“OFTEC must be the voice of reason” to ensure the industry’s future

OFTEC’s chairman, Niall Fay, with chief executive officer, Paul Rose
Photo by ©Andrew Higgins 2017

Grant Engineering director, Niall Fay, officially took over the two-year OFTEC chairmanship from Nick Hawkins at last year’s annual general meeting and conference. To introduce himself to OFTEC members, Niall has agreed to address a series of questions about his thoughts, his priorities and the current challenges faced by the oil heating industry…

What will be your main priorities during your tenure as OFTEC Chairman?
OFTEC was set up to ensure high standards are in place across the oil heating industry, so my goal is to keep this firmly at the forefront of the trade association’s work, whether the focus is traditional kerosene-burning systems or low carbon bio-oils. Naturally, the decarbonisation agenda is also a key area of work. I want OFTEC to fight to ensure that any transition away from high carbon heating is planned and gradual, so that the industry has time to adapt. Ideally, I’d like the industry itself to lead the change, so that our destiny is in our own hands. This means there’s a need for the key players from across all the industry sectors – including fuel suppliers, manufacturers and installers – to work together and OFTEC is well-placed to lead this collaborative effort.

Will you be recommending any changes to current OFTEC strategies?
I have been working closely with OFTEC’s executive and my board colleagues to review and adapt OFTEC’s strategy considering the government’s Clean Growth Strategy. The board and the executive are currently finalising OFTEC’s response to this new challenge. It’s essential that we work to meet the needs of the oil heating industry as a whole. We need to coordinate a strong lobby among not just OFTEC but also with other industry associations, such as those involved in the distribution and refining of kerosene. The board and executive will also be devising a strategy to communicate the importance of kerosene as a heating source in rural areas, not just as part of the fuel mix but also its contribution to the economy and employment.

Is BREXIT a major concern to you and how do you think it will affect the industry?
Any changes that impact on industry and the wider economy are a concern. However, it is currently still too early to know what effect Brexit will have. Grant trades across the UK and other EU member states, as do many other leading players in the oil heating sector, so friction-free movement of goods will be important as this avoids the need for more bureaucracy, which can impact on costs. The heating sector is very competitive, so keeping costs low is essential.

Apart from BREXIT, what do you consider to be OFTEC’s biggest challenges during the next two years?
The decarbonisation agenda, which is happening in both the UK and Ireland, is a major challenge. OFTEC must be the voice of reason, ensuring that the scale and speed of this agenda is balanced. Consideration must be given to the effects that it will have on rural England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland and on the fuel poor in these rural areas. Handled badly, the policy will result in higher home heating costs for those living in rural areas, where kerosene is the predominate heating fuel. This could also result in an increase in the number of off-grid fuel poor households. Policy may be good in theory, but it must be practical as well and not burden householders with increased heating and energy bills at any cost.

If you had a crystal ball, what do you think you would see for the oil heating industry in ten years’ time?
If there is a balanced and sensible approach, l see the off-grid heating sector gradually become more diversified, with a mix of heating types including traditional boilers, hybrid systems and fully renewable heat pump and biomass systems. If given adequate time to respond to the government’s decarbonisation strategy, oil heating will be able to retain a strong market share by moving to a renewable biofuel, a blend first and then progressively moving to 100% renewable. Success will depend on government support to develop a sustainable capacity of this fuel, and promoting consumer acceptance by maintaining a competitive edge and offering the same value that we do now.

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