Are Biomass Boilers the Renewable of the Future?

There is an undeniable buzz around the renewables sector this year. We have seen positivity in renewables growth in recent years, and in particular, the growing use of biomass technology in homes and community projects. You’re probably thinking to yourself, ‘Biomass boilers are great for the environment’. We agree with you there – to an extent. By far they are the most energy efficient and low carbon boilers available on the domestic market, but there are a few drawbacks to large-scale usage.

Nevertheless, a biomass boiler installed in a home could potentially save up to 40% on standard oil/gas bills every year. It is a tantalising offer for any consumer, and when the added benefit of its renewable status is involved, can consumers afford not to invest? With government targets required to be met, there may be a revolutionary change in the way we produce heat in our homes.

Meeting Government Targets One Boiler at A Time

The UK Government has had a target of achieving an 80% carbon reduction by the year 2050 through the Pathways scheme. Since then, there have been positive movements for renewable companies and consumers as to the popularity of renewable means of energy production, with renewables seeing a 16.3% increase in use in the UK between 2013 – 2014. In Scotland alone, the Scottish Government has reported 13.1% of all energy in the country came from renewables, with 2.7% of heat energy created by renewable resources – increasing from 0.4% in 2008.[1]

Of all renewable heat energy, 90% came from biomass. With targets for 11% of all energy to be renewable, there is work to be done – but there is hope for a brighter future. Biomass’s use in heat production is undoubtedly starting to set alight the renewable industry. With the potential to create up to 4,800kWh of heat energy per tonne of wood pellets, there are opportunities for consumers and businesses to take real advantage of their carbon fuel emissions and promote renewables as the way forward.

Savings for The Environment and Consumers

When it comes to choosing the right renewable energy source, the amount of carbon reduction and energy generated are taken into account. A home looking for savings of both carbon and money will find that up to £580 per year could be saved on their energy bills. An attractive incentive to any consumer is also the fact that replacing a boiler with biomass can save up to 7.5tonnes of carbon dioxide production per year (Depending on size and scale of the heating system).

The promotion by the government of the Renewable Heat Incentive has also seen a positive trend towards renewables with monetary incentives for consumers and businesses. With the potential to earn back the majority of the installation costs over seven years while contributing to a cleaner environment, there is little stopping consumers today from changing – and that is something positive to take.

The Environmental Cost of Biomass

We cannot deny the positive impact on the environment our reductions in carbon production will have. Greenhouse gases are at an intolerably high level, and it is our responsibility to take action to prevent the worst natural disasters at bay. However, just because biomass reduces carbon emissions does not mean they are entirely clean. Far from it.

Biomass boilers are often using wood chips and pellets as suitable fuel. Organic material is renewable, with growth capable of new resources time and time again, and the ashes from production can be used as fertiliser. Yet, there is one thing people are missing. Consider how long it takes to grow a tree. Decades, maybe, before it is ready to be used in wood chip production. If demand is on the increase for biomass, what does this mean in terms of costs for wood?

Then we have to consider the amount of fuel that is used in the transportation of biomass fuels to and from locations. According to CarbonBrief, the UK is the “the world’s largest wood pellet importer, with a 28% share of the global market.” Considering the UK produces very little of its own wood pellets, the price on the environment from transportation could ultimately level the reduction in carbon that was meant to be saved and bring it straight back through burning fossil fuels such as petroleum. Are we truly saving, or just adding to the problem? We may have to wait for the answers to that question.

Taking Control of Carbon Emissions

It is no surprise that there is still a long way to go for the government to meet targets set for 2050. That being said, positive trends towards renewables are beginning, and the potential for biomass to be used on an industrial scale is one that has not gone unnoticed.

Looking to the future, there is nothing to suggest biomass boilers will not be the renewable of our future. Maybe in ten or twenty years we will see more use for biomass fuels across a range of industries and transportation to cut costs across all areas. Only time will tell, however, if our wood supplies can stand up to the pressure.


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