The burning issue of biomass

on 29 April, 2013

I think it would be fair to say that the uptake of biomass technology has been a slow burn.

It’s not that there aren’t strong financial and environmental reasons for installing a biomass boiler – there are plenty of those in the “pros” column – but it has taken consumers and businesses some time to embrace biomass as a fuel source.

For me, the best thing about biomass is that it is carbon-neutral; carbon is taken out of the atmosphere while the biomass fuel is growing, and returned as it is burned, which maintains a closed carbon cycle with no net increase in atmospheric CO2 levels.

Operating on an alternative fuel source to fossil fuels protects against fluctuations in the price of gas, oil or LPG, and with prices only set to increase, this is really good news.

Biomass boilers are highly efficient pieces of kit – some have efficiency ratings of over 94 percent – and the Government’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) has only added to their attraction. Under the rules of the RHI, the very smallest biomass boiler (classed as tier 1) of less than 200 kWth could see a homeowner receive 8.6 pence for every kWth generated. The price per kWh falls as boilers increase in size, but a return is payable all the same, so the scheme is relevant to commercial properties.

Indeed, biomass boilers are ideally suited to meeting the continuous heat loads of buildings such as swimming pools, hospitals and nursing homes.

And they’re an even better solution for large or industrial properties off-gas, because the price of wood, in comparison to oil and LPG, is so much lower. In these scenarios, even without additional RHI payments (which are capped once the boiler exceeds a certain size), the payback period on a biomass boiler usually falls within 10 years. If you’ve got access to woodland, your fuel source is on your doorstep, which will save you even more money. It’s for this reason that biomass boilers are particularly popular in remote areas of Scotland.

Pipe Center has been selling biomass boilers for a while and just agreed a deal with Baxi to start selling their biomass products, which we are really excited about.

And we aren’t the only ones moving biomass from the back burner into the mainstream. It seems to me that demand for biomass boilers is ramping up industry-wide – they aren’t going away and they offer environmentally friendly, cost-efficient, bespoke energy solutions.

OK, they can be a bit smoky, the initial outlay is much bigger than a traditional boiler and, most importantly, large storage areas are needed for the boiler and for the fuel store. Space will also be needed for lorries to make bulk deliveries of pellets.

But with all the set up grants and incentives available, plus what they save in energy costs, biomass boilers are an investment because they will eventually pay for themselves, albeit within a period of 10-20 years. There’s a real opportunity for all of us to sell biomass solutions, particularly when domestic RHI comes into play.

Martyn Simpson is technical support manager at Pipe Center.

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