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Introduction to biomass boilers for heating and hot water

Posted by FairEnergy . on 4 December 2012 at 12:23 pm

With the price of fossil fuel rising, people of the UK groan as they reluctantly turn up their thermostats, as temperatures plummet for the festive season. I know this as I speak to these folks daily through my role at Fair Energy. There is no hiding from the pain of this rise in energy costs. Some people I speak to no longer attempt to heat the whole of their house, and have rooms suffering from damp, mould and mildew damage as a result.  

One answer to this problem is Biomass.  We are (believe it or not) in many cases sat on the biomass equivalent of our own oil wells.  Much of our woodland is unmanaged and, if managed correctly, can supply us with fuel to power our heating and hot water systems, long into the future.

The main hurdle I have to overcome when proposing these wood burning solutions to my clients is the initial outlay cost to install them. This is likely to be 4-5 times greater than the cost of installing a fossil fuel system; however fuel is roughly half the cost. This is not always enough to convince those wishing to remove their inefficient old oil-guzzling systems and this is where the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) comes in.

The Renewable Heat Incentive is a government backed incentive scheme run by Ofgem which sees money paid direct to the end user for every kWh of heat delivered into their home from a Biomass system.  This, as a general rule of thumb, equates to approximately £1,000 per year for every 10kW of biomass boiler installed. 

For example, our recent installation at Highfield Farm in Topsham saw a 90kW ETA wood chip boiler installed, which will deliver an income of approximately £9,000 a year from the RHI alone. Then there is additional financial benefit of switching from oil (6.4p kWh) to woodchip (3p kWh). This particular client mentioned at a recent event held at his farm, that this Christmas he and his family would mostly be looking forward to a fully heated home and I quote “not have to scrape ice from the inside of his children’s bedroom windows each morning”.  

With Biomass, you are paid to heat your home up to an allowance set by Ofgem, which permits you to heat your home as and when it requires heat, and be paid to do so!  Though the installation cost is significant, the RHI and fuel cost savings combined shows a payback in many cases of as little as 5 years, and on top of this the scheme you are locked into is index-linked for 20 years so there will likely be a further 15 years of free heat or income once it has paid for itself.*

By installing a biomass heating system in your home or business you will secure a sustainable source of heat to your home long into the future whilst cutting your carbon emissions. You will also generate attractive additional income.

*NB: this example is for the non domestic RHI. Tariff rates for the domestic scheme (which starts in summer 2013) have not been finalised yet, but it is unlikely to be so generous.

About the author: Fred Thomson is a technical surveyor and John Fursdon is a senior technical sales consultant at Fair Energy

If you have a question about anything in the above blog, please ask it in the comments section below.

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4 comments - read them below or add one

Tasha Kosviner

Tasha KosvinerComment left on: 11 March 2014 at 9:41 am

Hi Gabriel2014,

Thanks for your question. I put your query to Robert Burke, the technical director at HETAS, the organisation that approves biomass heating appliances, fuels and services in the UK. Here's what he had to say:

"Appliances and chimneys are tested for use with woody biomass. Palm kernel shell isn’t considered woody biomass and therefore shouldn’t be used. The emissions of non woody biomass are currently an unknown property and there are a number of reports of excessive corrosion being attributed to some of the faster grown biomass fuels. I believe testing is currently being carried out by the European chimney industry to ascertain the corrosion loads of different biomass fuels.

Palm kernel shell is likely to invalidate appliance and chimney manufacturers warranties if they don’t specifically permit its use."

I hope that answers your question. 


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Gabriel2014Comment left on: 6 March 2014 at 8:35 pm

Aparently, palm kernel shell is beacoming an important biomass resource. Yet, I have my doubts on using palm kernel shell pellet in conventional biomass boilers. Can this biomass be used safetly without affecting the boiler performance and lifespan? 

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whirlstonandreComment left on: 28 February 2013 at 8:16 am

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banjaxComment left on: 4 December 2012 at 6:54 pm

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