homes in the UK and Republic of Ireland (RoI) has remained pretty static at about two million, with around a million in Great Britain. The present crash in the oil price to 30p-35p/litre from a high of just over 60p/litre in early 2013 has given the sector a boost, with boiler sales up 9 per cent in 2015 on the previous year.
There has been consolidation among boiler and tank manufacturers with now only four volume oil boiler makers, with three of these based in Ireland. Oftec has led the fight to retain oil – or some form of liquid fuel – within the government’s energy policies, but this remains a significant challenge.
We also recognise the changing face of the UK heating sector. We’ve seen a surge in the popularity of solid fuel stoves and must also recognise the significance renewable heating technologies will play in the future. Oftec has extended its scope of registrations to include heat pumps and solar thermal, with biomass and solid fuel launching soon.
What have been the key issues since you joined Oftec?
The fight with the European Commission for realistic nitrous oxide (NOx) levels in the Energy Related Products (ErP) Directive. This new Europe-wide legislation threatened to outlaw current domestic oil boilers, by requiring NOx levels of less than 90 mg/kWh. This would have required completely new ‘blue flame’ technology and larger oil boilers that would not fit into most modern kitchens.
Through patient negotiation at UK and European EC levels, we have achieved a compromise whereby UK and RoI boilers can be at a higher NOx level until 2021‑22. By then new technology will have been developed so that the boiler size need not increase.
Another significant development has been the creation of a new bio-liquid fuel to replace 100 per cent fossil fuel. Between 2008-2011 Oftec – with the University of East Anglia – tested a fuel mix of kerosene or gas-oil with Fatty Acid Methyl Ester biofuel. The fuels known as B30K or B30D proved to work well in existing boilers, subject to minor modifications, and a full spec and blending methodology has been developed.
The government’s domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) initially included B30K, but it was later excluded, much to Oftec and the industry’s disappointment. The slow take up of the domestic RHI is, in part, due to this omission. Oftec continues to press for the bio-liquid to be recognised in the RHI, and has succeeded in Northern Ireland where it will soon be included.
We have also made significant changes to the Oftec competent persons’ scheme. We’ve gained approval from the United Kingdom Accreditation Service and seen this extended into solid fuel and renewable heating (including MCS registration).
We set up a boiler passport documentation scheme in Ireland in January 2014, and are encouraging our members to move to a condensing boiler only manufacturing policy. We also helped develop Eurofuel, a European trade association for oil heating that has influenced decision making in Brussels.
What are the current priorities?
We need to carefully monitor the impact of the RHI and ensure consumers are not persuaded to install inappropriate technologies into older properties, where they will not work well due to inadequate insulation levels. We must fight to maintain the oil boiler and tank market in the face of government subsidies on renewable heat technologies.
With the support of the Federation of Petroleum Suppliers, we will mount a new ‘tank awareness’ campaign in 2016, so that older oil storage tanks are replaced in a timely way.
We will continue to increase the number of people on our competent persons’ scheme and extending works notifications for domestic heating into Scotland, Northern Ireland and the RoI.
How does Oftec educate installers and customers?
Installers can ring our technical helpline, refer to our technical books and receive monthly e-news with updates to regulations and standards. Our website, www.oftec.org, has a special technical bulletin. Through Oftec’s network of training and assessment centres we can ensure technicians gain, and are tested for, their required skills.
What about the future for Oftec?
The move away from use of 100 per cent fossil fuel for home heating will take many decades. Oftec estimates there will still be at least 500,000 homes on oil by 2050.
Assuming the current RHI will fail to deliver a significant shift to renewable heat, Oftec will press government to incentivise early replacement of standard efficiency oil boilers through a universal scrappage scheme, and also the use of bio‑liquids. We believe this will deliver large CO2 emission reductions in rural areas for a much lower cost than the RHI as it will appeal to the majority rather than the minority.
The Oftec registration scheme will cater for more solid fuel and renewable heating installers and we will launch a major campaign to get those installing solid fuel stoves to register with Oftec or HETAS. A new website – www.joinoftec.com – has recently been launched, which makes it easy to apply for Oftec registration online. It includes a price calculator and electronic payment facility.
What key technologies will affect the industry?
‘Blue flame’ burners will lower NOx emissions and become standard by the early 2020s. Technicians will need to be trained in their installation and commission.
There may well be a growing demand for heat pumps, especially in newbuild and deep retrofit properties. The RHI is encouraging uptake, although mass popularity will also require the upgrading of the electricity grid in rural areas. Alternatively, the development of battery technology could enable electricity storage in the home at a mass scale. But this is unlikely to compete on cost with oil in the near future. Another excellent development is new oil storage tank designs, which is making it easier to site tanks legally but inauspiciously.
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