The government’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) has been giving the industry a boost in recent months, none more so than in the biomass sector with new tariffs for both domestic and commercial properties accelerating the uptake in biomass technologies. Depending on the type of biomass technology installed and how much energy is produced and used, properties, both commercial and domestic, can earn from 1 pence per kWh to 5.6 pence.
According to a report issued by four of the largest biomass suppliers in the UK, biomass can offer a 90% reduction in carbon emissions in comparison to burning oil. For biomass heaters to meet sustainability targets and be eligible for the RHI, they have to prove that they have 60% lower CO2 emissions compared to the EU standards for fossil fuel heaters.
While the suppliers say they are already meeting this standard, and then some, organisations such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth argue that their figures don’t take into account the carbon footprint caused by the process of providing biomass fuels such as delivering and transporting and the removal of timber from forests.
Is Biomass Carbon Lean Enough?
Biomass Boilers are increasingly being used to replace oil and gas based heating systems in homes and commercial premises. They burn vegetable matter, predominantly wood, to produce both heat and electricity (CHP counterparts). Because it is generally thought that biomass heaters produce a fraction of the CO2 emissions of fossil fuels they are considered to be a carbon lean solution to our renewable energy problems.
There’s no doubt that now they are included in the RHI scheme that many homes and businesses will start to see them as an attractive technology that can increase their green credentials and improve efficiency by as much as 90%, whilst making a little money back on the side.
While the biomass heating industry may well benefit with businesses and households installing new eco-friendly boilers and heaters, there are growing issues with finance when you look to produce energy from the process on an industrial scale. The problem is that the large scale biomass industry is suffering from the recent wide ranging cuts in subsidies. The Telegraph reported this month that plans for a £300 million biomass plant in Port of Blyth had been axed primarily because of uncertainty over funding from the government.
But for other businesses the option of biomass heating is becoming more appealing. The Bradford Industrial Museum this year began work on installing a low carbon biomass boiler that will heat the entire building and the Council estimates that it will help cut carbon emissions by some 130 tonnes. It seems that many councils across the country have also been hard at work installing biomass technology over the last few years.
Poultry giant Bernard Matthews also made the news when it was revealed that the company was looking to cut down its environmental impact by installing over 200 biomass boilers with the help of a £24 million investment by the Green Investment Bank.
For those who can afford the installation, biomass heating now represents a clear opportunity to reduce that carbon footprint, save on existing heating bills and get a feed from the potentially lucrative RHI scheme. While the initial cost for a domestic biomass boiler can be in the region of £6000 to £14,000, as with other renewables that enjoy the benefit of the RHI, many suppliers and installers are now beginning to offer a free installation in exchange for a share of the RHI payments.