Should I get a biomass system?
What are the benefits of biomass boilers?
There are many benefits associated with installing a biomass boiler system in your home or business property:
Carbon emission depletion.
Biomass fuels produce a fraction of the Carbon emissions of fossil fuels making them a carbon lean technology. The process of burning a fossil fuel releases the stored carbon that was contained inside it, millions of years ago, back into the environment. Biomass fuels are what are known as contemporary carbon which means that when they are combusted they release the same carbon levels that were recently consumed by the growing plant, meaning that the carbon levels are consistent and sustainable. This only works when the fuel source is replaced when the plant matter / fuel is harvested. The best way to achieve this is a rotation system which some biomass fuel stockists advertise as carbon neutral.
Some biomass boilers can be smoke free or at least fall below the stipulations for biomass burners in smoke-free zones. At present there are very few of these biomass boilers that fall into this category. The latest is that in January under the RHI any products that have full accreditation will be eligible for exemption for smoke control areas. The powers that be are looking to tie in the old ‘clear skies’ with the RHI.
“In March 2011 the Government published its policy for the non-domestic RHI, including the intention to introduce air quality emission limits for biomass boilers (including CHP) that participate in the scheme. Proposed limits were first published for consultation in 2010. These limits were confirmed earlier this year, with the maximum permitted emissions being 30 grams per gigajoule (g/GJ) net heat input for PM and 150g/GJ for NOx.
As of 24 September 2013, if you are planning to apply for the non-domestic RHI with a biomass boiler (including CHP) your installation will need to have emissions levels no higher than 30 grams per gigajoule (g/GJ) net heat input for PM and 150g/GJ for NOx. Proof that your system does not exceed these limits will need to be provided to Ofgem on application and be in the form of either an RHI emissions certificate or an environmental permit. Ofgem will contact you if this certificate is incomplete, which could delay your accreditation process. Ofgem will also retain the information on the certificate to support their auditing process in the future.” www.gov.uk
Biomass is good for local business.
Biomass can be sourced from within the UK. This offers security of supply but also cuts down on the emissions caused by transporting fuels from abroad. Sourcing fuel locally can also help local and national businesses.
Biomass boilers offer fantastic efficiency.
Modern biomass combustion systems are highly sophisticated, offering combustion efficiency and emission levels comparable with the best fossil fuel boilers. Using modern technology they can currently operate at 90% efficiency which is vastly higher than conventional boilers and electric heating systems. Like heat pumps and other renewable heating sources their efficiency also depends on how energy efficient your property is. The type of system you use, its flue and the air flow around the boiler are all aspects to consider as well. Most properties will benefit from additional energy efficiency work before the system is installed.
Biomass boilers are efficient because they do not waste fuel and heat, ash can be disposed of easily and the CO2 that is created through the combustion process is equal to that consumed by the tree / plant matter or that would be released by the rotting matter after its natural expiration.
To get the best from your boiler you should make sure you get a long standing company with a good reputation, preferably a company that specialises in this type of renewable energy source.
Biomass boilers integrate with other heating systems.
Biomass boilers can completely replace existing fossil fuel (gas, oil, LPG) boilers and provide all your space, under floor and water heating requirements but can also be integrated with a gas boiler or electric fire. Assuming that Thermostatic Radiator Valves (TRVs) are fitted, then the TRV will shut off as the room is warmed up by the biomass heating system. Many people prefer this type of warmth to that of a radiator as it is considered to be more ‘cosy’. You should ensure that your fire is installed by a competent person as this is a legal requirement and should ensure the installation is safe.
Biomass boilers offer fantastic financial benefits.
The initial price, in the region of £11,000 for a fully automatic boiler or £4,000 for a manual boiler can be redeemed at around £600 a year on average, if replacing an electric heating system. Don’t forget you may be eligible to receive payments from government schemes and initiatives. Biomass fuel prices are much more stable than that of fossil fuel and generally much lower. With a biomass boiler you can help protect yourself against Fossil fuel and electricity price appreciation.
Buying biomass fuel in small amounts may prove expensive so having a large storage facility that can hold several tonnes can significantly lower your fuel expenses. Logs can be cheaper than pellets if you have a good local source. The Log Pile website can help you find suppliers in your area.
Government grants and initiatives.
For a full list of financial incentives, please see our section on financial benefits of biomass.
The Non-domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) opened for applications in November 2011, and provides financial assistance to generators of renewable heat, and producers of renewable biogas and biomethane. The details of the domestic RHI were announced July 2013, and was recently updated in 2014 to pay domestic producers of renewable heat 12.2p/kWh for biomass boilers. The renewable heat generated for biomass will be based on an estimated figure of heat demand from an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC)
The Renewable Heat Premium Payment scheme is a government scheme that gives money to householders to help them buy renewable heating technologies – solar thermal panels, heat pumps and biomass boilers. As from next year, the Renewable Heat Incentive will expand to cover the domestic sector and the Green Deal will come into force, so this is a short-term scheme making one-off payments.
Feed in tariffs; a mechanism to support small scale generators of renewable electricity, up to 5 MWe to complement the Renewables Obligation for large scale generators. Applies to AD but not currently solid biomass.
Many boiler types require very little maintenance. Like any other boiler they should be serviced by a qualified service engineer. This said they generally require less maintenance than standard boilers and more general inspection to make sure they are functioning correctly. A visual inspection of the boiler and fuel feed system to check lubrication of bearings and to empty the ashbin will be required usually on at least a weekly basis. If the boiler is not fitted with automatic flue cleaning then regular cleaning of the flue tubes is required using a flue brush.
Some biomass boiler systems can be fully automated and require virtually no user input. They can have automatic ignition and thermostatic control plus an integrated hopper which automatically tops up the fuel. They can then hold enough fuel in the burner and shoot for more than a few days needs and are topped up from the hopper that can hold anything up to a years supply.
Drawbacks of Biomass boilers
There are, however, certain drawbacks which must be born in mind, such as:
- Relatively high initial cost for system and installation, especially when compared with other energy savings measures such as insulation (although those who wish to install biomass systems enjoy a lower VAT rate (5%) on the installation cost.)
- Biomass systems are not a DIY job, and as such need to be installed by a qualified heating engineer
- Some systems such as log-fed boilers require a high level of human input
- Biomass boilers require a large amount of free space for the unit and fuel, and are therefore unsuitable for smaller properties, flats, as well as urban areas (this is changing though with manufacturers bringing smaller internal hopper fed boiler systems to market)
- The fuel must be delivered periodically
- Fuel availability can be limited in some areas
- Planning permission may be required
- More maintenance and cleaning is required than for other renewable heat energy technologies such as heat pumps
- As the units themselves are probably not sold in vast numbers, parts could be hard to get. Check with your installer for lead times should something go wrong, as you could potentially be left without heat for the time it takes to acquire the part and have it installed.
- Check what warranty is associated with your boiler and who is responsible for fixing it should it go wrong. Assess the lead times of repairs carefully and factor this into your decision about which boiler to go for. (Also consider the size and reputation of the manufacturer, are they likely to go out of business and what are the availability of parts for their units).