Tim Rook, Chairman of Woodpecker Energy UK, maps out a few reasons why biomass could be the answer to carbon neutral heating and low carbon living.
Biomass heating is a no-nonsense answer to carbon neutral heating, and an effective way to provide low-carbon, affordable warmth while complying with building and environmental regulations, so it is encouraging that the coalition government is planning to carry on increasing renewable energy and low-carbon technologies.
The Government also seems to be serious in its commitment to zero carbon building, i.e. highly energy efficient buildings that use on-site low and zero carbon technologies to meet an overall carbon compliance standard. it wants all new homes to be zero carbon from 2016, all new public sector buildings from 2018 and all new nondomestic buildings from 2019. The Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) continues to have support from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), and the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) is expected to come into force in June 2011.
In addition, other regulations are going to change for the better. For example, current regulations require flue sizes of 6” or 7” for our boilers, whilst a 5” flue outlet is more than sufficient. This anomaly will now be dealt with.
The Government’s Biomass Taskforce concluded that existing regulations did not take account of the specific requirements of biomass (eg. flue size and location specifics), thus acting as a barrier to using biomass and increasing costs unnecessarily.
A more flexible approach will recognise that some protective measures are not necessary for some appliances. That’s bound to be good news for biomass boiler manufacturers. The continued use of MCS accreditation for biomass boilers and installers is also very positive.
Unfortunately some installers are reluctant to invest in training for biomass systems and instead carry on focussing on oil or gas heating. it doesn’t help that some installers, because of a lack of training, have failed to correctly install biomass boilers. it’s worth keeping in mind that an unhappy end user is likely to prevent others from even considering a biomass heating system. This endangers the reputation of biomass heating.
Get the installation right, and a happy customer is likely to recommend biomass heating to others, be they homeowners or developers. The future of biomass depends not only on regulation, but also on customer satisfaction. For us it is really important to develop a closer relationship between MCS biomass installers and M&E generalists if we are to avoid the heartaches of a poorly designed and installed system impacting on the end user.
The biomass industry has also, at times, suffered from incorrect specification of products or systems by specifiers who have traditionally been used to over specifying gas or oil boiler outputs.
Admittedly, the thought process is different to get biomass boilers with slightly below the required heat load specified utilising buffer tank (heat store), space requirements and taking into account how the combustion takes place with a solid fuel.
But it’s not just specifiers and installers who need to be educated about biomass heating systems. There is still a general lack of understanding in the market about the different types and requirements of the biomass fuels available and how they need to be taken into account. For example, when using locally-grown logs or wood chip it is necessary to season the timber, so it is important to have enough space for this (eg. a barn). Wood pellets, on the other hand, are more expensive, but compared with wood chip there’s very little manual handling required.
They also require less space – normally about a quarter of the space needed for similar log or chip installations, for the fuel and the boiler combined. The wood pellets can be ‘blown’ into a pellet silo via an air pump from a bulk tanker. They can then be automatically ‘fed’ into the boiler, meaning there’s little difference between running a wood pellet boiler rather than a traditional gas or oil boiler.
We are confident that, as more incentives become available and regulations come into force, biomass heating systems will become a more familiar part of domestic and commercial buildings. Further mainstream appeal comes from prestigious projects such as the accommodation block at the Olympic sailing Village at Osprey Quay in Dorset, which will incorporate three large-scale Woodpecker Thermon boilers as part of a district heating system.
Biomass heating systems do require a certain investment, but they are the most effective way to provide the quality and quantity of heating we are used to without using fossil fuels. With the very real threat of rising gas and oil prices as these resources become scarcer and their exploration more expensive, any building that has a biomass heating system will be an attractive object for both buyers and tenants. Add to that the earning potential from future government incentives, and biomass is a very good investment indeed. in future, heating systems that cut carbon emissions may no longer be considered a new technology but a must. When properly specified and installed, and using locally produced fuel sources, biomass heating systems are truly carbon neutral and sustainable, and will be a viable solution to zero carbon building.