New chairman predicts a long term future for oil

Nick Hawkins takes over as OFTEC chairman on the 23rd June at the association’s next annual general meeting. He spoke with Oil Installer about the oil industry.

Nick, tell us something about yourself and your company Deso Engineering – part of the Kingspan Environmental Group.
Deso was set up in Minehead, Somerset, by my brother Tim in 1984 as a steel fabricator and oil tank manufacturer. Plastic tank manufacturing began in 1994. We have a long track record of manufacturing both domestic and commercial tanks, our largest are 9,400 litres. We have also branched out into other roto moulding products, including our range of FATYAK kayaks. Deso became a wholly owned subsidiary of Kingspan in 2007. I have worked in the
company since 2001 fulltime, previously having worked in
management consultancy and the automotive industry.

How do you see the oil heating market developing in the UK and Ireland?
We have over a million homes on oil in GB and a further million in Northern Ireland and the Republic. This is a sizeable market and despite a decline in oil tank sales since the mid 2000s, it is a decent and stable market. That said, we cannot ignore threats from the climate change agenda against oil heating and the continuing possibility of onerous legislation from Europe. However the current low oil price is helping to sustain our market.

[pullquote]We cannot ignore threats from the climate change agenda against oil[/pullquote]

What are your aims for OFTEC over the next two years?
The first is to ensure we maintain the existing oil heating market with approximately 2m homes still on oil. The second, to persuade government to introduce a boiler scrappage scheme and also a single skin tank scrappage scheme to help stimulate sales of condensing boilers and bunded tanks. The third, to build up our competent persons scheme and to ensure that we are giving our registrants a one stop shop should they be interested in moving into renewables.

The recent revisions to BS5410 have forbidden the installation of single skin tanks in all locations – although this isn’t a legal requirement. Do you think the single skin tank market will now be eliminated?
Yes. In time the single skin tank market will go, probably first in GB and then in Ireland. The proportion of sales of bunded tanks increases year on year as people realise their intrinsic benefits – whether bunded metal or bunded plastic. The failure of single skin tanks can cause enormous environmental damage and this is easily avoided by installing a bunded tank. We fully support the changes to BS5410.

Why are there so many plastic tank manufacturers and wholesalers in the UK and Ireland markets, and do they all conform to laws and regulations?
There are now new legal requirements that every plastic tank in a domestic location must comply with the Construction Products regulations (CE marking), and only companies which have had their tanks independently tested and verified can be sure of compliance with this marking requirement. I cannot comment on all the people in the market other than to say that many of them are not OFTEC members and do not have the OFST200 standard. My advice to installers is always ‘better safe than sorry”: – why take the risk of installing a tank which comes from a manufacturer whose tanks are not independently tested? I would remind all installers and merchants that, in law, the person who fits or sells the tank is responsible to ensure that the tank properly conforms to CE marking. If there is a leak and a contamination claim, it is the installer and merchant who take
the flak.

Why is OFTEC important to the oil heating and cooking market, and do you see its recent decision to move into the registering of renewable heat installers as a sign that they may be moving away from oil?
I do not see that OFTEC is moving away from oil in any way whatsoever. Its role is to guide installers and us manufacturing members through challenging times because of the renewable heat agenda. OFTEC has been listening to installers and knows that many of them are now actively engaging in the renewable sector, particularly biomass and heat pumps. OFTEC wants to help its existing registrants move into these sectors if that is what they want to do. OFTEC has a difficult role in having to both promote and police the industry. I am confident that we can do this with tact whilst also ensuring that standards improve on the ground. My own view – and that of the OFTEC Board – is that oil heating has a long term future in the UK and Ireland. By the mid 21st century it may have changed with there being more hybrid heating with condensing oil boilers working with heat pumps and solar thermal. Also by then we hope to have more bio-liquids in use.

What have been the big achievements at OFTEC recently?
The most important thing has been the six-year battle with Brussels to ensure that oil boilers will not double in price due to the introduction of the Energy Related Products Directive. The original proposal was that all boilers would have to have very low NOx limits – below 90 milligrams per kilowatt hour – which is not achievable with yellow flame technology burning kerosene. Due to OFTEC’s efforts, a special exclusion has been introduced for kerosene which means that our industry can continue with yellow flame technology for at least another seven years… a long fought victory of huge importance. Secondly, OFTEC has had to change how it deals with it registrants in order to comply with new government regulations for competent persons schemes. This has raised our standards and the frequency of inspections, but we believe this frequency to be unfair when compared to other industries and are negotiating for this to be relaxed. We do listen to technicians and change things when we can.

[pullquote]Our mission is to listen to technicians[/pullquote]

Do you have any final comments?
OFTEC is here to help defend our industry and to ensure professional standards on the ground when boilers and tanks are installed. We will always fight for oil and we see the 7,500 plus installers, and our inspection force of 14 inspectors, as an important part of the campaign to show the consumer that oil heating is safe, reliable and efficient. If the rural heating market moves towards renewable heat, OFTEC will be there to register technicians so we will be a one stop shop for competent persons registration. Our mission is to listen to technicians and to alter our registration scheme to make your life easier. By being a member of OFTEC, an installer is helping to raise the professional standards of the oil heating cooking sector and thereby helping to ensure that we have a good market for many years to come.