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What are the financial pros and cons of a biomass boiler?

Posted by Trish O'Flynn on 17 May 2017 at 4:55 pm

The environmental case for biomass is unquestionable - we can grow more of it, unlike oil, gas and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).

But what about the cost of a biomass boiler? The price of installation, fuel and maintenance are important considerations when choosing a new boiler.

In this video, SuperHomer Mark Brown discusses the costs of the wood pellet boiler fitted in 2009 in the five bedroom house in South Buckinghamshire where he lives with wife Liya and their children. The house was built in the early 1980s.

How much does a biomass boiler cost?

In terms of the cost of installing the boiler, it cost Mark and Liya about £15,000 to install in 2009 and they paid extra for a boiler suitable for a Smoke Control Area. There is a wider range of models available today, of varying quality, and the average price remains at around £15,000. A good quality, well maintained boiler should last you 25 years.

Most wood pellet boilers are eligible for the Renewable Heat Incentive which, although less lucrative than it was, should bring in enough to cover the cost of the boiler over the period of the scheme.

How do biomass fuel costs compare with other fuels? 

The cost of fuel can go up and down and YouGen installer member David Hill of Carbon Legacy makes the case for biomass:

“A well-maintained good quality biomass boiler will last 15-20 years, so I recommend taking a long term view on fuel prices and maintenance costs.

“Electricity and LPG are the most expensive fuels, with mains gas, wood chips and wood logs the cheapest. However, wood logs and chips mean more boiler cleaning and fuel handling by the property owner, so for those customers who are not on mains gas the decision is usually between wood pellets and oil.    

“Prices of oil and gas vary but at the moment wood pellets work out slightly dearer than oil, although this has not always been the case. Oil was three times more expensive in 2008 than it is now and past experience shows us that oil prices are very vulnerable to global pressures and price fixing between oil producing countries.

“The biomass fuel market is much more stable. There are new suppliers coming in all the time, who realise that waste wood is a valuable resource. This can only be good for price stability and we may see prices reduce.

The Nottingham Energy Partnership has a really useful table of comparative running cost data on its website.”

How much does biomass boiler maintenance cost?

Maintenance of a biomass boiler may be more expensive than a gas or oil boiler as not all plumbers are able to do this kind of work. The cost will vary, depending on the model and use of the boiler, and where you live. A basic service will cost from about £200, while for large installations it may cost up to £500.

The service takes from a couple of hours to half a day.

Are there any drawbacks with a biomass boiler?

In the video, Mark Brown identifies one drawback of the biomass boiler relating to bagged pellet handling. He has to make time for fuel deliveries and be physically capable of restacking, lifting and emptying the bags. Alternatively, automated systems are available which mean there is no fuel handling by the homeowner. These involve blown pellet deliveries and automatic boiler feeding from a pellet silo. Some boilers can be adapted to change from manual to automated feeding.

Take a look at Mark’s videos on refuelling the boiler here and dealing with deliveries and stacking of bags of pellets here.

Mark and Liya are committed to reducing their carbon footprint and have and achieved a 90% carbon saving by investing in solar thermal and PV, insulation throughout the house and, of course, the biomass boiler.

Take a look at Mark and Liya’s SuperHome page.

Video credit: SuperHome 59 on YouTube

More information about Biomass Boilers and Energy Saving and Renewable Energy on YouGen.

Find a Biomass Boiler installer

You can find an up to date list of local wood fuel equipment and fuel suppliers on our Log Pile database.

 

About the author: Trish is a web content writer with the National Energy Foundation.

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

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Comments

2 comments - read them below or add one

Ray8401

Ray8401Comment left on: 29 June 2017 at 10:58 am

More pros - that's what I thought. It was a good decision to buy a biomass boiler one year ago. I am really pleased with it, it just works like a charm. Maintenence of my boiler was even cheaper than what you mentioned in the article. I only had to spend 100$ on it. 

Cheers guys!

Ray

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Sheps

ShepsComment left on: 1 June 2017 at 9:24 am

Your comments on price of oil is, I feel, out of date. The moment that oil starts heading for $55 to $60 the American shale oil industry ramps up production canceling out any adjustments made by the oil cartels. I suspect that we are in a prolonged period of cheaper oil especially with the momentum on renewables which is a good thing. Similarly, one would expect the pellet industry to reduce prices as more companies get involved, but that does not appear to be the case. I have a 36kw pellet boiler and over the 3 years that I have had it the pellet prices have never gone down! Also servicing costs represent about 30% of the total running costs. £1600 a year on pellets and £700 on servicing. Without the RHI it does not stack up so what am I to do at the end of the 7 year RHI period? 

 

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