Biomass is a form of renewable energy that can reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. Instead of burning fossil fuels for energy, biomass uses organic materials. These organic materials are derived from a variety of sources. Wood sources such as trees are commonly used, but energy crops, food waste or industrial waste can also be exploited as fuel in biomass heating.
The fuel is burned in boilers and stoves and the energy generated heats water and space. Stoves generally are only useful to heat one room, whereas boilers are able to heat whole properties. Biomass heating is suitable for homes and businesses.
So for those who are considering biomass, what are the advantages and disadvantages of biomass boilers?
Biomass is considered a carbon neutral form of energy because the carbon dioxide released when it is burned is only that which was absorbed by the plant during its life. Therefore there is no gain or loss of carbon dioxide. So for people who are concerned about their carbon footprint, this is definitely a plus.
In terms of financial benefits, the UK government is trying to promote the use of renewables through incentivising homeowners and businesses. Biomass boilers and stoves qualify for the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme (RHI). This means that installing a biomass boiler or stove can earn you money over a period of years. For a business installing biomass, this could mean earnings for the next 20 years. Many farms and land based estates are converting to biomass and installing boilers for this very reason. A responsible installer will advise if biomass is really a good idea for a business or home in this respect. It really makes sense if businesses and homes are off-grid, as there can be significant savings in energy costs over oil or LPG.
Another financial benefit of using biomass boilers for heating is that there is less exposure to the fluctuations of the energy market. In the last year or so, market prices have fluctuated and the cost is always passed onto the consumer. This means that consumers have to budget harder. And for a business, this means less investment to grow as money is kept in reserve for any surprise fuel rises. Businesses and homeowners who generate their own heat are more in control of costs.
And there’s benefits for the local economy too. Biomass is optimal when it uses locally sourced materials because the carbon footprint is even lower. A demand for biomass organic material can drive the local economy and create jobs. Fossil fuel, on the other hand, is mainly now not locally sourced, so there is no benefit for the local economy.
And the bad?
Biomass as a form of renewable energy is not without critics. The main arguments are that if wood fuel has to be imported then the carbon footprint is large and this negates any benefit of being carbon friendly. To counteract this, a sustainable investment in replanting of forestry areas locally is important. The other argument against biomass is that large areas of land are being taken to grow biomass crops for use in boilers and commercial applications and these could be used for agriculture instead. Again, responsible management of the local land resources is required. This is not an argument of biomass per se, but the way it is being managed.
So what of biomass boilers? The disadvantages are usually discussed in terms of the maintenance that is required. Yes, the boilers and stoves do need to be cleaned regularly to ensure optimal performance. This should be explained. Secondly, there will be teething problems and issues. Customers should expect to see their installers again to iron these out. A service contract is usually a good idea. Your installer should be clear about what is involved and what issues you are likely to encounter.
Installing a biomass boiler or stove is not cheap. A commercial biomass boiler costs thousands of pounds. It is a big investment. However, this should be balanced with the potential long term savings in energy costs and also the financial incentives which are on offer. The savings on energy and the RHI can means that within a few years the investment has been recouped, and the years following this, with a guaranteed RHI are total income. For people with holiday home businesses which are off-grid as well as land based businesses such as farms, generating an annual income and no energy costs is a real attraction.
Commercial biomass boilers are large and require a large space to house them. Storage space is also required to keep large quantities of fuel.
Domestic biomass boilers are also larger than conventional boilers so homeowners may need to consider the best place to install one and how they will access the fuel. They may not be as discrete as conventional boilers.
Investing in biomass is a big decision. Weigh up the advantages and disadvantages and if you need any help to chat through options or want to chat to other businesses or homeowners we’ve helped about installing biomass heating then get in touch.
Last updated: June 27th, 2017