Are biomass boilers a waste of public money?

A report in the Guardian recently claimed that biomass boilers in the non-domestic sector were around 10-20% less efficient than expected.
Biomass boilers are one of the most popular technologies installed under the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), both domestic and non-domestic, but should installers and consumers be concerned about their efficiency?
In light of this new report, Installer spoke to industry experts about the future of biomass:
Simon Holden from Euroheat argues that biomass itself, isn’t to blame:
SimonHolden 2“Wood burning has proved hugely successful and efficient in central Europe. The problems in the UK market, which is still a very young one, come down to the quality of some boilers, the installers that fit them and the fuel they burn – get these three things right and efficiencies of over 90% are certainly achievable, placing biomass as a worthwhile carbon cutting solution.
“New RHI fuel legislation set to be bought in this spring should go some way to alleviating fuel issues, but more certainly needs to be done in terms of preventing sub-standard boilers from being installed – at the moment there is no equivalent to MCS for machines over 45kWs.
“Rather than throwing in the biomass towel, the report should be viewed as a wake-up call – as a sector, we need to up our game to ensure biomass works as a viable and efficient alternative to fossil fuels. At Euroheat, we’re confident in the efficiency of our boilers; the technology’s cutting edge, we only allow approved installers to fit our machines, with Euroheat experts handling nearly all commissioning. We also make sure customers choose good quality fuel with a moisture content of 20% or less – key to getting the most out of biomass boilers.
“A sense of proportion is also important – a DECC spokeswoman said that the study’s sample had been small and “more work now needs to be done to fully assess the performance of biomass boiler systems and installer competency”. I for one, look forward to further research; constant review and improvement is key to helping renewables become a common fixture in our homes and businesses.
“In order for the UK to move away from its reliance on fossil fuels, constructive criticism of renewable technologies and how they’re delivered is welcome and imperative. Negativity that results in consumers and installers ‘giving up’ on going green is extremely harmful however; balance and proportion is essential.”
Bruce Allen, Chief Executive of HETAS said:
SONY DSC“A previous study said the same about heat pumps, and found that design efficiencies predicted at quote stage (or at laboratory test stage) were not met when installed. This is because the installation is “real” and there can be a difference between intended designs and actual physically installed kit on site.
“Larger boilers have on site emissions tests. They are too big to fire up in a lab so there can’t be any “lab results” only on-site results. Smaller boilers have to meet emissions requirements specified in the RHI regulations. HETAS keeps a list called the RHI-EC (Emissions Certificate) list on a web site so all can see the results and the certificates. It is argued that these requirements can be more stringent than those for smoke exemption areas in UK. So we now have a position that all biomass boilers for domestic RHI are at least as clean as those installed in areas where it is not allowed to emit smoke. This can only be good news.
“Biomass is well established in Europe and many of the boilers being installed under the RHI are manufactured in Europe. DECC has been very open and communicative about biomass and the RHI. I commend it on its efforts to reach out to industry over the past few years.
“It’s not a perfect world and all low carbon and renewable technologies for heat have their strong points and weaknesses. What we need is a balance of technologies that are designed to be appropriate to the building they serve. Sometimes this will be biomass, or sometimes heat pumps, sometimes both, or neither. That’s life in the real world of heating. What we want is no matter which is appropriate, they are installed effectively and safety and they save carbon. ”
OFTEC director general Jeremy Hawksley says:
OFTEC awards 2014“From day one, OFTEC expressed concerns about the costly and impractical nature of the domestic RHI and so we are not surprised that the non-domestic scheme, and its promotion of biomass boilers, has produced inconsistencies.
“The heat pump sector has also been critical of the very generous tariffs given to biomass boilers under the scheme.
“OFTEC believes the RHI framework, as it currently stands, will not achieve substantial uptake of renewable heat and will press for the next Government to review it.
“The scheme has become even less attractive to many off gas grid users over recent months given the huge drop in oil prices we have seen – falling more than 25% from this time last year and now on a par with mains gas. This trend is widely predicted to continue well into 2015.
“OFTEC fully supports the need to reduce CO2 emissions from heating but if the government is serious about cutting the UK’s carbon footprint, a more practical policy is required to encourage more businesses to move to low carbon heat.
“This would include the use of bio-liquids such as B30K, a blend of kerosene and FAME, which has already been recognised in the Northern Ireland RHI but the same success is yet to be replicated in the UK. Tariffs for other renewable technologies should also be reviewed.”
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