Biomass powering ahead

There are some interesting facts that are worth knowing about the most popular forms of renewable heat generation. They don’t come as a surprise to us, but they might to some.

Given the proliferation of solar panels, you could be forgiven for thinking they’re the clear favourite, though maybe we just hear more about them because they cover big buildings or pieces of land and make an impressive photograph!

But these numbers are about how the Renewable Heat Incentive for business is being spent and by a tremendous margin companies and other organisations are opting for biomass boilers.

While there are many options for generating heat from renewables, none of them are as readily available to install and have up-and-running in a predictable timeframe, and with predictable costs, as biomass.

Perhaps it helps that a boiler is something we all understand; at its simplest, you add fuel, you get heat. That makes it a much easier sell to the board, the facilities manager or whoever is making this critical decision.

However, when you look closely at the expenditure versus forecasts for the Renewable Heat Incentive to-date, it’s very clear that large organisations are not necessarily the ones investing in biomass boilers. Take up of the incentive for small (less than 200kWh) installations are running at 173 per cent ahead of expectations. This is way ahead of other sizes of boiler or other types of renewable heating.

So it’s smaller organisations who are being the most fleet of foot with this opportunity. You can see why. For a larger project, be it replacing an ageing traditional boiler or powering new premises, they have to get it right, so you can’t blame those who have to make the decision for an abundance of caution.

What they will inevitably come to understand, I believe, is that when biomass is assessed against other renewable options, it comes with hugely less entries in the downside column. Other solutions can tend to have more variables, such as planning processes which can stir up community opposition, particularly in the case of AD plants. There is also usually less in the way of needing to find novel solutions for individual boiler installations.

In biomass we have a relatively simple process to burn recognisable fuels, using technology that doesn’t differ massively from what we’ve known for decades and which is supported by robust manufacturers with well-functioning supply chains and maintenance backup.

Looking at wood pellets; because they go through a manufacturing process, there is the kind of traceability in the supply chain that appeals to large organisations with a serious corporate social responsibility agenda – so the sustainability box is easily ticked.

Add to this the ability to demonstrate impressively quick payback, thanks to the RHI effectively covering the annual fuel costs for many users, and the reasons not to go down this route begin to vaporise! Even without the RHI, the payback on the investment would be impressive.

Right now, biomass makes sense in many scenarios and will probably do so increasingly in the domestic setting as well, particularly once the RHI extends its reach there.

What is really positive is that the benefits of renewable heating are becoming clear to a much wider audience and all the time the technology is proving itself and building a loyal following. Could this be the start of a quiet revolution in heating?

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