15 December 2016

Climate change regulations: Brexit or Not Brexit? Views from the UK oil heating sector

By Paul Rose, CEO of OFTEC

We all are used to energy and climate change regulations being decided at EU level. Eurofuel and the oil heating industry across Europe worked hard to ensure that the Eco-design (ERPD) directive did not effectively prohibit efficient oil heating systems.  For the UK and Ireland, the proposed low NOx levels in the directive were a very real threat.

Some may think that the UK decision to leave the European Union by 2019 will relieve our industry of the current pressures from regulations.  Even if the exit from the EU is achieved in the Spring of 2019, this looks very unlikely. The reasons for this are partly due to Brexit politics; partly due to domestic energy policy in the UK; and partly due to how the industry itself will operate in the 2020’s.

First the political process: the actual form of Brexit is very uncertain. The UK Government is appealing a decision of the High Court which gave to Parliament the right to vote prior to the triggering of Article 50. All the Opposition parties wish for there to be some kind of Parliamentary oversight of the deal that is negotiated, and if the Court’s decision is upheld, there will be a delay in triggering Article 50 - at the very least.

Moreover, the mechanics of withdrawal will operate by Parliament enacting a “Great Repeal Bill” before 2019 whereby the European Communities Act of 1972 is repealed and a new Act passed that incorporates all EU law into UK law. Governments will then take years to repeal those aspects of EU law that they wish to – but it is very unlikely that they would repeal climate change law owing to other treaty obligations or international commitments such as the 2015 UN Paris Agreement. 

Second, UK domestic climate change policy has always been very challenging for fossil fuels. In 2008 Parliament passed the Climate Change Act which set a timetable for the de-carbonisation of the whole economy to 2050 – very much in line with the UN / EU agreements. This Act set up a Climate Change Committee answerable to Parliament and recently it criticised the Government for not doing enough to reduce emissions from heating. For instance, they see heat pumps as having a big role and are recommending the installation of 200,000 heat pumps p.a. into domestic homes in the years up to 2020 – far more than the current installation rate.  So outside the EU, UK heat policy is likely to remain difficult for oil heating.

Third, we have to consider how the oil heating industry will react if / when Brexit occurs. At present, most of the polyethylene oil tanks sold in the UK are manufactured in the Republic of Ireland or in Northern Ireland.  Also a large number of oil boilers - which mostly are set to run on kerosene rather than gas-oil for the UK and Ireland markets – are manufactured in Ireland. Exports of tanks and boilers to other European countries occur and everyone is used to complying with European regulations and to CEN standards. For the future I cannot see the industry manufacturing products to any standards other than the current ones.

In short I believe that the UK will remain in line with European regulations – as will the Republic of Ireland – as far as oil heating products are concerned at least until the late 2020’s and probably indefinitely. The development of low-carbon innovative liquid fuels and new efficient technologies contributing to the thermal comfort of millions of British, Irish and other European households at affordable prices will remain a common endeavour for the oil heating industry, with or without Brexit.

Paul-Rose-OFTEC 24

Photo: OFTEC

Eurofuel’s member OFTEC is the Oil Firing Technical Association which represents manufacturers of oil firing heating and cooking products in the UK and the Republic of Ireland. The Association sets the installation standards for oil fired boilers and cookers and raises awareness with the consumer about the advantages of using heating oil. Also, OFTEC runs a Competent Persons Scheme on behalf of the UK Government that is accredited by UKAS and which certifies the competence of individual technicians. There are some 9,000 persons on the OFTEC register serving 1 million domestic oil households in Great Britain. Oil heating is the dominant form of heating in Northern Ireland with 56% of households using oil; in the Republic of Ireland 45% of homes use oil making a total of some 1 million oil users in Ireland. The principal domestic heating fuel in the UK and Ireland is kerosene – not gas-oil as used in other European countries.