26 Nov 2015

Branching into biomass


As a sustainable, cost-effective and convenient heating solution, biomass-fuelled systems have become an increasingly popular choice for self-build projects. Phil Hurley, Managing Director at NIBE, looks at the factors driving uptake - and how self-builders can reap the long-term benefits of biomass.


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With demand for greener heating systems continuing to rise, there’s one technology that has emerged as a frontrunner amongst UK homeowners. Generating heat from wood pellets, logs or chips, biomass boilers offer real energy security and a reduced environmental impact. They are also the ideal alternative to conventional off-grid heating systems, such as oil and LPG, in properties that have enough space for fuel storage – providing reliable, renewable and readily available space heating and hot water. What’s more, thanks to financial schemes like the Government’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), biomass systems can become long-term income generators as well.

One of the main features attracting self-builders to biomass is that it’s a heating fuel in the conventional sense of the word, but it’s also truly renewable. Biomass boilers are operated in exactly the same way as more familiar gas and oil boilers, with fuel that can be used as and when it’s needed. They also have a similar flow temperature to traditional systems, so they work seamlessly with existing heat emitters, including radiators and underfloor heating.

On top of these logistical benefits, biomass is a carbon-neutral heating solution, so it boasts all of the plus points of other renewables. Like heat pumps and solar thermal technology, it provides clean, cost-effective and future-proof energy – protecting a property against potential price hikes and supply issues, and ensuring a greener future for residents in the long run.

Whilst oil prices have fluctuated hugely in recent months and years, biomass is a far more stable option. Prices have stayed relatively consistent over the last 10 years, and the introduction of the RHI in April 2014 has helped strengthen the economic appeal of biomass even further. Under the scheme’s tariff setup, sustainable technology owners are rewarded for the renewable heat they generate over a seven-year period. Quarterly payments are measured in pence per kilowatt-hour of heat produced, and tariffs will adjust in line with inflation. Biomass systems in single domestic properties are eligible for RHI payments. Self-builds are the only new-build properties that are eligible.

To get the best benefits from biomass, it’s vital that self-builders opt for a system that has been specified to meet the needs of their exact project; and is designed, fitted and maintained to the highest possible standards. The most important first step to any successful install is seeking expert advice. A renewable heating specialist will be able to look at your plans and advise on the perfect technology for your setup. To qualify for RHI payments, your system must be fitted by an installer who has the right training and accreditation under the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS).

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