Why quality woodfuel is important for installers and their customers

Helen Bentley-Fox – Manager at Woodsure – talks about the growth of the woodfuel sector and how installers can get ahead by building relationships with their woodfuel suppliers.
The wood-fuelled heating sector has grown significantly over the last five years, and over one million UK homes now have a wood stove or biomass boiler. However, the question still remains whether consumers give a second thought to the quality of woodfuel they put in their stove or the woodland it’s sourced from.
With sales of woodfuel growing by 5,000 tonnes per week at the beginning of 2015, it’s an interesting question. And one that’s relevant not just to consumers but to installers too. Recently, I was in the busy showroom of a HETAS-certified installer, and the owner told me how sales were good, and business was growing.
But five years ago (in his first year of business), he learnt very quickly the importance of having a good relationship with a trusted woodfuel supplier.
As calls came in from his customers with complaints of damaged appliances, he soon discovered that the woodfuel supplier he’d been recommending didn’t quite make the grade. He was quick to identify the issue and found a new supplier before any damage was caused to his professional reputation. But having supplied the product, he was left with the appliances to repair at his own cost.
For appliance manufacturers and installers, this is an all-too-familiar situation. Fuel quality is vital to ensuring efficient, reliable boiler or stove operation, and the hard work and commitment of professionally-delivered projects can be jeopardised by poor fuel quality.
A woodstove or biomass boiler is only as good as the wood that is burnt in it, and as the renewable energy sector has grown, so too has the supply chain and number of suppliers in the UK.
Today, consumers can choose from over 800 woodfuel suppliers, and installers have a growing pool of partners with whom they can build a relationship. So how can installers and consumers find the right supplier to protect themselves and their appliances?
Look for the logo
Back in 2010, when my installer friend first set up his business, there was nothing to protect him or his customers from using poor quality fuel. However, this changed in 2011 when Woodsure was launched – the UK’s first quality assurance scheme for all woodfuel.
Currently, Woodsure operates the only national quality assurance scheme for woodfuel and provide an approved list of suppliers, which has been certified by HETAS. This guarantees quality and meets environmental standards for woodfuel products in the UK.
Tests on pellets, firewood, briquettes, wood chip and hog fuel are all carried out by technical experts at the laboratory in Bristol, while ENplus audits are also carried out for the pellet market.
All products are tested to internationally-recognised ISO, EN and Önorm quality standards that describe the fuel requirements boiler manufacturers and installers specify that their customers use.
Achieving Woodsure certification means that a woodfuel supplier’s products have been tested and that the supplier also knows how to ensure that the product is delivered properly.
Not only is this helping to guarantee a high standard and reliability in the woodfuel supply chain but, once certified, Woodsure suppliers are identifiable on the Government’s Biomass Suppliers List (BSL).
Only Woodsure suppliers on the BSL can guarantee the quality of woodfuel – an important distinction that installers should be aware of when they are recommending or looking for a woodfuel partner.
A growing network
The Woodsure scheme is now a recognised standard within the UK’s woodfuel market and, for installers, it identifies the conscientious, responsible suppliers who produce a trusted product.
Since the introduction of the scheme, there’s been a noticeable improvement in fuel quality levels. It’s boosted industry confidence, reduced boiler damage and, most importantly, it’s helping to protect UK air quality from pollutants caused by poor quality fuel.
There are approximately 800 woodfuel suppliers and producers in the UK, of which 200 are now Woodsure certified – and the list is growing.
The threat of poor quality
The latest research shows that a quarter of all woodfuel being supplied still doesn’t meet recognised quality standards. This means that across the market approximately one in every four woodfuel producers is supplying poor quality product.
Building a relationship with a Woodsure-certified supplier eliminates the risk that substandard fuel might compromise an installation. For installers who refer Woodsure suppliers to their customers, there is an arbitration service. When a boiler is not working, it is possible to test the fuel in order to eliminate whether or not it is the fuel quality that has caused the appliance fault.
While the future of the RHI scheme can’t be controlled, what everyone can influence is the integrity and sustainable growth of the sector. Without quality woodfuel, biomass simply doesn’t work as a carbon neutral energy source. By making responsible choices about fuel quality and the woodland it’s sourced from, we can all play our part in securing its future.
As a country, the UK has just 13% woodland cover (the lowest levels in Europe) and 42% of our woodlands sit unmanaged and neglected. By bringing these woodlands back into management, the low grade timber in these neglected woods would be perfect to supply the UK woodfuel market – a goal that Woodsure is supporting, working in partnership with Grown in Britain. A healthy woodfuel market, driven by quality fuel, holds the key to getting our woodlands back into management.
A win-win situation for installers and their customers.