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UK domestic wood use survey notes higher use in Northern Ireland

Posted by Alex Barrett on 8 June 2016 at 10:10 am

Biomass provides a larger share of UK energy than previously thought.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has published the results of their domestic wood use survey. This was conducted in 2014 and aimed to determine how many households were using wood as fuel, and thus “improve DECC’s estimates of the contribution domestic wood fuel makes towards meeting the UK’s share of the Renewable Energy Directive target.”

The results of the survey are very positive, as it has found that wood burning fires and stoves are a lot more common than expected. The report states that: “the UK had previously been underestimating its domestic wood fuel consumption by a factor of three.”

The survey was commissioned to determine the extent to which the UK is on track to meet its commitments under the European Renewable Energy Directive. The UK has to ensure that 15% of final energy consumption comes from renewable sources by 2020. The burning of sustainably produced biomass is an important component of this.

Domestic wood use is hard to estimate. A large number of wood burning households source their own wood, rather than buying it from accredited suppliers. This is called the “grey” wood market. Grey wood might have been collected from local woodlands, or could consist of waste wood which is being recycled as fuel. The survey found that 31% of wood was sourced from the grey market.

Unfortunately it is harder to ensure that wood from grey sources is actually produced sustainably. Care must also be taken when burning waste wood, as it may contain chemicals which will be released when it is burnt. Some wood intended for construction is actually treated with fire retardants, which makes it particularly unsuitable as fuel. The report states that 22% of households used waste wood, while 18% gathered their own supplies from woodland and farms. This means that although the UK wood burning is higher, there is no guarantee that this wood was produced sustainably.

Wood use varies substantially from one region of the UK to another. The highest proportion of wood use was found in Northern Ireland, where 18% of those surveyed employed biomass in their heating. The lowest proportion was in London, where only 3.9% were found to use wood fires. This variation may partially be due to the fact that some regions have more houses connected to the gas grid than others. Northern Ireland has particularly low connectivity. However the report warns that this trend does not hold true across all of the regions surveyed. The region with the highest total wood use was found to be the South East, likely reflecting the high population density in that part of the UK. The survey reports that: “Wood fuel users represent 7.5 per cent of the UK population although only 2.3 per cent of respondents used wood fuel only”.

Logs were by far the most common form of wood to be used as fuel, although they were often burned in conjunction with other types of wood. Closed wood stoves were found to be more common than open fires. Unsurprisingly the survey found that wood was primarily used for space heating, although 1.3% of respondents did use wood fuel for cooking.

Overall this is encouraging. The use of domestic biomass is more sustainable than continued fossil fuel use, so it is good to see that a large number of households across the UK are using this source of energy.


Domestic Wood Use Survey


Image Credit: SuperHomes

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